It is always welcome news when the rightly esteemed Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ) shows up on the Santa Barbara concert calendar, as it has with the Monday, October 24, concert at the Lobero Theatre, kicking off the Masterseries component of the current, full-bodied Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) concert season. And for a quarter-century, the thrill has contained at least a couple of points of geo-cultural pride: the Juilliard Quartet, based out of the prestigious New York City music school, is in the upper echelon of American string quartets, and since 1997, former UCSB-connected violinist Ronald Copes has been a vital part of the group.
At this point, Copes has bumped up to the senior position in the group, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this season. The otherwise all-female group now features violinist Areta Zhulla, cellist Astrid Schween, and the newest addition, violist Molly Carr, who has taken the spot left vacant by the late Roger Tapping, who joined JSQ in 2013 and passed away from cancer earlier this year.
Given the natural rotation and evolution of quartet members over the JSQ’s 75 years in the annals of classical music, new members find themselves stepping into a landmark organization they have learned from and admired from afar. As Copes commented in an interview, “All of us in the quartet at this particular point grew up with the Juilliard String Quartet being one of our idols. That was one of the standards of the quartet [world]. People will come up to us and say, ‘Oh, I’ve been a fan of the Juilliard Quartet ever since 1956,’ and we’ll say ‘Well, yeah, so have we.’”
At the Lobero, the program has a new-ish work, Jamaican-born and Britain-based composer Eleanor Alberga’s Quartet No. 2 (written in 1994) sandwiched by the stalwart stuff of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 16 in F, and Dvořák’s Quartet No. 14 in A-flat.
One of the quartet’s aesthetic mantras is to approach both standard repertoire and contemporary works with great care but also fresh ears, or to “play masterpieces like new works like masterpieces, and vice versa.”
“To me,” Copes says, “if one approaches contemporary, recently performed music with care, it completely opens up the way that we would play Beethoven, or the way we would go about working on Beethoven. It is not received wisdom. There is not an urtext that is authoritative. It is opinions of different people and questions of ‘What do you think the composer intended, and do you think that might have changed?’”
Expect expressive freshness and bone-deep institutional solidity when the Quartet makes its way back to the Lobero.