The Craft Ensemble

Colleen Brannen, violin
Amy Sims, violin
Amelia Hollander Ames, viola
Velleda Miragias, violoncello
Elaine Rombola Aveni, piano

falling still (2001) Emily Doolittle

Three Pieces for String Quartet (2012) Betsy Schramm

Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 (1940) Dmitri Shostakovich

Composer Emily Doolittle is interested in the relationship between music and sounds from nature, particularly bird and animal songs. “Like many of my pieces, falling still is inspired by sounds from the natural world, though this might not be apparent on first listening. I wrote falling still after hearing a European blackbird singing against the gentle background sound of early morning rain. I was fascinated by how both sounds were beautiful, and the combination of them even more so, even though the bird is a living being, making choices about which sounds it produces, while the rain sound is the result of an inanimate process.” falling still explores the contrast between the warm, changing, “living,” oboe melody and the beautiful but unchanging 16-chord progression in the strings. falling still was commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and later adapted for quartet.

In Three Pieces for String Quartet, Betsy Schramm uses a traditional three movement plan. While the outer two movements are of a lighter and faster character, the middle movement is more dissonant and languorous. In the first movement, a lilting dancelike feel is created with alternations between two and three beats figures. In the second movement, expressionistic music devolves into the interplay of sections with different tempi and unique musical characters. In movement three, sixteenth-note figures build to create a wash of sound with broad strokes, like the building and crashing of waves. Funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, this work in its original form was scored for string orchestra and premiered by the Cambridge Chamber Players at Harvard University.

Impressed with his first string quartet, the Moscow-based Beethoven quartet asked Dmitri Shostakovich to write a quintet featuring Shostakovich himself at the piano. The result was an immense success earning Shostakovich the Stalin Prize and a cash award of 100,000 rubles often cited as the largest sum ever commanded by a chamber music work. Traditional forms and modes of expression pervade the entire quintet. The first two movements supply a massive prelude and fugue in the finest Bachian sense.
The third movement is a fantastic scherzo and trio. The scherzo dances with a rustic, wild abandon leering towards colorful parody and dark sarcasm. Less traditional is a second slow movement, a ponderous intermezzo placed between the scherzo and finale. The finale has a clearly articulated classical sonata form with distinctive themes and a development section. Kai Christiansen

The Craft Ensemble came together to play Schubert’s great C-major Cello Quintet in an Interpretations Masterclass with Ben Zander in early 2016. Since then, we have performed all over Massachusetts, in multiple configurations. The Craft Ensemble comprises a core string quartet that you hear tonight. Good friends who join us include cellist Eleanor Blake, violist Emily Rome, clarinetist Rane Moore, and pianist Elaine Rombola Aveni. Our mission is for our programming to be evenly split among the sexes when it comes to composers. Regardless of the composer’s gender, we also make it a priority to play music of living composers. In 2017 we gave the US premier of Oscar-winning film composer Gabriel Yared’s luscious “Camille Claudel” String Sextets. We also have set off on a journey to learn one Beethoven Quartet every season. We hope you will join us on our musical adventures! Chamber music feeds our souls, and there’s nothing we love more than sharing it with each other, and with new audiences. Visit us online at or find us on Instagram and Facebook.

This video was created in coordination with Arlington Community Media, Inc. in Arlington, MA. ACMi is dedicated to providing an electronic forum for the free exchange of information and ideas which reflect the talents, skills, interests, concerns, and diversity of the Arlington, Massachusetts community.

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