What happens when you fuse the power of Beethoven, the raw emotion of Janáček, and the exoticism of Frucht with a beautifully exuberant string ensemble? The Ulysses Quartet gives a definitive answer on SHADES OF ROMANI FOLKLORE, an album exploring the rich and vibrant tradition of Romani music.
Today, the Ulysses Quartet is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to hear their thoughts on the importance of individuality in music, and why they believe a good meal is the cornerstone of strengthening bonds…
Tell us about your first performance.
When we were starting out as a quartet, one of the first pieces we learned was Beethoven’s Op. 132, one of the pieces that made us all fall in love with quartet playing to begin with. We put together our own performance to help prepare for our entry into the Fischoff competition, at the home of a generous friend on New York’s Upper West Side. It was an intimate recital and left us all moved and excited for our future.
What advice would you give to your younger selves if given the chance?
You’ll get a lot of wonderful advice and feedback from mentors, teachers, and everyone you meet along the way, but in the end the thing that is most important is to focus on your individuality and unique identity. You can learn a lot in terms of technique and strategy to achieve your goals, but the thing that makes it all worth it is the chance to express your own creative voice.
What emotions do you hope listeners will experience after hearing your work?
It’s our hope that this album evokes a wide spectrum of emotions. The Janáček alone takes us through infatuation, betrayal, longing, euphoria, tenderness, and loss — and that’s not even getting started on the turbulent and dramatic Beethoven or mercurial Frucht.
What are your other passions besides music?
We absolutely love traveling and especially getting to explore the food all over the United States and around the world. We’ve never met a cuisine we didn’t have a blast getting to know. There’s no better way to get to know people and enjoy community than to share food. Whether we’re cooking together or trying a new restaurant in another country, food is our favorite way to celebrate.
What are the greatest performances you’ve ever seen, and what made them special?
There have been so many performances that just blew our minds, but if we had to pick only one, we would have to say a performance of the Britten String Quartet No.2 by the Emerson Quartet in Toronto a few years ago. We had never been so focused during a performance that I hardly blinked or breathed. The amount of intensity and passion from each player and the sound they produced was so mesmerizing and breathtaking, it was both inspiring and unforgettable.
What musical mentor had the greatest impact on your artistic journeys? Is there any wisdom they’ve imparted that still resonates today?
We’ve had many incredible mentors, but one of the relationships we treasured the most was with Roger Tapping of the Juilliard Quartet. The most valuable thing he imparted was the incredible generosity of his spirit and openness to truly collaborative music-making.