Newest Juilliard Quartet Member Appears in CMA 75th Anniversary Series
By David Steinberg
Like the proverbial hand in glove, cellist Astrid Schween and the Juilliard School have been a good fit for a long time.
At age 7, Schween was enrolled in the Juilliard School’s pre-college program. She stayed on, getting her high school diploma at age 15, her Bachelor’s degree at 19 and her Master’s at 20 at the school. In 2003 she was teaching in a Juilliard program to introduce kids from diverse backgrounds about music.
This fall Schween has returned again to the prestigious music school in New York City. But it is with a more authoritative presence.
In September she became the newest member of the famed Juilliard String Quartet, the school’s string quartet in residence.
With her position in the quartet’s cello chair have come a busy international performance schedule plus academic duties – giving cello lessons and coaching chamber ensembles.
“So it’s my second homecoming,” Schween said in a phone interview. “It’s a very nice feeling to be back.”
After a grueling audition process, Schween was picked to replace Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist for 42 years.
“They wanted to be sure about (the person replacing Krosnick), have a sense of who that person is. Are we compatible in the basic ways and do we have similar music instincts and approaches? They try to ascertain that,” Schween said.
As the longtime cellist of the Lark Quartet, she was aware how arduous the audition process can be.
Schween is the first female and first African American in the Juilliard String Quartet, which was founded 70 years ago.
The quartet will be in concert Sunday, Dec. 11 at Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Auditorium. It is the first concert of Chamber Music Albuquerque’s 2016-17 season.
The concert opens with Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in F minor, Opus 95, nicknamed “Serioso.”
“It’s an apt name for the piece,” Schween said. “It’s an amazingly dense, compact quartet. It seems Beethoven was more concise than usual (in composing it), which is hard to imagine.
“He doesn’t write any extraneous notes and his motif development is second to none.”
Each motif is spun around in many possible configurations, she said, and Beethoven put sections of each movement next to each other with little transition time for the musicians.
“It has brilliant compositional construction plus the pathos of the piece. It’s very deep. …” Schween observed. “These are all things I think of being serioso in nature.”
Another Beethoven work on the program his String Quartet in B-flat major, Opus 130, with Grosse Fuge.
This has what the Opus 95 doesn’t have – plenty of room to develop themes, Schween said, “in this key and that key, in this perspective and that tempo. …Sometimes you hear the background change, sometimes the melody.
“There are so many movements. It’s a bit of an epic. It feels like you’re stepping through a narrative in time. It’s remarkable. It may be Beethoven’s most enigmatic piece.”
Also on the program is Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor, Opus 13.
Schween said it’s a beautiful piece that was heavily influenced by Beethoven. In it, she said, you can hear Mendelssohn’s reverence and references to him.
“It gives you an appreciation of Mendelssohn’s sense of appreciation,” she said. “And it has one of the most unique endings in the repertoire. It does not end with a typical Mendelssohn flashy fast movement.”
The other members of the Juilliard String Quartet are violinists Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes and violist Roger Tapping.
Last March, with Krosnick, the ensemble gave a Chamber Music Albuquerque concert.
Schween got to play three concerts last season with Krosnick and the others in the ensemble. It was, she said, part of celebrating Krosnick’s final year with the quartet and at the same time notifying the public that she would be taking his place.
Schween had been on the music faculty of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst since 2004. Her performance calendar has included being a frequent guest artist of the Boston and Memphis chamber music societies, being a member of the Boston Trio and being a guest artist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Juilliard String Quartet, 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
Simms Auditorium, Albuquerque Academy, 6400 Wyoming NE
Tickets for the Chamber Music Albuquerque concert are $43 for premium reserved seats, $33 for reserved seats and are available by calling 268-1990(cq) or 886-1251(cq), at www.holdmyticket.com or at the Hold My Ticket box office 112 Second SW or at the door. $10 student tickets are available at the door. Special deal: Under 40, pay your age.
Chamber Music Albuquerque’s 2016-17 75th Anniversary season continues with violinist Rachel Barton Pine on Jan. 15, cellist Steven Isserlis on April 23 and the American String Quartet on June 11. Season subscriptions are $146 for premium reserved seats and $112 for reserved seats and are available through www.holdmyticket.com.