Boston-based quartet to replace Pacifica Quartet, perform at Krannert

The University was taken by surprise in March when the Pacifica Quartet, Grammy Award winners and the school’s quartet-in-residence, informed Illinois of its plans to fill the same role at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music next fall.

Pacifica’s decision resulted in a last-minute replacement search by the University that ended with the selection of the Jupiter String Quartet in April. The Boston-based string ensemble, consisting of violinists Nelson Lee and Megan Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough, will call Champaign-Urbana home as the University’s new quartet-in-residence, effective Aug. 16. They will perform at the Allerton Music Barn Festival on Aug. 30 in its debut as University faculty members.

Multiple universities employ quartets-in-residence to perform and teach chamber music while also serving as ambassadors for the school at large. Illinois’ first quartet in residence was the Walden String Quartet, which established its residency at the University in 1947.

Because of the combination of the Pacifica Quartet’s and Indiana’s high stature, interim director of the school of music Edward Rath said a number of students have transferred from Champaign-Urbana to Bloomington, Ind.

“In music, recruiting is kind of like basketball or football,” Rath said. “Somebody wants somebody, and they’re able to make that move. … I don’t think it’s an unfair thing.”

“Indiana has a national reputation,” said Aaron Kaplan, graduate student in the music school. “They have a lot of world-class faculty and alumni. And if I were in (the Pacifica’s) shoes, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Indiana’s music school is revered sort of like our engineering school is here. It’s the best of the best, the cream of the crop. It’s a great career move for them; it’s a great honor to be on their faculty.”

Tammey Kickta, assistant director for artistic services at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, said the Jupiters, who are younger than the Pacificas, are on a similar career trajectory and could eventually reach a status similar to that of the Pacificas.

“I think the Jupiters are going to step beautifully into that same type of relationship with the community,” she said. “Yes, it will take a little while for it to grow, but I think that’s because the Pacifica already established a certain kind of presence. If the Pacifica came in here and took us up to here, the Jupiters will be able to take us even higher. They have great shoulders to stand on, that’s the real beauty of it all.”

The Jasper String Quartet and Parker String Quartet were also in contention for the position the Jupiters ultimately filled.

After making the University’s short list, the three groups were invited to audition on campus, where they each presented a program at Foellinger Auditorium and taught group and individual classes. Rath, who sat in on the auditions and was part of the decision-making process to choose the Jupiters, said parameters that went into the decision included the quartet’s ability to publicly perform string quartet literature, teach private lessons and represent the University and community.

“We thought there was more of a sense of ensemble with the Jupiters,” Rath said. “They had eye contact, there was a greater freedom in the playing. All very subjective things. You have four or five different people, and you have four or five different things to say. There’s no way that you can say, ‘This is why we did this,’ but the overall consensus was that, all things considered, this was the group that we thought we should have.”

McDonough said becoming a quartet-in-residence had always been a goal of the Jupiters and the opportunity “came up on our radar screen” after touring exclusively for nearly 10 years and wanting to seek more stability as they start their families.

“It’s a wonderful balance,” the Jupiters’ cellist said. “The University respects our desire to continue to perform, and it also allows us to do a bit of teaching and to get to know a community that’s all ready shown a commitment to this art form.”

McDonough also expressed excitement toward performing regularly at Krannert Center.

“It’s a gem in the middle of Illinois,” he said. “It draws not only major cultural acts from all over, but it’s nice to have it as a type of home stadium for the string quartet.”