On Friday, September 7, 2018, the award-winning Tesla Quartet (Ross Snyder & Michelle Lie, violins; Edwin Kaplan, viola; Serafim Smigelskiy, cello) releases its debut album, Haydn, Ravel, and Stravinsky, on Orchid Classics. The record features performances of Ravel’s String Quartet in F major; Haydn’s String Quartet in C major, Op.54 No.2; Stravinsky’s Concertino for String Quartet; and three works by Ravel newly arranged for string quartet by Tesla violinist Ross Snyder: Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn, Menuet antique, and Menuet in C sharp minor.
Of the quartet’s inspiration to record the album, Snyder says, “Our debut album is all about taking a look at the familiar in a new light, a process of reflection. As we approached the 10 year milestone as an ensemble, we found ourselves looking back over the last decade for inspiration.” The quartet often refers to a quote by its namesake, Nikola Tesla, “Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them.” For the quartet, music is the conduit for this incredible, binding force, these ties inseparable. Through performance, teaching, and outreach, the Tesla Quartet strives to tap into this palpable feeling and create meaningful connections with their audiences.
The concept of the album began with Joseph Haydn, whose quartets Tesla has performed in every season without fail since its inception in 2008. Tesla describes Haydn’s C Major Quartet, Op. 54 No. 2 as “a favorite of recent seasons, particularly because, after having already written 41 quartets, Haydn somehow manages to produce a work of sheer brilliance and utter beauty, still toying with the conventions and expectations he himself established for the genre.”
Violinist Ross Snyder claims that Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is the work that motivated him to dedicate his life to string quartets. He says, “My colleagues and I all agreed that this work had to be on the album, but how would we relate it to Haydn, who had been dead almost a century before Ravel even conceived of his singular quartet? One of the pioneering Neo-Classicists of the early 20th Century, Ravel was constantly reaching back through time and bringing old forms into new light. The quartet itself can even be seen as a reflection upon itself, with thematic material from the first movement appearing throughout the whole work, recast in different light, time, and space.”
In deciding what to pair with Haydn and Ravel’s masterworks, Snyder explains, “I have always lamented the fact that Ravel only wrote one string quartet, so I began looking through his piano music to see if there were any pieces I could arrange for the quartet. It didn’t take me long to find the elegiac Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn , a short piano piece Ravel composed in homage to Haydn on the centenary of his death in 1809. I found that his Menuet antique (1895), one of his first published works which the composer orchestrated himself in 1929, worked well as a quartet, as did the diminutive Menuet in C-sharp minor (1904), published posthumously.”
The Tesla Quartet makes the leap to Stravinsky’s Concertino for string quartet based on the composer’s close friendship with Ravel and shared Neo-Classical spirit. Tesla describes, “While Ravel seems to delight in the seamless interweaving of past and present, Stravinsky rips the old styles from their ancient roots and thrusts them vigorously into the modern era with a vitality akin to Haydn – just another reminder that there is always more than one view of history.”