Our latest reviews in Boston

In successive weekends, we first played Britten’s 3rd quartet on Emmanuel Music’s Britten festival, followed by a Russian - themed program at Boston Conservatory. Here are two rave reviews from the Boston Musical Intelligencer:

NOVEMBER 8, 2018
Britten Mini-Festival Concludes

by Steven Ledbetter link here

"The last half of the program consisted of Britten’s last work, his String Quartet No. 3, in G Major; Op. 94, performed by the excellent Lydian Quartet (Andrea Segar and Judith Eissenberg, violins, Mark Berger, viola, and Joshua Gordon, cello). Britten partly composed it in a city he loved, and the site of his final opera, Death in Venice. The five movements basically alternate faster and slower tempos, with the fast movements in second and fourth position. The Lydian players masterfully projected the moods and light textures (as the duet patterns of the first movement, and the dying away effect of the closing Passacaglia, sharply contrasted with the fast Ostinato of the second movement and the wild Burlesque of the fourth. In my experience, at least, this is been the least often performed of Britten’s string quartets; I am especially grateful for this luminous and dramatic reading." 

NOVEMBER 11, 2018
Russian Themes Course Through Fenway

by Julie Ingelfinger link here

“The Brandeis-based Lydian Quartet treated last night’s delighted Seully Hall audience to two important 20th Century Russian works along with a much earlier work (1806), Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 1, the first Razumovsky quartet, with its Russian-themed third movement. Founded in 1980, the Lydian’s present members include first violinist Andrea Segar (joined in 2016), second violinist, Judith Eissenberg (founding member), violist Mark Berger (joined in 2014) and cellist Joshua Gordon (member since 2002). Since its earliest days, the quartet has garnered many awards and praise for their consummate artistry and thoughtful thematic programming; tonight’s concert reflected that tradition.

The Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s single-movement Quartet Number 4, played exquisitely by the Lydians, places the musicians on stage along with two prerecorded quartets in which the first (A) is a quarter tone higher than the second (B). The work, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and premiered nearly 25 years ago in January, 1994, still sounds and feels fresh and experimental, yet includes many classical elements, ranging from medieval polyphony to contemporary work. Gubaidulina asks “how the ‘real’ arises from the ‘unreal’… creatively speaking.” . . . Is this a quartet? Or is some other title more appropriate here?”

Embodying that question, the quartet came on stage, sat down, tuned and adjusted their music and stands and then waited, as music wafted from speakers along with simultaneous projections of rectangles with stain-glassed hues, befitting the hammer-beam ceiling of the Hall. They then sat still and silent until the composition directed them to add their in-person sounds. The sequence created a reverential mood, in which pizzicato/arco recorded sounds become enmeshed with the mostly bowed melodies of the in-person players, engaging the audience to consider musical heritage. The combined effect was electrically hypnotic.

Prokofiev wrote his Quartet No. 2 in F Major during World War II in a five-week period starting in November, 1941, in the Kabardino-Balkar capital, Nalchik, about 1000 miles south of Moscow, where leading composers and artists were sent after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. He had been encouraged/commanded to create work emblematic of the region including regional folksongs, which he incorporated and transformed as melodies, textures and rhythms into the three-movement work. Last night the musicians rendered the quartet with their typical depth, precision and musicality. The first movement contains Prokofiev’s hallmark dissonances but adds a regional feel with the folk melody, Sosruko, and its accordion-like violin accompaniment and the dance, Udzh Starikov. In the second movement, the composer includes the strains of the kemange (kjamantchi), a Caucasian 3-stringed instrument and cellist Gordon fairly sang a love song. Reprises in the final Allegro with two melodies alternating with a mountain dance bring the listener back to the first movement. The Lyds were in their element.

From the initial cello entrance to the final tutti of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s familiar first Razumovsky, the ensemble gave us a remarkable traversal. The first movement, an allegro, with its recapitulation of the opening melody at intervals sounded fresh and sonorous. The second movement’s allegretto vivace and sempre scherzando incorporates moments of hymn-like sonority amidst its energy and foreboding. The quartet provided a soulful account of the majestic adagio molto e mesto-attaca in the F minor third movement. The allegro “Thème Russe” of the final movement with its period Russian melody ended the evening with verve. This first Razumovsky may appear with predictable frequency, but not so often with the Lyd’s memorable freshness.

