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Quartets Galore


The MIT Visiting Artist Series in collaboration with MIT Music and Theater Arts has announced series of concerts by the Jupiter String Quartet featuring Beethoven’s complete string quartet cycle in six visits to the MIT campus as part of a two-year residency. The series begins this Friday in Kresge Auditorium, and include quartets Op. 18, No. 6; Op. 59, No. 3; and Op. 127. At the other end of Massachusetts Avenue at exactly the same time, the Chiara String Quartet will be offering one the concluding concerts in its residency at Paine Hall with this program: Mozart: String Quartet No.8 in F major, K.168, Edgar Barroso: Engrama, Marta Gentilucci: Proof Resilience, Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, with Todd Palmer, clarinet. Read more on the Blodgett succession here.

BMInt spoke with Professor Marcus Thomson about the significance of the MIT announcement:

The string quartet program at Kresge seems to be gaining steam again with the announcement of the Jupiter’s six-concert Beethoven cycle; this seems like old days.
Thanks for recalling that MIT had long supported a major string quartet series. I think it was one of the most important in the Boston area, even before I came to MIT forty years ago, and may have played some part in causing our music faculty to look for someone to start teaching chamber music as part of our ensemble offerings.  In more recent years various local institutions created quartet residencies or series at Jordan and elsewhere. The audience became more widely dispersed and the whole manner in which visiting artists throughout the industry changed to require a short residency for a couple of days coaching or class visiting. It is rare to engage artists for just straight concerts these days without some kind of service component. MIT’s series evolved to include a mini residency for ensembles and recitalist– beyond just quartets–to include contemporary ensembles like Lontano Ensemble of London, Bang on a Can, and even BCMS.  I wouldn’t say we ever stopped presenting quartets if you consider in 2005-7 we had the Vogler, Audubon and Jupiters as part of the Mozart Viola Quintet cycle with me; 2006 the Endellion Quartet, 2007 Zehetmair, 2008 Calder, 2009 Daedalus, 2010 Harlem, and 2011 the Jupiters again, this time with David Deveau.

Is there any element of “me too” in this? After all, Harvard’s Blodgett string quartet program has given us many years of fine quartet playing and just announced a permanent residency for the Parker.

Actually, the MIT quartet series came first and was very well attended years before the start of the privately-funded Blodgett residency. (I recall playing Dvorak Viola Quintet with the very first Blodgett quartet years after coming to MIT.) Now that Harvard has upgraded the status of the their resident quartet from periodic visitors to full-time members of the staff you are wondering if MIT is considering this two-year visiting residency a step in that direction? Not really. We already have full-time staff teaching chamber music of all kinds–for winds, with piano, contemporary–as well as strings. It is certainly one of the reason our series started including more ensembles with differing repertoire.

What did you tell the MIT Visting Arts program about why they should fund this?

The MIT Visiting Arts Program is actually an Institute-wide effort by our Office of the Arts to bring high level artists of broad interest to MIT. They funded a multi-year residency for Bang on a Can, and visits by Jazz musicians Don Byron, Jamshied Sharifi, and Either/Or, all of which included concerts and student ensemble coachings. Tonight Jupiters will be coaching MIT chamber ensembles. We thought it time to try take the idea of a quartet or two each year to another level by offering this timeless repertoire over several years. After all quartet playing in general and the Beethoven Quartets in particular are not only the subjects of recent plays and novels, but films, too. It is also not our first extended quartet residency. We have had the Endellion Quartet here from London twice with support from Reuters news agency. With the Jupiters this will be the first time the funding is shared and augmented by support from the O of A.

Why the Jupiter and why a complete Beethoven cycle?

At the time of the proposal the Jupiters were our local favorites who had proven themselves on the world stage in all kinds of repertoire, including the Beethoven Cycle. They were also warmly received and enjoyed by our students in classroom settings. That they now occupy two enviable residencies of their own in Oberlin College and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign shows their national appeal is growing.

I think we decided on the Beethoven cycle because it is both evidence of and cause for mastery. The quartets are not programmed chronologically. Therefore, one can have a glimpse of how this supreme master evolved even in the course of one evening. I’m glad the concerts are spaced over two academic years. Hearing them all and getting to know them should not be a marathon experience like hearing the Ring Cycle or watching a full season of a favorite HBO series. Rather, allowing time to reflect upon the timeless is what this music is about.

For more on both concerts and the Jupiter’s continuing cycle in the spring see BMInt’s Upcoming Events.

The Jupiter Quartet is an award-winning ensemble that since leaving its graduate residency at the New England Conservatory of Music has been featured at some of the most important concert series and venues throughout the United States including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Aspen Music Festival and Rockport Music. In addition to their top credentials as performers, the Jupiter was recently appointed Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Illinois School of Music at Urbana-Champaign.

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