Wednesday, April 30, 2014

FSQ and Team Crossroads at the University of Iowa

Earlier this month, we took part in a residency at the University of Iowa, as part of their vibrant new String Quartet Residency Program. (  The week was full of diverse activities – as a quartet we coached chamber music, met with students to discuss projects, and played a traditional recital program.  This program is run very creatively, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary work - so we were also able to bring along Team Crossroads:  physicist Robert Davies and composer Laura Kaminsky.  We had a series of lively Crossroads Project events, including a performance in the beautiful LEED-certified School of Public Health building, class visits, panel discussions, and a university-sponsored television program.  Watch our discussion on WorldCanvass and see us perform movements from Laura’s quartet “Rising Tide” below: 

Pictures from the residency:

FSQ with some of our student participants.

Team Crossroads in classroom discussion.

Robert making a point!

Anne listening intently!
And the newest member of the band!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy New Year from the FSQ! (Anne)

Greetings from snowy Utah!  After a long hiatus, we’re finally getting around to posting a long overdue update.  Our New Year’s resolution is to be better about updating our adventures!  

We left you last at the end of a whirlwind tour of the Midwest states, and since then we have played concerts in all parts of the country, premiered our Crossroads Project in Logan, Los Angeles, Boston, Mexico, and Park City, premiered three new commissions, birthed one baby (me), married one physicist (Becky), and received one brand new Iizuka viola (Brad).  It’s been an exciting year and a half!

We started 2014 off with a concert on the NOVA series last Sunday in Salt Lake City, where we gave the Utah premiere of Michael Ellison’s Third String Quartet. The world premiere of the quartet got a hugely enthusiastic audience response back in December on the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music series in Tucson, and we’re excited to bring Michael’s work to our Logan audience tomorrow night Tuesday, January 14th.  Inspired by Turkish and American fiddle music, Michael has created a dynamic and evocative work that we have had great fun bringing to life.  You can hear a short excerpt from the world premiere performance here.  We begin the program with Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 #1, and close with the Dvořák Piano Quintet with Jason Hardink, pianist of the Utah Symphony and artistic director of the NOVA series.  

Up next is a tour of the Crossroads Project in the New York City area, where we’ll perform at SUNY Purchase, Symphony Space, the Hudson Opera House, and Wave Hill. Visiting New York is always a treat for us, with many, many dear friends and family in the area… but we’re especially excited about this trip, as we are so proud of Crossroads and all that it represents.  On this trip we will also record Rising Tide, the amazing piece by Laura Kaminsky that anchors Crossroads.  It will also be our first time collaborating with legendary producer Judith Sherman, who has produced some of the very best chamber music recordings of our time – we are thrilled to work with her!  

More to come very soon!  We’re wishing you all the very best for 2014.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This is How We Roll (Brad)

How do you transport four musicians, instruments, luggage, and foodstuffs?  And do it in comfort and style?  The same way you would an adolescent soccer team.  Yes, we really are a family – we drive a minivan.

We’ve settled into a pretty good groove.  Load ‘em up – on to the next town – load ‘em off – play concert.  Repeat!

Today we said goodbye to our stalwart companion on this journey, our beast of burden, our tour bus.  By my reckoning, we’ve covered around 2500 miles and dispatched untold numbers of bugs during our circumnavigation of the Midwest.   

Here's a look inside the minivan - can you guess which snacks belong to whom?

National Music Museum in South Dakota (Robert)

Joining the FSQ merely two months ago, I’ve already had many wonderful experiences, both musically and personally.  Becky, Brad, and Anne are such fabulous musicians and truly terrific people to spend time with, whether it’s on stage, in a minivan, or eating deep-fried cheese curds.   I’m so excited and honored to carry the FSQ torch into the future!

Playing 10-15 concerts of the same program in short succession is something I’ve not had the opportunity to do since my Jupiter Trio days, so joining the FSQ has been a delight on that front.  The concerts have been great and the creative spirit and spontaneity in performance is so much fun! Each piece seems to transform in new and wonderful ways every time we play.  I feel quite lucky to have landed on this great team, having spent the last couple of years as a wandering minstrel-for-hire.