The Lydian Quartet will be appearing next at Brandeis on December 15th and at Emmanuel Music on January 26th. Given the foursome’s thoughtful programming, as well as their joy and accomplishment, I urge readers to attend.”


Our 2017 Commission Prize information is now posted!

We are excited to announce our third competition for the composition of an original work for string quartet. The winning composer will receive a $15,000 commission to compose a large-scale (15- to 30-minute) string quartet that will be premiered by the Lydian String Quartet in spring 2018. The application deadline will be December 23, 2016. For more information go to our About The Prize page.


We welcomed our new first violinist Andrea Segar, who made her first official appearance as a Lydian at Brandeis University's Commencement Dinner this past Saturday night where she was welcomed by Interim President Lisa M. Lynch, Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan J. Birren, Board of Trustees Chair Perry M. Traquina, and other members of the Brandeis community. The quartet played the first movement of Ravel's String Quartet, which will be performed in its entirety at the beginning of next season. We will be announcing the rest of our repertory and season soon, and will have new photos and videos too. Stay tuned!


Brandeis University and the Lydian String Quartet will be accepting applications for the position of first violinist / associate professor of the practice until November 30, 2015. To learn all the details on how to apply for the position, click on button below!


Daniel Stepner will be leaving his post with the Lydian String Quartet following the spring of 2016, after, in his own words, "29 satisfying years."  He intends to teach, do selected solo work, and devote more of his time to the Aston Magna Festival, which he has now led for twenty-four years.  He hopes to develop Aston Magna’s outreach concerts, workshops, and to expand the summer concert season into the winter season.  He writes: "I will miss the close contact with the quartet repertoire and the nitty-gritty work with my colleagues — as well as my other faculty friends — but it’s time to start a new chapter.”

First violin since 1987, Daniel performed and recorded an incredible amount of repertoire as a Lydian. As a touring musician, he has played in 11 countries in Western Europe and the former Soviet Union, and throughout Australia and the United States. He has performed and recorded a wide repertoire on period and contemporary instruments. In addition to the Lydian String Quartet's many recordings, he has recorded chamber music by Buxtehude, Bach, Marais, Rameau, Vivaldi, Telemann, Mozart, Schubert, Charles Ives, Harold Shapero, Irving Fine, Yehudi Wyner, David Rakowski and Yu-Hui Chang.


The members of the Lydian String Quartet are proud and excited to announce their 15-16 season. Between August 2015 and April 2016, the 'Lyds' will travel to the west coast, Utah, Wisconsin, and throughout the Northeastern United States performing music by a wide range of composers, including Kurt Rohde's Treatises for an Unrecovered Past, the result of the quartet's first Commission Prize Competition! A detailed 15-16 calendar is available here.

In late August, the Lyds kick off the season at Wisconsin's Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, performing the music of two Boston-based composers: Token Creek Artistic Director John Harbison and the late Lee HylaThe quartet will play both composers’ third string quartets, both of which were premiered by the Lyds. In September, the Lyds return to the Music and More series in Western Massachusetts, and in October, the quartet brings the music of Hugo Wolf to Emanuel Music in Boston. Mendelsohn's first quartet rounds out both the programs for the aforementioned concerts.

"The one-movement, 13-minute String Quartet No. 3 (1989), written for and performed by the Lydian String Quartet, rounded out the first half of the concert. Ranging from simple to gnarly, harmonically transparent to dense, this is rich and multi-faceted, reminiscent of Bartók yet never derivative —here as elsewhere, wholly Hyla." - Boston Classical Music Intelligencer

As part of the Lydian's residency at Brandeis University, they will perform four times next season - in October with Tony Arnold, readings of student compositions in December, a Fauré festival in March, and a world premiere by Lydian Quartet Commission PrizewinnerSteven Snowden, in April!

Committed to new music, the Lyds will present chamber music master classes and composer workshops along their trips next year. Schools include UC Davis (concert at the Davis Mondavi Center), the Festival of New American Music at Sacramento State University, Brigham Young UniversityAmherst College, and York College (PA). For these programs, the quartet will perform music by Harold Meltzer, Lee Hyla, and Kurt Rhodes, three composers with strong ties to the ensemble. Please visit our calendar for more information!

For more information on booking the Lydians, please contact JMS Artist Management at www.jmsartistanagement.com or call 857-210-4607. The quartet teamed up with JMS Artist Management earlier this year.


