The Arts in Education
with the Juilliard String Quartet
Making its first appearance with its new member Nick Eanet (Concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) recently, The Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ) was led in animated conversation by noted lecturer, writer and broadcast commentator Nancy Shear. The event, which took place at Steinway and Sons’ beautiful 57th Street flagship showroom, across the street from Carnegie Hall, was notable not just because it was the first time Mr. Eanet was appearing before the public as part of the group (he replaces Joel Smirnoff, now President of The Cleveland Institute of Music), but because the occasion marked the continuing success and growing significance of the innovative sponsoring association, Music For All Seasons.
Now in its 18h year, Music For All Seasons—a five-state music-oriented social service organization that brings live musical performances to a wide range of institutions involved in physical, mental and spiritual healing, among them, children’s hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, nursing homes, halfway houses, retirement homes, hospice centers. It is best known, however, for hosting “Conversations” with prestigious musical artists at various and unusual venues. With the appearance of JSQ, “the quintessential American string quartet,” Music For All Seasons scored another hit. Ironically, though the group did not play, its four stars—Ronald Copes (second violin), Nick Eanet (first violin), Joel Krosnick (cello) and Samuel Rhodes (viola)—shone on this rainy night, bringing a rapt audience verbal evidence of what’s been called the legendary “Juilliard sound”.
In the lively one-hour exchange, Nancy Shear addressed questions to the group that were answered spontaneously by one member who then sparked responses by the others—kind of like the way JSQ performs, demonstrating individual voices working in harmony. And while Mr. Krosnick did laughingly—and modestly—attribute the phrase “Juilliard sound” to critics, the audience recognized in the Conversation many qualities of their musical sound—“clarity of structure, compelling rhythmic drive and an extraordinary unanimity of purpose.”
Introduced by Music For All Seasons founding Executive Director, Brian Dallow, a well-respected arts administrator as well as concert pianist, composer and educator, Ms. Shear elicited from the group informal and highly entertaining “behind-the-scenes” anecdotes. Unlike many talk sessions that seem to unroll on automatic pilot, the JSQ’s often humorous, always informative give-and-take with Ms. Shear showed them to be a “wonderful fit” for a sponsoring organization dedicated to the “healing power of music.” Is there a healing quality in your playing,” she asked, opening the interview. Of course, it could be anticipated that the answer would be yes, but in a way audience members might not have expected. Even in rehearsal, JSQ pointed out, each feels a “restorative” power in playing magnificent music. “Schubert’s C major cello quintet may not have been healing for him,” Mr. Krosnick noted, but it sure is for them.
Does JSQ subscribe to any particular school of teaching, Ms. Shear wondered. Is it important to the players that they know something about a composer’s life, his times? Again, avoiding what might have been the pat response, the musicians allowed themselves free association, playing off each other’s remarks.
Before 1946, when the quartet was founded to teach and to celebrate American contemporary along with the traditional chamber music, most great string quartets were European-born and/or -trained. What JSQ wanted to do was treat the classics—including modern, 20th century music now considered classic (Bartok, for example)—as rediscovered pieces for our own time. How closely does JSQ follow scores? Well, you don’t want to limit a composition to following specks on a page. A notation may call for a “sudden” change but how one gets there, how the transition event is achieved, is open to interpretation. If given the magic to commission a work from a composer live or dead, whom would they choose? The answers were wonderfully diverse: a 17th quartet from Beethoven, another piece by Carter, something from Berlioz and, always, Schubert.
How does JSQ select a program? Some pieces, considering different eras, different styles, are better placed at the beginning or end. With the classical repertoire, JSQ likes to start with pieces it hasn’t played for a while. Sometimes the prompt is an anniversary: 2009, for example, marks not only Mendelssohn’s birth date but also the year Haydn died. The chemistry this night was right on, but one suspects with this group that it is always so. Unbidden, each member spoke of being grateful for learning from colleagues, listening to another’s vision. Roll over, Beatles, New York has a new newly constituted Fab Four. #