In addition to concerts, the FSQ has had its fair share of adventures on this tour.  One of the highlights in this regard was our visit to the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermilion.

This magnificent, world-class collection houses musical instruments from an astounding variety of musical languages, time periods, styles, and continents.  At the entrance to the museum are several statues, including one of a quite dignified gentleman playing the violin.  

At one point, I attempted to get him to relax his bow-arm a bit, but he proved to be quite resistant.  I left the encounter wondering whether I needed to reassess my approach to proper bow-arm pedagogy.

Of primary interest to us string players, the museum proudly displays great examples of violins, violas, and cellos from such legendary masters of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries as Stradivarious, Amati (Nicolo, Andrea, Brothers), Andrea Gaurneri, and Gasparo de Salo, just to name a few.  A particularly enticing find was a very early cello, the King, by Andrea Amati, made in 1538!  Below, Anne and Brad enjoy the chance to see a few of these amazing instruments, if wishing more to hear or even play them!

The treasures of this museum extend far beyond classical stringed instruments by great makers, however.  Some of our favorites were the stove-pipe cello, the viola-pomposa, and the barrel-cello, pictured below.

In wondering how one would actually play such an odd creation, we were directed to this picture, (worth AT LEAST a thousand words)….

After such a culturally enriching experience, it was time to move on to nearby Yankton, SD, where we found inspiration for that evening’s concert in the form of a collection of theater costumes backstage…

In discussing the possibility of wearing these costumes for our performance, wiser heads eventually prevailed.

After our concert and a quick post-concert meal, we retreated to the hotel, assuming the day was over, only to find another surprise experience waiting for us in a nearby hotel room.  What apparently started with complaints about loud TV noises past midnight coming from a particular room, developed into agitated hotel staff attempting to wake a drunk, passed-out patron who had locked himself inside this particular room (TV blaring) and ended (at 2 AM) with several expletive-laden altercations involving hotel patrons, staff, local police and, finally, the drunken patron himself.  Underslept and less-than-charmed, we left the next morning feeling grateful that we didn’t have another concert to play until the following day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Iowa update part II (Brad)

One of the most exciting things about this tour was the opportunity to perform close to home.   We were even able to take up residence at the Ottesen house in Davenport, IA for a day.  For those of you who don’t know, I come from a very large family.  There were eight of us Ottesen kids, and we all studied music – including an unusually high percentage of violists.

When I was growing up, you could easily pick out our house on the block - it was the one with all the lights on at night and music pouring out of every window.  The piano was constantly in use, a rotation beginning before school and ending around 10:00 every night.  Once all the members of the quartet were sequestered in their bedrooms and furiously practicing away, the house hummed with string noises much like it always had. 

Breakfast for a hungry quartet is just like any other day in this household.  Here’s Mom Ottesen whipping up a batch of Grandpop’s pancakes…

And here’s my sister Katie frying a pan full of bacon – home cured and smoked by her husband Joe!

Our concert in Fairfield IA was also attended by my first teacher, William Preucil.  Bill and his wife Doris have raised generations of musicians through the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City, including all 8 Ottesen siblings.  I owe much of my love of music to the gentle guidance of my teachers, I can only hope to pass on some of what I’ve received.  Thank you Bill and Doris!

Bill was the violist of the Stradivari Quartet at a time when there were very few professional American string quartets. As longtime faculty at the University of Iowa, they were one of the first major string quartet residencies in the country.  No doubt they traversed many miles of the same country roads that we are now on!

This is very cool:  The University of Iowa has made the complete archives of the Stradavari Quartet recordings available online here.  This is over 30 years worth of quartet performances of the highest caliber. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Iowa update part I (Becky)

Iowa has been a delight.  Davenport was our first stop, where we enjoyed the hospitality of Ruth and Jim Ottesen and got a glimpse of Brad’s childhood stomping ground. [More to come from Brad himself in an upcoming post!] Fabulous food, lively conversation, and perusal of many childhood photos of our Bradley ensued.  

