On today’s date in 1998, the Lark Quartet gave the first performance of the String Quartet No. 2 by the American composer Aaron Jay Kernis. Like much of Kernis’s music, the new Quartet drew upon an eclectic variety of influences.
As Kernis himself put it: “My Second String Quartet uses elements of Renaissance and Baroque dance music and dance forms as its basis and inspiration. For years I’ve played various Bach suites and pieces from the Fitzwillian Virginal Book at the piano for my own pleasure, and I suspected for some time that their influence would eventually show up in my own work.”
The Lark Quartet had commissioned Kernis’ First String Quartet, and, like the composer, were over the moon when they learned the Second Quartet had won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Just three months after its premiere, Kernis got the news by phone as he was headed to the airport to catch a flight to Spain. “I haven’t had a martini in years,” recalled Kernis, “but that’s sort of what it felt like.”
Kernis’ Second Quartet was a triple commission from Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and The Schubert Club of St. Paul, Minnesota, and was dedicated to Linda Hoeschler, the former Executive Director of the American Composers Forum.