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In a move that’s hardly surprising for an ensemble, the Juilliard String Quartet players locked eyes. They were onstage at Alice Tully Hall, in one of their two annual recitals there. The audience was packed in, and awaited the quartet’s final performance on the program: Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1, the “Razumovsky.” Some pupillary transmissions later, cellist Astrid Schween presented the opening statement, a wistful theme. Meanwhile, violist Roger Tapping and second violinist Ronald Copes delivered a quickly pulsing accompaniment. Measures later, the beautiful melody passed to first violinist Joseph Lin. The quartet was underway. (Read more)

- Strings Magazine, February 2017

 

PRESS

Last night at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre, Music Toronto, in its opening concert of the new season, presented the 2016 version of America’s ‘quintessential quartet’. The Juilliard String Quartet is in its seventy-first year and has turned over its membership many times in that span. On the minds of many in the hall was the question of how its newest member, cellist Astrid Schween would fit in. She is replacing cellist Joel Krosnick, who retired this past June after forty-two years with the group. The programme of Beethoven and Bartok would be an excellent test.

The programme opened with Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, “Quartetto serioso”. This is a work of great intensity and agonizing expression. One can hear the explosions of anger from Beethoven’s personal pain or perhaps the anguish resulting from an occupied Austria. It is said that Beethoven never intended the work for an audience of more than a few “connoisseurs”.

 

Indeed, Schween did step up to the incredible challenges therein; each member played with passion and confidence; the group blended with the unity of an ensemble that had lived in every note for a lifetime. Joseph Lin (1st violin), Ronald Copes (2nd violin) and Roger Tapping, (viola) were each luminous in expressing the throbbing anger and angst intrinsic to this quartet. Schween was no less so. Their sound was at times as one instrument. Unisons were brilliantly clear and solos confidently passionate.

Bartok’s Quartet No.1, Op,7 (BB52), written a hundred years after the Beethoven, was no less demanding and no less a painful, personal expression of grief. It was clear from the outset that each of the performers found the soul of this music in their contrapuntal lines full of chromatic dissonances. The sense of a funeral procession was evident throughout the first movement. Like the opening Beethoven work, Bartok eventually finds relief from the misery, in Bartok’s case in Hungarian folk music. Following the despair, the joyful conclusion was ever more uplifting. The performance was truly inspired.

The second half of the program returned to Beethoven, this time Quartet in F, Op.59, No.1 (Razumovsky). The gently flowing opening theme in the cello and subsequently repeated in the other voices was a total departure from what we had heard in the first two works. As in the ‘Eroica’ symphony, the cello moves front and centre and its lyrical quality becomes a feature of the work, so appropriate for the new cellist of the Juilliard. It was as if to say she now belongs. Nevertheless, this is no early work reminiscent of Haydn. It has Beethoven written all over it in its complexity, symphonic scope and the virtuosity required of each performer and the ensemble as a whole.

Fifty years after my first encounter with the Juilliard String Quartet, it was as if it had matured and developed over time as I hope I have. With the latest change in membership, it is as if a glass-ceiling real or perceived has been broken. What we discovered on the other side of the ceiling is a vista of glowing stars. In a week in which the US presidential debate concerns the debasement of women, it is more than ironic, that here is a quartet reaping the rewards of equal voice.

– David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews, October 14, 2016

These four artists – violinists Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes, violist Roger Tapping and newly arrived cellist Astrid Schween – are meant to be paragons of fine artistry, given who and what they represent. They exceeded even such high expectations in a program of works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

The Juilliard opened with the less-often performed Quartetto Serioso (F minor, Op. 95), by Beethoven, completed in 1811. It’s a treacherous work, its four movements constantly veering between angst and sweet hope. Every detail, from technical virtuosity to balance, is set nakedly in front of the listener. And each of these hurdles, big and small, were navigated with grace by these four fine players. The music pulsed and sang. This was a deeply burnished performance that captured the full emotional spectrum while also displaying ensemble playing that would be hard to surpass. It was hard to believe that Schween has only been part of the quartet for a month.

There was an overarching lyricism to the Juilliards’ interpretation that carried over into the rest of the evening. It made for particularly compelling listening in the Bartok quartet, his first, completed in 1909. This is music that can sometimes sound harsh, but not at the hands of these masters. You might think that rounding the edges a bit would take away from Bartok’s rhythmic and dissonant aesthetic, but it didn’t. The secret here was tension, a long, invisible cord that held the musical ideas together with irresistible force.

