New UI string quartet happy to be here
URBANA — Already, before the Jupiter String Quartet arrived here to succeed the Pacifica Quartet as quartet in-residence at the University of Illinois School of Music, people in the community knew about them.
The Jupiters, as they call themselves, don't mind being the subject of a small-town grapevine, particularly one in the Midwest.
Three of the Jupiters — sisters Meg and Liz Freivogel and Nelson Lee — grew up in the Midwest; they're pleased to return.
And Daniel McDonough is glad to be moving back to a university town. He grew up in Austin, Texas.
And the foursome, who last lived in Boston, appreciate their new job in the School of Music, where they will teach students and coach student chamber ensembles.
"It's a great position. There's a wonderful history of having a string quartet in-residence here," said McDonough, the cellist in the group. "The School of Music has fabulous students and an excellent faculty."
The Pacifica Quartet, who took a similar position at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, paved the way, having told the Jupiters good things about the program and the community here.
"They had been here for so long; they encouraged us to come here," said Liz Freivogel, violist. "They said there's a lot of support from the community and campus."
The Jupiters made their debut as UI faculty members on Thursday evening, the opening day of the Allerton Music Barn Festival.
The Jupiters, though, have already played Krannert Center for the Performing Arts twice, first in the Sunday Salon series, which focuses on emerging artists, and later in 2009, as winners of the Cleveland Quartet Award.
The Jupiter Quartet — Liz recently read the first reference to them as a "mid-career" rather than "young" quartet — formed in 2001 and followed a career trajectory similar to that of the Pacifica.
For example, the Jupiters have won roughly the same awards; besides the Cleveland Quartet Award, they received first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition and grand prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.
The Jupiter Quartet also won the 2005 Young Concert Artists International auditions, which resulted in concert dates and a manager — Bill Capone of the Arts Management Group.
Like the Pacifica, the Jupiters also are members of the Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society Two, received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and have played major venues here and abroad.
They would not compare themselves musically to the Pacifica, saying that's for listeners to do. What they try to do musically is focus on creating a warm overall sound and making every voice in the quartet heard.
"Each person has a strong contribution to every sound, and our big bass cushion comes from the cello," Liz said.
"Hopefully, our sound is always developing," Lee said. "We try to do what feels right in the moment and try to come up with new ideas." The Jupiters play both new and older music, concentrating in the latter category on Beethoven, Bela Bartok, Franz Schubert and Benjamin Britten. The 100th anniversary of Britten's birth will be celebrated next year; that means the Jupiters will play his three quartets, which are not played often. The quartet has already recorded his second quartet.
As for newer pieces, one of the most recent written for the Jupiters is "Ramshackle Songs" by Dan Visconti.
The Jupiters have commissioned new quartets from composers Hannah Lash and Mark Adamo. Adamo wrote for string quartet and baritone voice; the Jupiters will perform those on tour with Thomas Hampson.
In their online bio, the Jupiters describe themselves as a "particularly intimate group," which is what you want in a string quartet.
Sisters Liza and Meg Freivogel grew up in St. Louis and Bethesda, Md., playing string quartets with their brothers and being coached by cellist Oliver Edel. When Liz was in high school, the family moved back to St. Louis.
The intimacy of the group is strengthened by the fact Meg Freivogel and McDonough are married to each other. They have a daughter and live in Urbana. Lee and Liz are married but not to each other. Lee's wife is cellist Denise Djokic, who maintains a busy touring career. They live near downtown Champaign.
Liz's husband is a high school Spanish teacher who for now will stay at home to care for their two children. They live in Urbana.
McDonough, Lee and Meg Freivogel first met at the Cleveland Institute of Music. When they decided to form a quartet and were looking for a violist, Meg suggested her sister Liz, then studying at Oberlin College. The four finished up their schooling in the Professional String Quartet Training Program at the New England Conservatory of Music.
The Jupiters, who are in their early 30s, said now's a great time for string quartets because up-and-coming musicians want to play in one. Aspiring quartet members can find great teachers who are members of older, more established quartets such as the original Cleveland Quartet and the current Takacs Quartet. The Jupiters studied with both of those groups.
And, "Chamber music, for lack of a more poetic word, is more 'portable' and easier to introduce to high school audiences and audiences not able to get into symphony orchestras," McDonough said. "Chamber groups have the ability to reach out to new audiences."
The Jupiters will do that here. They plan to make themselves known to schoolchildren throughout the state, and they hope to become involved in the DoCha Chamber Music Festival, the downtown Champaign event that introduces listeners to chamber music in an informal setting.
"I think this will be part of our mission — our duty is to explore unconventional venues and reach out to new audiences and keep the art form thriving," McDonough said.
The Jupiter String Quartet will perform at the UI School of Music's Sept. 11 Memorial Concert starting at 7:46 a.m. Sept. 11 in Smith Recital Hall, 805 S. Mathews Ave., U. The program: Ravel's Quartet in F major and Beethoven's Quartet in Eb major, Op. 74. The 15- to 20-minute concert is free and open to the public. There will be no speaking from the stage; the audience is asked to enter and leave in silence.
Also, the Jupiter String Quartet will perform, as part of Ian Hobson's Brahms Instrumental Music Series, with pianists Hobson and Rochelle Sennet, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for senior citizens and $10 for youths and UI students. Tickets for the choral balcony are $15 for adults and $10 for youths and students.