Berklee Today

Berklee Beat:
Esterhazy String Quartet Resonates During Residency

The Esterhazy String Quartet and Emeritus Professor Jeronimas Kacinskas (center) after the April 8 tribute concert for Kacinskas. Quartet members are (from the left) Eva Szekely, John McLeod, Leslie Perna, and Darry Dolezal.
Photo by Mark Small

During the week of April 2, for the fifth consecutive year, the renowned Esterhazy String Quartet came to Berklee for a weeklong residency. The group, comprising violinists Eva Szekely and John McLeod, violist Leslie Perna, and cellist Darry Dolezal, has performed in the Americas, Canada, and Europe, and has released several recordings. Their annual visit to Berklee, funded by a gift from trustee Alan Reese, included two reading and recording sessions devoted to the works of Berklee student composers. The residency provided the composers a chance to discuss and help to shape a performance of their music with a world-class chamber group and to get a recording of the performance.

The quartet had previously rehearsed the music of 13 young composers, and then presented the works in an open session where they made recommendations to the composers. While the kind of insights the quartet provided were fairly practical, they were lessons best learned in a real-life situation. When violinist Eva Szekely asked student composer Ruth Shyu how the movement they'd just played from her "Wrentham Quartet" sounded, Shyu replied, "It could use a little more bite." Cellist Darry Dolezal added, "You might consider changing your articulations then from tenutos to staccatos to get the effect you are after." He then demonstrated a passage with the two different articulations. Turning to the audience of student composers, Szekely added, "Keep in mind that these articulations written for strings mean something different than when you write them for keyboards."

The quartet shared a number of small, yet precious, bits of information as they came up in working with the students. Szekely asked one composer, "Is there a reason why you wrote this note as a G-flat as opposed to as an F-sharp?" The student confessed that it was a notation software issue more than a musical one. Szekely advised, "If there is no harmonic reason to write an accidental as a flat, remember that string players prefer to read sharps rather than flats."

Throughout the two evenings they spent with the students, the quartet worked hard to express each composer's intentions. They did so by asking questions of the composers, giving suggestions to make their scores more accurate and readable, and by demonstrating musical alternatives.

Summing up Esyerhazy's work with the students, Professional Writing Division Dean Joe Smith said, "The students received very sophisticated feedback from the quartet about preparing a score and parts, writing for string instruments, balance, and orchestration. I've seen an impressive improvement in the quality of student compositions since the quartet started coming to Berklee in 1997."

The finale to their residency was their participation on April 8 in the concert tribute to emeritus faculty member Jeronimas Kacinskas. They presented a detailed and insightful performance of his String Quartet #4 to a full house in the David Friend Recital Hall. Afterwards, Kacinskas said to Szekely, "The quartet's playing was wonderful."