After performing around the world for 38 concert seasons, the American String Quartet will make a stop at VCU May 3 for the Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concert series.
The members of the quartet are Peter Winograd, violin, Laurie Carney, violin, Daniel Avshalomov, viola, and Wolfram Koessel, cello. They will perform a program featuring compositions by Strauss, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. The quartet will also be joined by cellist Andrés Díaz and violist Roberto Díaz, the current president of the Curtis Institute of Music. Avshalomov said it is unusual for musicians to perform three romantic pieces together in one concert, but audience members will be able to compare each piece throughout the performance.
“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t normally eat three desserts, but now I’m going to put three desserts side-by-side and see what it’s like,’” Avshalomov said. “It’s not even that you prefer one to the other, you’re just going to have to skip lunch for a couple days after hearing this concert.”
The quartet was formed in 1974, while the members were students at The Juilliard School. During their studies, members of the Juilliard Quartet grouped the students together and found they were suited to small ensemble performances. Avshalomov said they entered two competitions their first year together, and ended up winning them both. After the initial success, the Juilliard professors recommended the quartet choose a new name to perform under.
“Because things were moving sort of fast, we hadn’t thought about a name,” Avshalomov said. “At that point, ‘American’ was the only one that we had come up with, that no one had any particular objection to.”
The quartet has performed internationally during their career, sometimes leaving home for six weeks at a time. At one point in their concert season, Avshalomov said a fan had innocuously asked the quartet if they had performed in all 50 states. When they had discovered it had not been completed, the quartet decided to set the record in one concert season.
During the 50-state tour, the quartet began to feel the wear and tear of flying from Alaska to Florida. Avshalomov said by the time they made it to Hawaii, they were physically drained. The programmer told the quartet that the concert would start a few minutes late because people had to drive around the perimeter of the entire island. When the quartet started performing, Avshalomov said they could hear the surf in the distance and realized how isolated the people on the island were from the rest of the world.
“We were suddenly galvanized by the fact that they wanted to hear Mozart, they wanted to hear Mendelssohn, and we really woke up,” Avshalomov said. “We were brought back to life by how hungry they were for music.”
As a young quartet, Avshalomov said he felt they had made it in the music world when they were invited to perform at the Library of Congress. At the time, their professors, the Juilliard Quartet, were in residence at the library. Avshalomov said he entered the stage thinking about all the great artists who performed at the library before him.
“I thought, ‘Well if this concert goes well, that means we’re really on our way,’” Avshalomov said. “I’m happy to say, it did go well.”
The American String Quartet, with Roberto Díaz, viola and Andrés Díaz, cello, will perform May 3 at 8 p.m. in the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts at 922 Park Ave. Tickets are free for a limited number of students with a valid VCU ID, and $34.00 for the general public.