Sunday Afternoons to close season with world premiere

By David Fleshler

Composer Joel Hoffmans Three for Five will receive its world premiere Sunday at Gusman Concert Hall

Composer Joel Hoffman's "Three for Five" will receive its world premiere Sunday at Gusman Concert Hall

The Coral Gables concert series called Sunday Afternoons of Music is best known for presenting first-rate soloists and ensembles in fairly traditional repertoire. But this Sunday, the group will present the world premiere of a work for cello and string quartet by noted American composer Joel Hoffman.

The professor of composition and artistic director of the new music festival at the University of Cincinnati, composed Three for Five for his celebrated cellist brother Gary Hoffman to perform with the Amernet String Quartet, resident quartet of Florida International University, on a commission from Sunday Afternoons of Music.

As he considered how to approach the commission, Hoffman said he gave a lot of thought to that great work for string quartet and cello, Schubert’s Quintet in C Major. That masterpiece is also on the program Sunday, and at first Hoffman considered composing a work that could be played as a companion to it.

After chewing on this idea for nearly a year, he gave it up as unworkable. But something of the Schubert quintet did remain on his mind, as he considered the musical politics of a guest cellist taking the stage with a string quartet.

When a cellist joins with a string quartet to perform the Schubert work, he said, the guest cellist traditionally takes the second cello part and claims — whether they mean it or not —- that’s the part they prefer. Hoffman would have none of this faux modesty.  His composition would give a starring role to the guest cellist — in this case, his brother.

“In my piece there’s no ambiguity at all,” he said. “It’s a piece for cello and string quartet. It’s a piece in which the guest cellist would have a prominent place.”

As described on Hoffman’s web page, his works “draw from such diverse sources as Eastern European folk music and bebop, and is pervaded by a sense of lyricism and rhythmic vitality.”

The title of the work to be premiered Sunday refers to its three sections, which rely on a trio of extraordinarily different scales, giving each section a distinct musical tone. One scale is an ancient one from the School of Pythagoras, a mathematically determined series of notes. The second is medieval. And the third and most complex was created by Hoffman, a scale considerably more vast than the conventional major and minor ones, which repeats at much larger intervals than the octave.

“Those are the only notes allowed in the piece,” he said. “It has the quality of being both rich and complex but also stationary.”

The Amernet Quartet and cellist Gary Hoffman perform Joel Hoffman’s Three for Five, Mozart’s Quartet in B-Flat Major, K. 589, and Schubert’s Quintet in C Major 4 p.m. Sunday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. Call 305-271-7150 or go to

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Wed May 19, 2010
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