Saturday, September 17, 2011

Celebrating Legacies: Market Square Concerts & the Juilliard Quartet

Five years ago. the Juilliard Quartet was celebrating its milestone 60th Anniversary when they helped Market Square Concerts celebrate its 25th.

This fall, Market Square Concerts begins its 30th Anniversary Season with a performance by the Juilliard String Quartet on Saturday, October 1st at Whitaker Center, just ten days shy of their official 65th "birthday."

It was on October 11th, 1946, that William Schuman, the American composer who was the president of the Juilliard School of Music then, told a 26-year-old violinist named Robert Mann he wanted him to form a string quartet that would be in residence at the school and would have a dual role as a performing ensemble and a teaching unit which could have a significant impact on the musical life of the students and the community. Though quartets had existed in history before, this was the first time one had been formed with that particular concept in mind and its success led to many other schools and music departments forming their own resident teaching and performing ensembles.

Long recognized as one of the finest string quartets in the world, they have numerous highly acclaimed recordings and quotes in their resume like “The Juilliard String Quartet remains the standard by which all other quartets must be judged” from the Los Angeles Times, a sentiment shared by many of the major critics around the world. 

Robert Mann, the first 1st Violinist of the group, retired after 50 seasons with the ensemble, a tenure rare in the chamber music world – especially considering the pressure of constantly working at that level of excellence with only three other people: burn-out is a frequent ailment among quartet players and personnel issues, given the percentages, can easily become personality issues that can be devastating.

There has been surprisingly little turnover in the quartet’s history and considerable longevity in the process: five years ago (see photo, right), the new guy, 2nd violinist Ronald Copes, was celebrating his 10th season with them. Joel Smirnoff had been with them 21 years; cellist Joel Krosnick, 33 years; and violist Samuel Rhodes, 37 years.

But in the past three seasons, after Mr. Smirnoff left to become the president of the Cleveland Institute of Music, Nick Eanet joined them in 2009, unfortunately having to step down due to health reasons the following year. The new "new guy" is Joseph Lin, now in his first season with the legendary Juilliard Quartet, only the fourth 1st violinist in its history.

As the quartet officially turns 65 (see photo, left), its newest member is 33 years old.

The quartet had been here on occasions past and looked forward to coming back for that double celebration in 2006. We were very lucky to have them here on the occasion: after all, a group in demand around the world planning a huge anniversary tour and yet four days into their 60th season they’re in Harrisburg PA?!

So, having them return again is a great way to start the 30th Anniversary of Market Square Concerts which, thanks to Lucy Miller Murray (left), had been bringing ensembles like this to the mid-state since the beginning, often against all kinds of odds, despite the woes that have befallen the classical music scene and support for the arts in general, not only here but across the country.

It certainly has been a labor of love – and a great deal of both labor and love has gone into those first 25 years. She’s been recognized around the country for her work in the chamber music world as a presenter and also as a writer about issues affecting music in general but chamber music in particular (for example, her article posted at The New Music Box).

Pianist Peter Orth was the artist for the very first concert given by Market Square Concerts which were then regularly held at the Market Square Church in downtown Harrisburg, an off-shoot of an occasional series of concerts being held there that was being disbanded and which she thought she’d take over. She told me recently that “I thought all you’d have to do was post a sign on the door of Market Square Church and people would just show up” which is pretty much how it went for awhile.

Over the years, she feels she’s learned to run a small business, dealing with contacting the artists and setting up the season, handling the marketing, getting the programs printed not to mention writing the program notes (she’s collected these into a volume published by Concert Artists Guild entitled “Adams to Zemlinsky: a Friendly Guide to Selected Chamber Music”), handling ticket sales, arrangements for dinners and receptions and even turning pages on-stage during the performance!

And there have been personnel changes since that Anniversary Concert - Lucy Miller Murray decided to step down as director, though she is still very active in the organization beyond writing program notes. Ellen Hughes (left), a pillar of the regional arts' scene in both music and theater as well as a column in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, stepped down at the end of last season as the director, and is also still active in the organization, passing the reins on to Peter Sirotin, the Artistic Director (below, right) and Ya-Ting Chang, the Executive Director (below, left).

Both performing musicians, they are two-thirds of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio and teach at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. Peter may also be familiar to Harrisburg audiences having shared the first stand of 1st Violins in the Harrisburg Symphony with concertmaster Odin Rathnam.

And they begin the season by welcoming an ensemble whose former 2nd Violinist, Earl Carlyss, a member of the Juilliard Quartet from 1966 to 1986, was an important mentor to them both and continues to be a role model for them.

Today, Market Square Concerts' performances can take place not only at the original "home base" of Market Square Church but also at Whitaker Center where it's one of the "ensembles" in residence; at the Rose Lehrman Center on the campus of Harrisburg Area Community College; and most recently adding Temple Ohev Sholom at N. Front & Seneca Streets in uptown Harrisburg (where the next concert will take place on November 12th with the JACK Quartet).

Market Square Concerts presents the Juilliard String Quartet -- Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet, Janáček's String Quartet No. 1 ("The Kreutzer Sonata") & Mozart's String Quartet in A, K.464 -- Saturday, October 1st, 8pm, at Whitaker Center in Harrisburg.

- Dick Strawser

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Image credits: Juilliard Qt in 1952 -- G.D. Hackett
Juilliard Qt in 2006 -- Nana Watanabe
Juilliard Qt in 2011 -- Steve J. Sherman 

No comments:

Post a Comment