“The Art of the String Quartet—The Avalon” Concert

Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Puccini, Court Intrigue, Ancient Persia, and Early Feminism in Stacy Garrop’s Berkshire Premiere on Sunday, February 11, 4 PM at Saint James Place, Great Barrington

Close Encounters With Music’s 2024 Winter / Spring chamber music concerts open on February 11th with the return of the estimable Avalon String Quartet, bringing to the stage the Berkshire premiere of “For Such a Time as This.” The work is a retelling of the biblical Book of Esther for string quartet and vocalist, from a feminist perspective. Composer Stacy Garrop’s (recent commissions from the Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Louisiana symphony orchestras) intent is to remind us “we each possess agency to make changes happen in our lives, to act upon injustices, and leave the world a better place.” Mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley takes on the role of narrator, alternatively playing Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus (identified as the historical Xerxes), Queen Esther and her guardian Mordecai from the 5th century BCE scroll, as well as the villain Haman who seeks to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Persia – modern day Iran. Bentley has been featured soloist with orchestras led by Raymond Leppard, Oliver Knussen, Robert Shaw and Pierre Boulez. Tickets Here.

In choosing the biblical tale, Garrop says, “I find several striking points. First, women had little or no agency over their lives. Biblical times were a man’s world. Vashti’s banishment at the beginning of the Book sets this tone immediately. The question whether Esther possesses the agency to act is addressed head on.” Court intrigue, a beauty pageant, and an averted genocide are elements of the gripping story, set to dramatic music.

Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 2 pulsates with young love before landing in fairyland with a shimmering scherzo right out of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puccini’s verismo-style “Chrysanthemums,” a seldom-performed gem, begins the concert.

Close Encounters has featured leading string quartets of today each season— the Dover, Ariel, Borromeo, Escher, Muir among others—and the Avalon is an audience favorite (“The Avalon—drop-dead gorgeous playing” – Classics Today) returning for their fourth visit.

Julia Bentley, narrator/mezzo-soprano, Avalon String Quartet: Blaise Magniere, violin; Marie Wang, violin; Anthony Devroye, viola; Cheng-Hou Lee, cello

The Art of the String Quartet—The Avalon

Sunday, February 11, 4 PM at Saint James Place, Great Barrington

CEWM has resumed its hors d’oeuvres and wine receptions. There is an Afterglow Reception in Saint James Place’s Great Hall following the concert in the Sanctuary Space. Audience members are invited to meet the artists and enjoy beverages and bites by Authentic Eats by Oleg. Join us!

In addition to offering live in-person concerts, curated online performances will be available to accommodate geographically remote listeners and newly expanded virtual followers.


Tickets, $52, can be purchased at www.cewm.org or by calling 800-843-0778. Prorated Season subscriptions for the remainder of 2024 ($185 Regular, $160 Senior) are available at cewm.org. We also offer a virtual option—tickets are $28 for individual programs or $100 for the complete season, delivered to your email address!

“CEWM patrons have learned that sooner or later they’ll be blindsided by a performance so sublime.” The Berkshire Edge


Avalon String Quartet

Described by the Chicago Tribune as “an ensemble that invites you — ears, mind, and spirit — into its music,” the Avalon String Quartet has established itself as one of the country’s leading chamber music ensembles. The Avalon has performed in major venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the 92nd St Y, Merkin Hall, and Bargemusic in New York; the Library of Congress and National Gallery of Art in Washington DC; Wigmore Hall in London; and Herculessaal in Munich. Other performances include appearances at the Bath International Music Festival, Aldeburgh Festival, Caramoor, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, NPR’s St. Paul Sunday, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Dame Myra Hess Concerts, Los Angeles Music Guild, and Ravinia. The quartet performs an annual concert series in historic Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it has presented the complete quartet cycles of Beethoven, Bartok, and Brahms in recent seasons. The Avalon is quartet-in-residence at the Northern Illinois University School of Music, a position formerly held by the Vermeer Quartet. Additional teaching activities have included the Interlochen Advanced Quartet Program, Madeline Island Music and the Britten-Pears School in England, as well as masterclasses at universities and conservatories throughout the United States. Additionally, they have given numerous performances and presentations to young audiences in under-resourced schools and communities. The Avalon captured the top prize at the ARD Competition in Munich (2000) and First Prize at the Concert Artists Guild Competition in New York City (1999). In its early years, the ensemble trained intensively with the

Julia Bentley, narrator/mezzo-soprano. Following apprenticeships with Santa Fe Opera and Chicago Lyric Opera, mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley appeared in leading operatic roles including Carmen, Rosina, Dorabella, Despina, and both Rossini and Massenet Cinderellas, from Anchorage to New York. Recognized by the New York Times for her “rich sound, deep expressivity and uncanny sense of pitch,” she has been featured as soloist with orchestras led by George Manahan, Raymond Leppard, Oliver Knussen, Robert Shaw and Pierre Boulez. Ms. Bentley performs frequently with Chicago’s many fine ensembles, including the Ear Taxi Festival, Contempo, eighth blackbird, the Spektral Quartet, Fulcrum Point, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chicago Opera Theater, the Newberry Consort, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Lyric Opera and the MusicNOW series at Symphony Center with conductor Cliff Colnot. She has appeared to critical acclaim at Alice Tully Hall and Weill Hall with Pierre Boulez as the soloist in Le Marteau Sans Maître, and recorded on the Albany, Cedille and Tintagel labels. Recent engagements have included performances of La Damnation de Faust with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Pierrot Lunaire with eighth blackbird, La Cenerentola with Sacramento Opera, Berg’s Lyric Suite with the Emerson String Quartet, and the Bach B Minor Mass with the Apollo Chorus as well as chamber music series in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. She is honored to have a 20-year affiliation with The New Budapest Orpheum Society and is featured in their Grammy-nominated CD As Dreams Fall Apart on Cedille Records. She served as an Associate Professor of Voice and Graduate Art Song Literature at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.

Composer Stacy Garrop

Stacy Garrop’s music is centered on dramatic and lyrical storytelling. Dr. Garrop is a full-time freelance composer living in the Chicago area. Her catalog covers a wide range, with works for orchestra, opera, oratorio, wind ensemble, choir, art song, various sized chamber ensembles, and works for solo instruments. Recent commissions include Forging Steel for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Goddess Triptych for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Spectacle of Light for the Music of the Baroque Orchestra, Berko’s Journey for the Omaha Symphony, Song of Orpheus for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, The Battle for the Ballot for the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, In a House Besieged for The Crossing on texts by Lydia Davis, and Alpenglow, a double concerto for saxophone, tuba, and wind ensemble commissioned by a consortium of 18 organizations. Notable past commissions include My Dearest Ruth for soprano and piano with text by Martin Ginsburg, the husband of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Glorious Mahalia for the Kronos Quartet; Give Me Hunger for Chanticleer; Slipstream for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Musicians Chamber Music Series; and Terra Nostra (oratorio), commissioned by the San Francisco Choral Society. Dr. Garrop’s current commissions include upcoming projects with the U.S. Navy Band, Fauré Centennial Festival, and Chicago Opera Theater for a new opera with librettist Jerre Dye. Garrop has received numerous awards and grants including an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fromm Music Foundation Grant. Recent performances of her orchestral works were given by the Baltimore, Chicago, Fort Collins, Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Reading, Richmond, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, of her wind ensemble works by the U.S. Marine Band and U.S. Navy Band; and of her chamber works by the Avalon String Quartet, Boston Trio, Capitol Saxophone Quartet, Ensemble Échappé, and the Lincoln Trio. Theodore Presser Company and ECS Publishing carry her works.