March 20, 2015 - The Lydian String Quartet and Brandeis University are proud to announce the winner of their 2015 Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize. Steven Snowden of Austin Texas has been commissioned to compose a new quartet for the Lydian Quartet, to be premiered in the spring of 2016 at Brandeis University. Snowden was chosen from an incredibly accomplished pool of composer applicants. In addition to awarding the commission to Steven Snowden, composers David Liptak, Lansing McLoskey and Andrew Waggoner have been awarded honorable mention.

Snowden received degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a DMA in composition, with a certificate in Electronic Music. He has recently received awards and fellowships from the Aspen Music Festival, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, the Austin Critics’ Table, Copland House, ISCM World Music Days, New Music USA, IC Hong Kong, The Mizzou New Music International Composers Festival, Future Places Portugal, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the ASCAP Morton Gould Awards among others. He was also the recipient of a 2012-2013 Fulbright Grant to Portugal. In 2013-2014 he was a visiting professor and composer in residence at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and currently works as a freelance composer and concert presenter in Austin, Texas. More information about Steven Snowden can be found at: http://www.stevensnowden.com.


The Boston Classical Review's David Wright reviews our performance of Lee Hyla's 3rd quartet at Boston's Jordan Hall: "Hyla’s method of allowing a piece to blossom gradually from a single opening note was heard once again in the String Quartet No. 3, composed in 1989 for the Lydian String Quartet and performed by that group Thursday.  The well-knit veteran ensemble expertly realized Hyla’s sonic effects from all-out rage to wisps of sound to moments of chugging rock rhythm." Complete review here


by Dan Stepner

by Dan Stepner

Joseph Haydn didn’t have the privilege of studying with Nadia Boulanger, but both Philip Glass and Elliott Carter did.  For some sixty years, she taught generations of composers and performers, and by a strange quirk of fate, I also had the challenging and memorable experience of studying with her for two summers at the American School at Fontainebleau, over which she presided.   I had won a full scholarship to work there with Henryk Szeryng, but arrived to find he had cancelled the class and would not be present.  All the other violinists (paying customers, presumably) had been notified and had withdrawn.  Along with that news on my first day there, I also received a note from Mlle Boulanger, asking me to meet her in her studio apartment in the magnificent Fontainebleau Palace, where the school was housed.  I had known of her and her influence, but I had no expectation of working directly with her.  I appeared at the appointed time and was ushered into her apartment by her secretary.  She very cordially apologized for M. Szeryng’s absence and asked if I would like to study with her(!).  I thank my lucky stars that, despite my doubts, I accepted her offer, and thus began a remarkable four months, over the two summers of 1970 and 1971, of weekly private lessons with her.  

She was in her mid-eighties at the time, and virtually blind, though very alert and personable.  She asked if I composed at all.  I had brought some of my compositions with me – preludes and fugues in various styles.  She asked to hear one, and I chose what I thought was my best pair.  I could get through it passably at the piano.  The prelude was a two-part invention that I thought rather good.  She listened and expressed some approval and then asked to hear the fugue.  I played the subject’s first entrance, and began the second.  She stopped me and gently said, “Thank you, Stepner; I can hear that this fugue will go nowhere.”

She was correct, of course.  It was a respectable student fugue, following the rules; but by my choice of subject, I had hemmed myself in and foreclosed any possibility of real interest, meaningful variation or development.  She had recognized that instantly.

For my next lesson she asked me to analyze the second prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Keyboard (Book 1, C Minor).  She wanted to know how harmonically aware I was.  She instructed me to distill the prelude’s flurry of figuration to essential chords, and to notate -- in pencil -- the Roman numerals delineating those chords, along with their function in context. I had done a good deal of this as an undergraduate and always enjoyed the process.  When I returned the following week, she asked me to play the prelude’s chords, and to tell her after each one what I had written.  She listened intently as I went through the prelude.  Upon finishing, she said, “That was all correct except for one chord.  You called it at A Flat chord in root position with an added sixth.  I would have thought it was a F Minor seventh chord in first inversion.”  (You musicians and theorists will realize that both labels describe the very same array of notes, but that the chord’s harmonic “valence” is slightly different.)  Though I realized that I was not really mistaken, I had the sense that she must be more correct, having a much more developed sense of the subtleties of harmony.  I began to erase my notation to replace it with hers.  But she stopped me suddenly, and got lost in thought for a moment.  Finally she said, “You know, Stepner, I had an argument about this very chord with Paul Hindemith in 1943; and he, like you, called it at A Flat chord with an added 6th.”   Astonished, I waited for further comment.  After a short pause, she said, “ I remember that we agreed to disagree, and then mused about the reasons for our preferred designations.  We finally decided that because he was a string player, he thought more horizontally, and I – a keyboard player – more vertically.  Thus the discrepancy in what we perceived to be the root of the chord and thus the chord’s particular function.”

