Feb. 6, 2003
Vol. 22 No. 9

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    Pacifica set to perform all five Carter string quartets

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    An opportunity to encounter one of the most stark and challenging musical legacies of the 20th century will occur Friday, Feb. 21, when the University’s quartet-in-residence, the Pacifica Quartet, returns to Mandel Hall to perform its interpretation of all five of Elliott Carter’s string quartets.

    Describing the quartet’s first performance of these pieces, The New York Times wrote: “That [the quartet] played more than two hours of the most difficult music ever conceived with such technical assurance and keen musicianship was impressive enough. But they did more, bringing out the music’s volatile emotions, delicacy and even, in places, plucky humor.”

    The Pacifica Quartet, composed of Simin Ganatra, violin; Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin; Masumi Per Rostad, viola; and Brandon Vamos, cello, are a young but much-decorated group. Formed in 1994, they captured three of the nation’s most important awards–the Grand Prize at the 1996 Coleman Chamber Music Competition, top prize at the 1997 Concert Artists Guild Competition and the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award.

    Most recently the quartet was appointed Resident Quartet of Chamber Music Society Two, the young artist residency program at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. They are currently artists in residence at the University.

    Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin Professor in Music and the College, said: “I am a huge admirer of Pacifica. When they first came to us four or five years ago, they won us over with their talent, enthusiasm and great promise. Their music making has always been about the music, not just sheer pyrotechnics. But to see them do these amazing things, such as taking on the entire string quartet cycle by Elliott Carter, or presenting absolutely top-notch performances of the likes of Gyorgi Ligeti, Ralph Shapey, or John Adams–I don’t think anyone could have anticipated their staggering growth within such a short period of time.”

    Ran also expressed her admiration for the quartet members’ teaching abilities, commenting on their commitment to working with graduate composition students. “Seeing them in a small practice room, huddled over what, at times, are fragments of music still sketchily notated, putting every bit of their talent and soul into bringing that newly emerging music to life, is an experience I’ll bet each and every one of our young composers will never forget,” said Ran.

    Thomas Christensen, Chairman of Music and Professor in Music and the College, agreed with Ran. “They are technically and aesthetically unique,” he said of the Pacifica Quartet. “They love working with our students and coming into the classrooms. They’re very generous with their time and are natural pedagogues. That’s what makes them, and eighth blackbird, our other resident ensemble, especially valuable for us–they’re not just here to play concerts.”

    Christensen added that this particular concert would be key for anyone who wants to understand and experience how classical music has evolved over the past 50 years. “We’re at the point in the 21st century where we can consider Modernism as a historical movement in the mid- to late-20th century, and Carter is really the dean of this school. Considering the panorama these five quartets span, it’s virtually his whole career. Carter is difficult by any account–very formalist and severe, but many informed critics acknowledge these five pieces as the high point of musical modernism.”

    Yet, he argued, there is a heart beating within this extremely demanding music. “With music, the mind can speak to the heart, there can be imagination and emotion in rationality too–Bach is an example that people would agree is both rigorously intellectual and deeply emotional. In contemporary music, Carter is that kind of composer, too. But what’s extraordinary about this concert is its density–to have all five quartets performed at once–an experience as demanding on the listener as on the performers. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”

    The performance will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. Ticket prices are $10 for adults; $5 for students with a valid student ID; free for University students with a valid Chicago card. More information and tickets are available at (773) 702-8068 or online at chicagopresents.uchicago.edu.