By Jonathan Liu
On Friday, The St. Lawrence String Quartet launched its last of three “Midday Masters” concerts as part of the 2018 Chamber Music Seminar, a ten-day program designed to advance students in their careers as chamber musicians and to provide those from other careers a deeper connection to the world of chamber music.
“Here at the Braun Music Center last night around 10:30, there were at least three different groups [of] mixed-up friends and new people reading high instrument quartets and other music,” said Geoff Nuttall, co-founder of the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
He continued, “It’s the spirit of this cooperation: sharing [and] working together.”
“Midday Masters” featured three performances, including Gaubert’s “Médailles Antiques,” played by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, violinist Daniel Phillps, and pianist Erika Switzer and Mozart’s “Piano Concerto in A Major, K.414,” played by pianist Pedja Muzijevic and the Chamber Music Seminar strings. Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2,” played by Stephen Prutsman, closed the final 2018 “Midday Masters” concert, receiving both applause and a standing ovation.
The St. Lawrence String Quartet is a world-class chamber ensemble, comprised of co-founder and violinist Geoff Nuttall, co-founder and violist Lesley Robertson, cellist Christopher Costanza and violinist Owen Dalby.
In 2000, the St. Lawrence String Quartet founded the Chamber Music Seminar at Stanford. Robertson said that the intent behind creating a summer program for chamber musicians was to celebrate chamber music and to provide them with the experiences that the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet experienced as students.
Today, the Chamber Music Seminar attracts musicians ranging from intermediate to advanced skill level, and from 18 to 82 years of age. For a ten-day period during the summer, over 75 musicians experience daily coaching, experience professional and student performances, meet guest lecturers, join in informal chamber music readings and attend music-related social events.
The seminar began as a one-week program, designed exclusively for those who were interested in pursuing professional careers in chamber music. In 2001, the quartet added another one-week program for non-professional musicians pursuing other careers.
“The next year, we decided to put the two groups together, and it was exceptional … It was this cross-pollination of pre-professional music students … with people who play music purely because they love it,” said Robertson. “It’s humbling to see somebody who can be a trauma physician and a really fine violinist at the same time.”
“The mission of the SLSQ seminar has always been to promote unadulterated joy in music-making — to encourage that in ‘amateur’ musicians like myself, and to remind (pre-)professional musicians what that feels like (amid the perfectionism and pressure that often pervade their career paths),” Jessica Seeliger, assistant professor of pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook University and participant of the Chamber Music Seminar for 14 years, wrote in an email to the Daily. “[Music] is a crucial outlet of expression for me, even if I play only very occasionally, and provides a counterbalance to everything else I do.”
Chris Lorway is the executive director of Stanford Live, an arts department partnered with the St. Lawrence String Quartet and other ensembles and artists from around the world.
“I think it’s been one of [the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s] signature programs,” Lorway said of the Chamber Music Seminar. “I think that as they … try out different things and expand the types of programs that they’re doing, [the quartet] naturally will attract different audiences.”
In the future Chamber Music Seminars, the St. Lawrence String Quartet plans to continue presenting new guest speakers and events, whether they be bowmakers, professional musicians or film festivals.
Robertson said, “It’s really just limited to our imagination.”
Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and Lorway believes that the quartet will not only feature the heightened repertoire that made them famous, but also some commissioned works that will show that “this is a living quartet.”
Lorway said, “For me, it’s a real privilege to be in a place where I can tap into [the arts community] all the time and … figure out how we can work together to make Stanford a really exciting place for the arts.”
Contact Jonathan Liu at liujonathan41741 ‘at’ gmail.com.