I was flabbergasted at this little lesson in the subtlety of harmony, and by the highly subjective and divergent way that two musicians can hear the same passage.  I was flattered to be associated with Hindemith by default, but especially moved by her remarkable ear and memory, by the seriousness with which she took this little interaction, and by the generousness with which she shared her detailed thoughts with me.

Our lessons together eventually became coaching sessions in violin literature.  Though not a string player, she knew the violin’s literature thoroughly, and would accompany me on the piano (completely from memory, of course) in anything we played.  We worked on Bach (the E Major sonata for violin and keyboard), the Stravinsky Duo Concertante, and on the Debussy Sonate.  She played with a crystalline touch.  I had the intense feeling she was hearing absolutely everything I was doing. Her advice was rarely interpretive; rather she wanted me to play more carefully.  She stopped me often to make me listen to the piano’s temperament and to match it precisely; no one had ever taken that trouble with me before.  She was very alert to rhythmic inaccuracies on my part.  She didn’t discourage expressivity in any way, but wanted me to play more clearly.

My first summer at Fontainebleau, I played in a piano quartet which performed Fauré and Mozart, and also I played the Ravel Trio.  She had been a student of Fauré’s and a close friend of Ravel (who towards the end of his life was titular head of the Fontainebleau School).  My second summer, I played a recital of Debussy, Bartok and Schubert.

Furthermore, being the only violinist that first summer, I played newly composed works by the eight composition students, and was thus in her studio at least once a day as part of their lessons.  As the lone violinist, I was clearly needed, and I warmed to the challenge.  The composers were all writing single-movement piano trios that summer for the yearly summer competition.  At each lesson, she would listen carefully to portions of each of their fledgling works (the composers were often the pianists in the ensemble), some of which were tonal, some atonal, some cacophonous.  She listened respectfully to all, and would often play extended snatches back at them, asking them to explain  what they meant.  She did the service of holding up a mirror to them, an invaluable gesture, melding encouragement and appropriate discouragement.  The fact that she could play sections of atonal music back at them, having heard it once, and  without recourse to the written music, was astonishing, of course, but it had the effect of chastening composers who didn’t really “hear” their own music.

Given my experience with her, and contemplating the widely differing styles of the composers she has taught, it is clear to me that she was essentially a very inspired ear trainer who imparted a strong sense of duty to the music at hand, be it a new composition or a classic.

I also attended her bi-weekly classes in which we explored Beethoven Symphonies, and I had solfege classes with her devoted assistant, Annette Dieudonné.

During my second summer, I expressed to her my desire to come to Paris during the year and to study harmony with her in her regular classes.  She responded firmly, saying I had very good ear, but my real duty was to polish my violin playing, and that was where I needed to invest time.  In retrospect, I realize how right she was.  

I returned to Fontainebleau a third summer, at her invitation, to play a violin/piano recital with John Kirkpatrick, who is known particularly for his devotion to Charles Ives’s music.  He had been a student in the very first class at Fontainebleau, in 1922, along with Aaron Copland.  He was now returning with me 50 years later to perform a duo concert of Mozart, Ives and Fauré.

I retain many wonderful musical memories from those summers.  But I’d like to share one extra-musical memory.  She once sent a note requesting a time change for one of our lessons due to a conflict over which she had no control.  Since the new time was outside the normal public operating hours of the Palais, the grand gates would not be open, and I would have to enter the courtyard by going around the back of the chateau, and through one of the on-site curator’s apartments.  I followed her instructions, crossed the courtyard to the door of her apartment, and rang the bell.  As she lived on the second floor, I expected her assistant to come down the stairs to let me in.  Instead, the grand French window on the second floor opened and Mlle herself appeared.  She leaned out and said, “Stepner?”  I replied “Oui, Mademoiselle.”  Her long, silver hair, normally done up in a bun, was loose, and it tumbled down over the sill.  I was transported into a fairy tale, and  before I could take it all in, she threw me down a large, ancient key, with which I let myself in.  I was utterly charmed.  As always at lessons, she was personable, but challenging, and often philosophical.  But it was her essential charm that captured my imagination that day more than ever. I have no memory of what we studied  specifically at that lesson, but I felt I was learning something humanly important that would stay with me and reveal its true meaning slowly. 


