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Internationally Acclaimed Escher String Quartet Returns for Workshops, Concerts

Meadows 2015-16 Ensemble-in-Residence to premiere new composition by Meadows student; concerts March 17 & 18 free to the public

Members of the Escher String Quartet, left to right: Aaron Boyd, violin; Pierre Lapointe, viola; Adam Barnett-Hart, violin; and Brook Speltz, cello.

Michael van der Sloot (M.M. Composition ’17).

Cézanne Quartet, left to right: Mai Ke (Performer’s Diploma ’14), violin; Steven Juarez, former SMU student, viola; Eleanor Dunbar (B.M. Performance ’16), violin; and Elizabeth White (B.M. Performance ’15), cello.

The Escher String Quartet travels the world playing Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert, in venues such as Lincoln Center in New York, London’s Wigmore Hall and Berlin’s Piano Salon Christophori. On March 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. they will perform two free concerts at SMU.

The March 17 concert will be held in Caruth Auditorium in the Owen Arts Center, and will include Benjamin Britten’s Quartet No. 3 (the last work of the English composer’s life) and Franz Schubert’s masterful Death and the Maiden. The concert will also feature the world premiere of Night Music, composed by SMU Meadows student Michael van der Sloot (M.M. Composition ’17).

“The piece is pretty creepy and restless,” says van der Sloot, a cellist who has also written works for the Calgary Youth Orchestra, Grammy-winning violinist and SMU Meadows Artist-in-Residence Matt Albert, violist Nadia Sirota and the Irving Symphony, among others. “It’s like when you’re laying completely still in bed, wide awake because you know there’s a monster in the closet. Or, alone in a forest and sensing that something else is watching you. There’s a little bit of anxiety and anticipation.

“Strings can give off that vibe very well.”

Earlier in the year several music composition students submitted their works in hopes of having them selected by the quartet for the March 17 concert, but van der Sloot’s captured the quartet’s imagination.

“We were struck by the quality of all of the composers' submissions, but van der Sloot's work was an impressive combination of aleatoric freedom with real textural and timbral beauty,” says Aaron Boyd, one of two violinists in the Escher String Quartet. “The atmosphere and title of the work - which is significant in that it could well describe the theme of the entire concert for March 17 - were a compelling fit for our program, which deals with death, either through direct personal experience as in the Britten 3rd, or indirectly as in the Schubert D minor.”

The quartet, which has its headquarters in New York and artist representation in Italy and England, will also hold workshops and classes with Meadows students as part of their 2015-16 Meadows residency. Escher violist Pierre Lapointe says one workshop will be a particularly immersive experience for the students.

“The idea is to have the four of us separated in different groups in order to teach, inspire and coach the students playing literally side by side with us,” says Lapointe. “The culmination of that experience, which mimics what a professional musician usually encounters as opposed to rehearsing the same piece for a semester, will materialize itself under the format of a concert on March 18 in O’Donnell Hall.”

The March 18 program, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free to the public, will include works by Brahms, Dvorak, Shostakovich and Haydn.

Working with the Cézanne Quartet

It’s been a busy residency for the Escher String Quartet as they’ve presented guest lectures, critiqued and played student compositions and given advice on career development to Meadows students since their first campus visit in October 2015. They have also mentored a brand new Meadows ensemble-in-residence, the Peak Fellowship Ensemble-in-Residence Cézanne Quartet, with which they performed the Mendelssohn Octet last October in Caruth Auditorium.

Cézanne cellist Elizabeth White (B.M. Performance/Cello ’15) says having a professional string quartet such as Escher in residence at Meadows has been an invaluable experience for Cézanne. “The Escher Quartet is actively living the career that we are aiming for, so their advice on navigating the path to a career in music is incredibly helpful,” she says. “We’ve had the opportunity to receive countless hours of lessons with them, which has brought our playing to a much higher level.

“Playing in a string quartet is difficult because there are so many other factors involved besides playing the right notes at the right time. The nuance of ensemble and balance can be confusing at times, but the Escher Quartet has done a wonderful job showing us the way.”

The Escher String Quartet will wrap up its 2015-16 residency at Meadows School of the Arts in April 2016.

Read more about the SMU Meadows Division of Music.

Read more about the 2015-16 Ensemble-in-Residence Escher String Quartet and the inaugural 2015-17 Peak Fellowship Ensemble-in-Residence Cézanne Quartet.

Hear pieces composed by Meadows student, cellist and composer Michael van der Sloot.

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