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Thomas G. McFaul
st qt — World Premiere

Review: James Estes
Composer's Remarks
Fry Street Program Notes

Thomas McFaul's st qt, a five-movement work for string quartet,
received its world premiere performances by the Fry Street Quartet. in 2005.

On September 30, 2005, at 8:00 p.m., the Fry Street Quartet performed Thomas McFaul's st qt, music for four parts in five movements, at Lehigh University, Zoellner Arts Center, 420 East Packer Avenue, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in a program that also included Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet, and the Brahms Piano Quintet, with pianist Eugene Albulescu.

On October 1, 2005, at 8:00 p.m., the Fry Street Quartet again played McFaul's st qt in Reading, Pennsylvania, for the Friends of Chamber Music at the Women's Club Center for the Arts. The program also included the Haydn Op. 9, No.4, and Dvorak A-flat major string quartets.

Listen to MP3 Samples of st qt

Review of st qt Premiere by James Estes

Quartet masterly blends old, new
by James Estes, special to The Daily News

The Fry Street Quartet is a young ensemble of talented, dedicated, well-trained musicians. Formed in 1997 and named after a small street in Chicago (one can only assume that Michigan and Wabash were in use) this group has impressive credentials. Encouraged by mentor Isaac Stern, the quartet has benefited from coaching at major chamber music seminars, including a stint with the Carnegie Hall Fellows Program, and has worked with many noted teachers and performers. The result has been several Grand Prize awards, the most notable of which is the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. The group's Carnegie Hall debut in 2001 was a "rave," said the New York Concert Review.

While the ensemble seems equally at home in the classic repertoire of Mozart and Beethoven or of contemporary music, its real forte seems to be in more modern music, at least if Wednesday night's performance at the Kravis Center's Rinker Playhouse is any gauge. The program ranged from the Classic period to just last week with equal technical proficiency and musical understanding.

The concert began with a lovely performance of Mozart's String Quartet in F Major, K. 590, also known as Quartet No. 23. This quartet, written with King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in mind, is a pleasant work from the last years of Mozart's life. Fry Street Quartet's performance was excellent, if not particularly distinctive.

The Florida premier of Thomas G. McFaul's st qt: music for four parts in five movements (2003) showed the fire and enthusiasm of which these musicians are capable. McFaul is a composer whose greatest claim to fame is as a jingle writer extraordinaire. His oeuvre includes Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Pizza Hut: Makin' it Great, and Mountain Dew's: Dewin' it Country Cool. While jingles put food on the table, McFaul proves to be an accomplished composer and this work may well take its place in the standard repertoire for all string quartets.

While wholly original and not at all derivative, McFaul manages to touch many bases throughout the five movements. At times in the first movement, one senses it comes close to becoming a Piazzolla-like tango (cue the bandoneon) but stops just short. The first three movements bounce from lyrical tonality to angular atonality with enough sul ponticello (a scratchy sound produced by playing near the bridge) to keep the audience from humming along. McFaul describes the piece as a kind of musical battlefield where tonality and post-tonality meet. Indeed, the piece is almost schizophrenic in its variety of style and approach. While this may seem off-putting, it works in a magical way. The lovely tonal sections, at time so melodic that Schubert would have been proud to call it his own, act as an antidote to the dissonant, pointillistic, angular writing that is difficult to listen to for long. The dissonance prevents the lovely tonal writing from becoming treacly.

In the end, it is a complete work that appeals to the daring listener and the conservative one as well. One can only hope that other quartets will take up this work and give it the life it deserves. The Fry Street Quartet's performance showed its commitment to "our baby," as second violinist Rebecca McFaul described it. They made that strongest possible case for themselves as an ensemble and this music as well.

It is hard to believe that Debussy's String Quartet No. 1, Opus 10 (1893) is 111 years old. It sounds as fresh as if it had been written yesterday. Here, the Fry Street Quartet glistened like wet leaves in sunshine. The subtlety of dynamics, unanimity of bowing and near-perfection of pitch made this music spring to life in full form. At times beautifully harmonious, at other times whirling with undercurrents and sudden dynamic changes, this early work of Debussy is always appealing. This appropriate finale to the Fry Street Quartet's performance shows this group is one to be followed as it reaches ever higher levels of musicality.

— Friday, February 27, 2004

Composer's Remarks about st qt

It is a great privilege for any composer to work directly with musicians toward an interpretation and performance of a new piece. st qt was written for the Fry Street Quartet, a sublimely musical group of gifted and ambitious young players with whom I have had previous associations. They participated in the production and recording of my Mass in C minor. We were able to work on st qt together for five successive days in the summer of 2003.

st qt combines discrete, seemingly opposing melodic, and rhythmic elements in a harmonic framework that ranges from very traditional to highly chromatic. Influences range from the Landini cadence of the fourteenth century, to 18th century contrapuntal conventions, Romantic notions, as well as the Modernism and Post Modernism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

I think of the piece as a kind of musical battlefield where tonality and post-tonality meet. In the case of this skirmish, tonality is clearly victorious.

— T. McFaul

Program Notes from Fry Street Quartet

FSQ presents the World Premiere of Thomas McFaul's st qt

Thomas McFaul has written some of the most widely recognized melodies in the world's history of music. Read on to find out why you might not recognize his name.

Beginning his musical career in musicology at the University of Illinois during its heyday, McFaul was exposed to all the great compositional minds of the time. His career in academia took a wild left turn when he left to play in a rock band called Think Dog! After some years of struggling with the band in New York, he took a job writing jingles and spent the next thirty years writing all the jingles you hum. The Meow Mix "Meow Meow Meow Meow" ad campaign, Pizza Hut's "Makin' it Great," and Mountain Dew's "Dewin' it Country Cool," barely begins the list. Always writing classical music as well, McFaul recently completed his Mass in C minor. The Mass is a colossal masterpiece that involves solo voices, a choir, and orchestra. His st qt (a nod to his start in musicology, as "st qt" is the abbreviation for "string quartet" in the New Grove Dictionary of Music) was written for the Fry Street Quartet in the spring of 2003. It is an exciting piece that begins with a rich first movement, then continues with a short and furious second movement, and next surprisingly transitions to a beautiful and simple March. The fourth is a gorgeous and contemplative slow movement followed by a blazing double fugue to finish the work.

Copyright © 2002–2011, Thomas G. McFaul
Last modified: Wed May 11 13:27:25 EDT 2011
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