On September 10, 2014, the Lydian String Quartet performed the second movement from Shostakovich's String Quartet no. 8 for the inaugural ceremony of the outdoor landscape and sculpture installation "Light of Reason" created by artist Chris Burden for the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. The evening was a remarkable Brandeis combination of art, music, speeches, and protest.


Photo by Mike Lovett

Photo by Mike Lovett

We are thrilled to welcome our new violist Mark Berger to the Lydian Quartet!

An international search led to Berger, who is familiar to audiences through his performances with the Boston area’s finest musical organizations, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Emmanuel Music, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Boston Musica Viva, and the Worcester Chamber Music Society. He has recently been featured as violist with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and composer/pianist Thomas Adès, as a soloist in works by Gérard Grisey and Jérôme Combier with Sound Icon, and has premiered a number of works by established composers. Berger also has been affiliated with a number of local colleges and summer festivals as a private teacher, chamber music coach, and teacher of music theory and composition.

Also an acclaimed composer, Berger has been awarded prizes from organizations such as the League of Composers/ISCM, ASCAP and the Rapido Composition Competition. He has composed both instrumental and vocal music, and earned a Ph.D. in composition from Brandeis.

Berger began his tenure as associate professor of the practice at Brandeis in July. The Lydian String Quartet’s regular professional season will begin fall of 2014.

“I am thrilled that my future includes the opportunity to make music at the highest level with such esteemed colleagues as the Lydian String Quartet,” said Berger. “The opportunity to commune on a regular basis with the greatest works of the classical chamber music canon while at the same time pushing boundaries through new works with cutting edge composers via the LSQ Commission Prize is a dream come true.”

Mark fills the position of founding member and violist Mary Ruth Ray (1956-2013).


"The performers rose to the occasion with strong playing throughout their program of Boccherini, Mozart, and Glazunov. Particularly notable was the centerpiece of the evening, Mozart's D-minor Quartet, K.421, the one undisputed masterpiece on this enjoyable program. It was clear that the players truly loved this work and really enjoyed performing it." Read complete review here



"These distinguished readings are full of subtlety, tonal refinement, and a sense of accumulated musical wisdom. The group's choices in phrasing and articulation, as in the Quartet Op. 135, can on occasion make familiar passages seem freshly reconsidered. That said, there's also no chasing after effect. Even in the most violent stretches of the "Grosse Fuge," the Lydian steers clear of tonal extremes, the kind of expressionism avant la lettre that some ensembles read back into this music. In Op. 127, the music's links to tradition come across as palpably as its revolutionary qualities. The famed Op. 132 is dominated by a prayerful reading of its sublime slow movement. This set, in short, is the work of veteran chamber musicians who have not lost their capacity for wonder at what Stepner describes as 'Beethoven's burning need to communicate an exalted, complex, life-affirming vision of musical possibility.'" Read complete review here


"In its recordings, the Lydian Quartet has been associated primarily with 20th-century American music, although it has ranged much more widely in its concertizing. Here it tackles the very pinnacle of the standard quartet repertoire, in competition with virtually every distinguished string quartet of the past half-century and beyond. Fortunately, the Lydian contribution is far from redundant, for these are fine and distinctive performances, recorded in very realistic sound. The Lydian players take what might be termed a "classical" approach to these iconic works, in that they tend to set a tempo and hold it firmly, although not without a tasteful application of rubato at some points. They are also particularly concerned with rhythmic precision and clean, clear articulation. They neither rush nor linger, generally avoiding extremes of tempo. These tightly organized performances are further characterized by well-focused tone, precise intonation, shapely phrasing, and judicious pacing. They also display an unusual degree of clarity and attention to balances among the instruments, with a more open, less-blended sound than that produced by such Central European ensembles as the Alban Berg, Smetana, and Takacs Quartets. This clarity is a major asset in handling the often complex texture of Beethoven's writing, and exchanges among the instruments are unusually well defined.