A Note From David Yang

The following is a note from David Yang, Artistic Director for the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival:

I’ve wanted to program this incredible, weird, and magical piece for ages. Written in 1976, French composer Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit” (Thus the Night) has become a modern classic. Keen listeners will hear the influence of Debussy and Ravel but Dutilleux preferred to think of Bartók as a more direct progenitor. “Ainsi” begins with an evocation of night music born of works like Bartók’s 4th quartet or the piano suite “Out of Doors” but veers off into a surreal world of immense calm, transcendence, even ecstasy, punctuated with nightmares of pursuit and existential terror. “Ainsi la nuit” is a meditation on the meaning of night.

The quartet has a unique formal structure I’ve never encountered in another work. Played straight through with no break, brief transitional segments (well under a minute) are inserted between the movements. Referred to as “parentheses,” they contain echoes of previous themes along with incomplete fragments of melodies to come in what Dutilleux called “reverse variation.”

Dutilleux was fascinated with Proust’s concept of memory as expressed in his novel “Remembrance of Things Past.”  The classic Proustian moment towards the beginning of the epic seven volume work involves the narrator, a grown man, tasting a madeleine tea cake and the explosion of childhood memories the action triggers. Throughout “Ainsi la nuit” there is a fluid notion of time that, as in each “parenthesis,” alludes to music we have already heard in the piece combined with intimations of music to come.

Dutilleux taught at Tanglewood and worked with violinist Yonah Zur, one of the artists of the festival this summer. In fact, Yonah even has a signed copy of “Ainsi la nuit.”

Our Parisian cellist, Sébastien van Kuijk, worked closely with Dutilleux as well:

I met Dutilleux several times and it was always a great privilege. He was an adorable man with a lot of great stories about Prokofiev, Ravel, Florent Schmidt and other great personalities of the 20th century that he met and worked with. I worked the 3 Strophes for solo cello with him and had a wonderful time! I even suggested an alternative ending for the last bars of his piece and he actually agreed!

David Yang, Artistic Director

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