On July 10, 2013, my mother and I heard one of our favorite classical groups, the Julliard String Quartet (JSQ), at the Martin Theater at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois. My family and I have seen this group numerous times. However, this concert was particularly special because it was a final farewell concert for one of the voila players, Samuel Rhodes. This was his last performance with the quartet after playing with them for forty-four seasons. This concert was also the JSQ’s fourteenth season at the Ravinia Festival.
The JSQ was founded in 1946 as the quartet-in-residence at the Julliard School of Music. The JSQ mainly performs music of the great classical composers, such as Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, as well as past and current American composers. JSQ has performed at numerous musical venues around the world. The quartet has completed over 100 recorded albums including four Grammy awards, won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and was honored by the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1986. The JSQ is one of the most widely recorded string quartets of all time. Current members include Ronald Copes (Violin), Samuel Rhodes and Rodger Tapping (Viola), Joel Krosnick (Cello) and newest member, Joseph Lin (Violin).
As mentioned above, the Ravinia concert was a farewell concert honoring the viola player, Samuel Rhodes. He has been a long-time member of the JSQ, as well as viola department chairman at Julliard. The middle movement of the concert was a string quintet composed by Mr. Rhodes himself for his MFA thesis when he attended graduate school at Princeton University in 1968.
Mr. Rhodes has composed other musical arrangements, but he has always considered this one to be of his most favorite and personal compositions. I really enjoyed the three movements of his quintet. I found them to be very modern, exciting and full of energy. They were quite a contrast to the wonderful yet more traditional music of Beethoven and Mozart that were also included in the concert’s program that evening.
I found the first movement in Rhodes’ String Quintet very meaningful musically. It had a nice, long spread-out legato tempo to it, though ominous-sounding at times, and it sped up nicely towards the end. I also found it to be very strong and more powerful than the other movements. The second and third movements were a big change from the first movement. The second movement started soft and small, and then kept building gradually towards the end.
The third movement was more unique than the first two. Mr. Rhodes gave each instrument in the quintet the opportunity to perform their own musical solo, and also showcased each of their individual personalities. The second and third movements are very personal to Mr. Rhodes. He felt that “his own musical voice emerged more and more.” Throughout the performance of his quintet, I constantly watched Mr. Rhodes. In my opinion, he was the heart and soul of this part of the concert. It seems as if he poured all his feelings and emotions into this expressive performance.
In addition to Mr. Rhodes’ string quintet, the concert’s program consisted of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 and Mozart’s String Quintet No. 5 in D Major, K. 593. Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 had four movements. The first, Allegretto, was a delightful movement. It was both fun and playful and sounded like a conversation between the instrumentalists. The second movement, Vivace, was different from the first, yet sounded more contemporary. The third movement, Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo, had a slower tempo and was much sweeter-sounding like a lullaby, but ended in a somber mood. The final movement, Grave ma non troppo tratto – Allegro, had a nice steady tempo that I enjoyed.
The last part of the concert was Mozart’s String Quintet No. 5. The four movements of this quintet varied from emotional tempos to angelic-sounding variations by the string instruments. The first movement, Larghetto – Allegro, for example, demonstrated how powerful the violin and viola can sound.
This was a very emotional and bittersweet concert for Samuel Rhodes and his fellow quartet members. When the show ended, my mother and I were part of the many standing ovations that the JSQ received that evening. Samuel Rhodes seemed thrilled and overcome with emotion as he rose to embrace his comrades with tears in his eyes. This was truly a memorable event and we were very pleased to have been a part of this experience.
*Photos: Ravinia/Patrick Gipson