The Isidore String Quartet to perform in Yellow Springs
This week, Midday Music host Evan Miller spoke with Phoenix Avalon and Joshua McClendon, violinist and cellist, respectively, of the Isidore String Quartet. On December 3, the New York City-based quartet will perform at First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs as part of Chamber Music Yellow Springs’ 2023-2024 season. Avalon and McClendon joined Evan by phone from Denver, Colorado, to discuss their upcoming concert in Yellow Springs, which will include performances of contemporary, modern, and baroque works. They talked about forming the group in 2019, and about being selected for the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant earlier this year. In addition to Avalon and McClendon, The Isidore Quartet features violinist Adrian Steele and violist Devin Moore.
When the members of the Isidore Quartet met in New York City in the Fall of 2018, they knew one other from music festivals and summer classes, but they had never played together as a group. Avalon and McClendon were beginning their first year at Julliard, where, McClendon said, the members of the quartet quickly gravitated towards one another. All four members were Julliard students. “It was sort of only a matter of time before we at least met, let alone played together in some fashion,” he told Evan. “We did a bunch of reading together, and decided to form the group officially in 2019.”
After a break in 2020 for the COVID pandemic, the quartet returned to performance in the summer of 2021. They won first prize at the 14th Banff International String Quartet Competition the following year, and this year they received an Avery Fisher Career Grant for outstanding instrumental performance. Avalon told Evan Miller that quartet members are drawn together by a common interest in performing diverse string quartet repertoire:
“I think one of the models we adopted from the Julliard Quartet is treating the old as if it were new, and the new as if it were old. We like all types of music; we like contemporary music, Bach, romantic, classical—everything. And I think we're still very young, so we like to experience and explore everything that this medium has to offer.”
Both new and old music will feature in the quartet’s December 3 performance in Yellow Springs. The concert will include selections from Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” composed in the 1740’s, and Benjamin Britten’s “String Quartet No. 2,” composed in 1945. It will also include two contemporary pieces: Aida Shirazi’s “Umbra” (2017) and Dinuk Wijeratne’s “The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini” (2022). The latter piece is based on the actual 1911 heist of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum in Paris. McClendon talked about how Sri Lankan composer Dinuk Wijeratne broke the bounds of traditional string quartet composition to tell the story of the heist:
“The really fun part about the piece is that he gives us lots of theatrical and musical agency throughout. There's a sort of pseudo-improvised violin cadenza at one point. To actually get to the point where the heist is happening, the four of us have to play the four heist men. We get to break away from the more traditional setting of our instruments. There are some vocalizations, and there are some staging and theatrics that we have fun exploring and developing on our own. We’re out of our seats; there may even be a wardrobe change... We've had a great time working on it, and it's quite impressive that [Wijeratne] was able to pack this story into a ten minute work.”
The Isidore Quartet will perform at 4:00pm on December 3, 2023 at the First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs. More information about the performance, and tickets, are available on the Chamber Music Yellow Springs website. For more information about the Isidore Quartet, visit sidorestringquartet.com.
Text by Peter Day, adapted from a live interview by Evan Miller from November 28, 2023.