 

The closing first Razumovsky Quartet by Beethoven (F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, from 1806) was a thing of beauty, sculpted from a single piece of flawless musical soapstone. Here, the Juilliards’ lyricism made this into the rich icing on a dense cake. The first two works were similar studies in constant contrast, as seen through the vastly different aesthetics of their times. The Razumovsky Quartet introduced a ray of sunshine, allowing us to leave the theatre with a spring in our steps.

 

And so back to classical music being alive and well. There is nothing more serious and stark than four soberly-dressed performers sitting on a bare stage in a little circle of light. With no visual distractions, and, in Thursday night’s case, with a silent, rapt audience, there was nothing but pure music and unmediated listening. Freed from distraction, we beheld the music in and of itself, magnifying its emotional impact as well as the skill of the people making it happen in front of our very eyes.

– John Terauds, Musical Toronto, October 14, 2016

Bittersweetness tinged the Juilliard String Quartet’s first Lincoln Center performance this season, an exhilarating, penetrating, often splendidly harrowing concert on Monday at Alice Tully Hall. Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist since 1974 and its longest-serving member by far, announced in May that he would leave the group at the end of this season. With no musician remaining on the roster who played with any of the Juilliard’s founding artists, a new era for a hallowed institution awaits.

Summertime and the living is easy? Not at Ravinia on Tuesday night where the Juilliard Quartet gave riveting performances of rigorous works of Bartók and Beethoven....

The remainder of the program was devoted to Beethoven’s incomparable late quartet, String Quartet no. 13 in B flat major. Not ones to skirt a challenge, the Juilliard Quartet opted for the original ending, namely the daunting “Große Fuge”. Abrupt changes between slow and fast sections characterized the opening movement, and a disjointed theme leapt from the strings. The repeat of the exposition was observed, inclusive of the slow introduction, and was revealed to be more than merely an introduction but an integral part of the movement’s architecture. The brief Presto was given with a propulsive drive, and its fleeting evanescence surely didn’t go unnoticed by the young Mendelssohn.

Contrast was to be had in the succeeding slow movement, with a songful melody in the first violin, and I was particularly struck by the sumptuousness of the inner voices. The “Alla danza tedesca” was courtly and graceful, while the “Cavatina” was quite heartwrenching in its harmonious resounding and deep serenity. An arresting opening announced the massive concluding fugue, and matters proceeded with a ferocious energy – so much so that Lin broke a string, as sure a sign as any of the intensity with which he played. This of course necessitated a brief pause while he went backstage to mend the instrument, and the quartet began the finale again – a welcome opportunity, in fact, as the first attempt was marred by a disastrously timed cell phone ring.

 

Following an authoritative statement of the first fugal subject, the quartet negotiated the labyrinthine complexities with aplomb. Balance was expertly achieved, and there was ample differentiation in each voice – no easy feat given the inherent homogeneity of instruments in the same orchestral family. Dissonance piled upon dissonance, only occasionally mitigated by a calming interlude, and the quartet’s keen sense of the fugue’s large-scale structure guided the listener with clarity to the work’s clangorous conclusion.  (Read more)

- Sam Jacobsen, Bachtrack.com, June 25, 2017

The cello, first grand, then ruminative, plays alone at the start of Elliott Carter’s Quartet No. 1, written during a period in the Arizona desert in 1950-51. Mr. Krosnick rendered this solo with craggy glory, later plucking with gruff majesty as the violist Roger Tapping unspooled a velvety, elegiac line.

The group was endlessly agile in the twists of Carter’s quartet, defined by its myriad, complex shifts of tempo. Lively dances suddenly opened into rhapsodic yearning; a moody dialogue between cello and viola was interrupted by hovering, glassy high tones in the violins (Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes). Sudden floods of spidery runs and bursts of quivering energy were like sparks popping from a fire in a desert night.

Now largely characterized by the sleekly intense sound of Mr. Lin, its first violinist since 2011, the ensemble can beef up, too, broadening into the Carter quartet’s passages of sunset richness. Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor (D. 703) was a passing introduction, but Debussy’s Quartet in G minor, played with seething drama after intermission, was an essential pairing, making the classic lineage of Carter’s masterpiece entirely clear.

The Juilliard quartet has an elegant way of passing musical torches. In 2013, Mr. Tapping played alongside the violist he was replacing, Samuel Rhodes, in quintets by Mr. Rhodes and Mozart. And on Feb. 22, the new cellist, Astrid Schween, will join the current members for Schubert’s String Quintet in C (D. 956) during Mr. Krosnick’s final appearance with the group at Tully Hall.

– The New York Times, November 24, 2015  (photo: Hiroyuki Ito, for The New York Times)