Famed Cleveland Quartet returns to Rochester 

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For two decades one of Rochester’s most prominent ambassadors was the Cleveland Quartet. As the resident string quartet of the Eastman School of Music, the Cleveland Quartet gave more than 100 concerts a year, performing in music centers on six continents and at nearly every prestigious summer music festival. 

Early next month, six former members of the Grammy-winning quartet will return to Eastman as part of the school’s James E. Clark Chamber Music Residency. Returning to Eastman on April 1-3 are Atar Arad, James Dunham, Martha Katz, Paul Katz, Peter Salaff, and Donald Weilerstein.

A prophet has no honor in his own country?

Debut recording released in 1973

The quartet’s Rochester roots may have been our community’s best kept secret, oddly reluctant to acknowledge the stunning richness of our local music scene. Paul Katz, the group’s cellist, says that, despite living and working at the Eastman School in Rochester from 1976 to 1995, “people would occasionally come up to us (after a concert) and ask us if we were driving back to Cleveland that night.” In a related anecdote, one of those attending Ahrim Kim’s fabulous performance of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto last weekend was overheard asking her, “Where do you go next?”, surprised to learn that she is a member of the Rochester Philharmonic and not traveling from some “more prestigious” music center.

Katz tells us that Robert Freeman, the director of the Eastman School who brought the Cleveland Quartet to Rochester as Eastman faculty and quartet-in-residence in 1976, was keenly aware of the name problem. While he negotiated long and hard to have the group renamed the Eastman Quartet, the quartet’s agent and RCA Red Seal Records (with whom the quartet had begun recording in 1972) were adamantly opposed. 

Active in the pre-Spotify Age, the Cleveland Quartet issued over two dozen recordings, including two separate recordings of the 16 Beethoven quartet cycle—one on LP and again on CD. Many recordings were collaborations with solo luminaries, including Yo-Yo Ma, Alfred Brendel and Emmanual Ax. 

Mentoring was central to quartet’s mission

Paul Katz at Bowdoin Festival

Katz emphasized the role of a resident quartet in the teaching mission of the Eastman School.

“First of all, the quartet is a recruitment tool,” he says. “Any faculty member with a performing career, of course, is a recruitment tool. And there seems to be some kind of personality correlation in general with string quartet players and chamber music performers in that we all love to teach. There’s the educational value of hearing us in concert—hearing what a fine quartet sounds like—and there’s inspirational value. We had a very central role in the string department and were very dedicated teachers all the time we were there. Even today, 26 years later, we all continue with active teaching careers in major conservatories.”

The Cleveland Quartet actively mentored many young quartets, including the Ying Quartet, which has assumed the resident quartet mantle at Eastman. Eight of the string quartets they coached have won the prestigious Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition.

Many Eastman alumni, including members of the quartets the CQ taught in their quartet training program, will be back for the Clark Residency weekend, David Ying says. “It’s going to be multilayered appreciation of current and former students as well as the Rochester community. I can’t wait to see all of these people together, as one alumna emailed me a few days ago, a ‘once in a lifetime experience!’” 

The teaching legacy of CQ members

Rochester’s Salaff Quartet is named for the Cleveland Quartet’s second violin, Peter Salaff. After the CQ disbanded in 1995, Peter Salaff joined the Cleveland Institute of Music faculty, leading its chamber music program until 2018. The Beacon interviewed two of the Salaff Quartet’s members about their former professor’s contribution to their careers. In addition to their membership in the Salaff Quartet, Molly McDonald and Thomas Rodgers are part of the Rochester Philharmonic (as are Salaff members Aika Ito and Benjamin Krug). (Listen to the Salaff Quartet’s contribution to the RPO “Living Room Series” in 2020.)

Martha Strongin Katz

McDonald says “Mr. Salaff approaches each student and each coaching session with ultimate kindness, care, and gentleness. From the moment you begin an interaction with him, he is 100 percent in the moment with you, treating you with his full respect and attention … almost like colleagues. … It is an honor to carry his name with us as we make music together!” Rodgers agrees, noting that “I have met very few who match his level of passion for music, kindness, and warmth. He treats all of his students as if they are family. … I have always marveled at his ability to get the best out of his students.”

What is chamber music?

Chamber music is written for a small number of performers, often one per part. This is a quite a contrast to a symphony orchestra which will have a dozen or more playing each of the first and second violin, viola and cello parts, for example. Chamber music is typically performed without a conductor, requiring a level of silent coordination that can be stunning to behold. Asked by the Beacon what is required to achieve that level of rapport, Katz replied “It depends who you ask. The Yings started out as brothers and sister, so they brought something early on that took us a few more years to develop. Certain musicians have an instant rapport and they learn to feed on each other. I don’t know. How long does it take to fall in love? It’s that kind of story, you know?”

Adds Rodgers: “Chamber music provides a great balance between the intimacy of a solo recital and the grandness of a symphony orchestra concert. . .  I think audiences find it fascinating to see and hear the interaction between performers, and chamber music facilitates that interaction. Some of my most memorable experiences, both as a performer and concertgoer, are chamber music performances.”

Atar Arad

CQ violist Atar Arad, interviewed for the 1983 documentary “In the Mainstream,” says “I think that the best repertoire is in the string quartets (of course I would say this). When I listen to the third symphony of Mahler I think that this is best music one can dream of. But there are so many involved that if one of those is really not at his best, the symphony does not always suffer as much as does a quartet if someone is playing out of tune or is not at his best form. This is why so many composers are attracted to this string quartet form and render it the top of their creativity. It is a combination of the capacity of the individual and the standard of teamwork. There is no more beautiful combination than this.”

Arad joined the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University after the quartet disbanded and turned to composition. A string trio of Arad’s will be performed on April 3 as part of the Clark Residency. 

Selected Cleveland Quartet recordings can be heard on YouTube.

Clark Residency- CQ weekend Public Events

No tickets required

Peter Salaff

Friday April 1, 2022

5:00-6:30 Chamber Music Class: Peter Salaff (Hatch Hall)

Saturday April 2, 2022

10-11:30: Chamber Music Class: Paul Katz (Ciminelli Formal Lounge)

CQ member Don Weilerstein teaching Juilliard School master class
James Dunham

1-3: Concurrent Instrument Classes: Don Weilerstein (Hatch Hall), Atar Arad (Ciminelli Formal Lounge), Paul Katz (ESM442)

3-4:30: Chamber Music Class: James Dunham (Hatch Hall)

5-6:15 Panel Discussion: Everyone (Hatch Hall)

Sunday April 3, 2022

9:30 AM: CQ movie watching and coffee hour, socializing (Ciminelli Formal Lounge)

12-1: Informal Concert in Kilbourn Hall: Arad and Brahms

  • Atar Arad “From Here to There” (Atar Arad; Robin Scott, Ying Quartet; Ahrim Kim, RPO)
  • Brahms String Sextet in Bb, Op. 18 (Donald Weilerstein; James Dunham; Annie Fullard, Cavani Quartet; Phillip Ying, Ying Quartet; Elizabeth Anderson, Meliora Quartet; and Tom Rosenberg, Chester Quartet

Kent Gardner is Rochester Beacon opinion editor. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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