Playing in a string quartet is kind of like being married to three other people. You see each other every day as you work closely to raise your musical baby. And like a marriage, it either works brilliantly or becomes a disaster.
Theres all the exponential drama of a relationship when youre dealing with something as personal as music, says cellist Jacob Saunders, one of the members of the new Ezra String Quartet.
Fortunately, his marriage to musicians Jennifer Whittle and Alvin Tran, violins, and Michael Sabatka, viola, is a great match.
It just clicked, he says. We have the ability to play together and be friends. Sometimes you work with musicians and dont want to see their faces outside of rehearsal. We hang out all the time.
Now you can hang out with them when the Ezra Quartet makes its Boise debut on Dec. 1.
The group is the product of an alliance between the Boise Philharmonic and the Boise State University Music Department. Its in the same spirit of the collaboration the Phil enjoys with College of Idaho and the Langroise Trio.
Members of the Langroise Trio teach at C of I and hold principal positions with the orchestra. Similarly, these graduate fellows will study at BSU and play with the Philharmonic.
There are only a handful of similar programs in the country that combine professional and educational experience, Sabatka says.
This has been an amazing experience, he says. The crown jewel so far was playing Rite of Spring last month with a great orchestra.
The quartet gelled quickly after starting rehearsals in September, Whittle says.
We work really well together; were not afraid to be critical, she says. You cant take it personally and get offended. Its about the music.
The program is a boon to the music department, says Linda Kline Lamar, associate professor of viola at BSU and a member of the Phil.
Theyre four of the nicest people, and its amazing to see how they interact with the other students, she says. They bring up the level of the whole department.
The fellowships help raise the profile of BSUs music department nationally, says assistant professor of cello and bass Brian Hodges. As the universitys chamber music coordinator he works closely with the group.
We didnt know what to expect, but we had 16 people audition one via Skype from Turkey. Three of them decided to come here even though they didnt get the fellowship, and they never would have heard of us otherwise, he said.
Ezra String Quartet takes its name from modernist poet Ezra Pound, who lived most of his life in Europe but was born in Hailey in the Idaho Territory in 1858.
At the first concert, the group will play a mix of classical and modern works: Mozart, Copland and Shostakovich.
Working on Aaron Coplands lesser-known Two Pieces for String Quartet was an opportunity for the group to come together and define its sound.
Usually you have an expectation of how something is going to sound, but with this piece, we didnt because none of us knew it, Sabatka says. Its been a blast working on it.
MEET THE PLAYERS
First violin Whittle: She carries the melody and soars over the top of the music. Shes confident and enjoys being in the spotlight.
Whittle grew up in Portland and was already in Boise playing for the Philharmonic. This opportunity came when she was looking to attend graduate school. Shes working on her second masters degree, this one for pedagogy. Her first masters, in performance, was earned at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Second violinists are always willing to help out a friend, Tran says.
Its my job to support Jens melody line and work with her to fill it in with harmony, he says. The harmony drives the mood and character of a piece.
Tran grew up in Canada. He has studied and performed in Vancouver, Montreal and the Tanglewood Institute at Boston University.
Violist Sabatka blends a richer sound into the mix, he says, and violists are the ultimate team player.
Im like the sixth man on a basketball team, he says. You notice if you dont have a good one. If hes good you only notice the success.
Sabatka hails from Rochester, N.Y., where he played with the Rochester Youth Orchestra and captained two varsity athletic teams. He co-founded the Compass Quartet, a youth group that was featured on NPRs From the Top. He earned a bachelors degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and is a former NCAA swimmer.
Cellist Saunders plays in the deepest range in the quartet. Cellists tend to be down to earth and relaxed, he says.
Cellists choose an instrument that you sit down to play, Saunders says. Were pretty relaxed.
Saunders grew up in Boise. He went to Timberline High School, where his mother Phyllis teaches orchestra. He received his bachelors degree from the University of Michigan and served as principal cellist at Michigans University Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Orchestra.
I couldnt belive when this came up that I would be able to do this in my hometown, Saunders says. Its good to be home.