The Juilliard String Quartet, one of the country’s top chamber ensembles, comes to Waco for a March 21 concert at Baylor University with a program that offers a rich sampling of string quartet composition.
The 73-year-old ensemble, composed of string faculty members of The Juilliard School in New York City, brings its newest member, first violinist Areta Zhulla, who joined violinist Ronald Copes, cellist Astrid Schween and violist Roger Tapping last fall. She replaces Joseph Lin, who decided to step down after eight years as quartet violinist to spend more time with family.
For Zhulla, a Juilliard teacher and graduate trained by Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, no introduction was needed and no changes required to fit anything like a quartet personality. “My colleagues are just warm people,” she said in a phone interview from New York. “Our collective personality is — there is no collective personality. We celebrate each other’s individual personalities. There’s a continuing process of negotiations.”
The March 21 concert program features Haydn’s String Quartet No. 67 in F, Bartók’s String Quartet No. 3 and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8 in E minor. Zhulla didn’t have a hand in its selection — concert repertoire gets chosen two or three seasons in advance — but says it’s representative of effective programming. “You want to come up with a healthy and tasty meal for your audience,” she said.
The three quartets on the program vary in tone, length and texture. “These are three grand pieces that created and elevated the genre of string quartets,” Zhulla explained. The Haydn, written late in the composer’s career, shows a maturity and depth in writing. “It’s grand in scope and each movement is quite substantial,” the violinist said. “It’s orchestral sounding for a Haydn quartet.”
The folk-flavored Bartók follows, a contrast in length and tempo. “It’s the shortest of the quartets, about 15 minutes long, but, then, that 15 minutes is packed with action,” she said. The Beethoven quartet caps the evening program with richness and intensity.
“It is a heavenly piece . . . intense with an incredible slow movement,” she said. “We enjoy playing this piece so much.”
The Waco concert comes as part of the quartet’s active touring schedule, one integrated with their Juilliard teaching and an important part of what they pass on to their students, Zhulla said. This season includes a three-week tour and residency in Asia, another in Europe plus performances in Canada and across the United States. “I think that’s the great thing about being a teacher. It’s the life of the musician that you’re teaching,” she said.
Incidentally, the quartet’s violist, Tapping, is the viola teacher for Midway High School graduate Hannah Burnett, presently in her junior year at Juilliard.
Teaching the talented, motivated students at Juilliard keeps quartet members from becoming passive about their own musicianship, Zhulla said. “As they grow, we all grow,” she said.