This is a particularly soulful shot of young Brad:
I loved that Ruth offered us all giant glasses of milk to accompany our dinner (!).

The concert at the Washington (pronounced WaRsh-ing-ton) Community Theater was followed by a lovely reception at a board member’s home, where we got to take in the marvelous stories of the folks around us.  Alpaca farms, trips to Africa, and the history of their arts organization were all topics of discussion over sloppy joes and those delicious corn-flake peanut butter thingies!  [Anne thinks she may have found a recipe here.]

The next day's afternoon concert at the Sondheim Center in Fairfield was spectacular.  The hall had a particularly nice acoustic for us, and the audience was engaged and lively.  Brad had family in attendance as well as special guests William and Doris Preucil, who drove over from Iowa City.  Bill was Brad’s first teacher, and the Preucil School saw 25 years of sustained involvement from Clan Ottesen!  I think he was quite pleased about how this particular Ottesen turned out ;).

My favorite post-concert comment was from 94 year old Frieda Goldstein, who is a self-described afficionado of “pure sound:”  “That was like drinking champagne!!”  I got the sense from her son that Frieda hasn’t had any champagne in some time.

Fairfield is a center for the study of Transcendental Meditation at Maharishi University, which has inspired artistic activity, an impressive array of ethnic restaurants, and a population that is reported to be 30% vegetarian!  Not what one would expect in the middle of Iowa, but if anything becomes clear on a trip such as this, it’s that one should definitely bring along an open curiosity and few assumptions.  Lovely people endeavoring to make the world a better place through music, hospitality, and connection is the common thread I’m seeing.  Cheers to everyone in the little towns making the effort to host cultural events that make their communities richer!

Outside the Sondheim Center:

The cherry on top was our accommodations at a gorgeous historic B&B called the MainStay Inn.  This beautifully restored home was filled with exquisite objects and artwork everywhere you looked - a lovely oasis from the Super 8 motels on the side of the highway.

Onwards to Kansas!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Eden for Artists in Wisconsin! (Becky)

As the Wisconsinite in the group, I looked forward to visiting my pretty home state with its rolling hills, beautiful trees, and friendly folks, but I had no idea that we would be in for the opulent treat that was Edenfred

A gorgeous mansion-turned-artist retreat run by executive director David Wells awaited us, thanks to a chance meeting our dear friend Felicia Moye had with David Wells in a restaurant the week before!  Felicia made fast friends with David, and we found ourselves greeted after our long drive with a scrumptious feast cooked by both of them, making for an evening of memorable conviviality.  David prides himself on offering a tour of “Madison’s Best” so we sampled local cheeses, meat, truffles, and coffee, all of which were delicious.  

The hospitality from both David and Felicia was extraordinary in its easy generosity and fun.  Thank you, David and Felicia!  This was amazing!

We all had gorgeous rooms to retire to, and I think we were all wondering if we’d entered a dream....There’s a calm, safe, nurturing feel to this beautiful place that invites relaxation and reflection.  Sadly, Edenfred is slated to close its doors once the beautiful finds a new owner.  It will be a loss for everyone.....

 Edenfred’s environment invited us all to recharge, and I think we brought that energy with us to Sheyboygan, where more surprise was in store.  850 people showed up for the concert at the Weill Center for the Performing Arts, a beautifully restored theatre that is a source of pride for its community.  Concert #4 of the tour was fun, the workings of which were made smooth by its most officious staff (thank you!)

So....we depart from Wisconsin all filled up with great food, the pleasure of having seen both Felicia Moye and her wonderful husband, Jose, having made a new friend in the amazing David Wells, and having connected with music lovers in Sheyboygan at the Weill Center.

Memorable and wonderful, and, I have to say, Wisconsin did me proud ;-).