It was an emotional return for the Pacifica Quartet on Thursday evening at Krannert Center.
His voice breaking, violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson told the audience in Foellinger Great Hall that the Pacifica, now at Indiana University, had failed to say good-bye, after having spent nine years on faculty at the University of Illinois School of Music.
While they were here, Sibbi said, they had children. Sibbi also said the C-U audience was always receptive and open to the Pacifica performing new and obscure pieces — musicians really appreciate that.
And he said the Pacifica’s C-U audience knows the quartet better than does any other audience in the world. While here they built a sizeable fan base.
It appeared that most of their fans as well as others turned up for the concert on Thursday. The official count was 650 — great for a string quartet. I saw in the house Richard and Susan Herman and a few other dignitaries, as well as violinist and UI music professor Stefan Milenkovich.
The Pacifica were extremely impassioned and energetic in their performances of Luigi Boccherini’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 58, No. 2, a delightful piece, and a Prokofiev quartet that raised myriad emotions. I couldn’t help but think it would make a nice soundtrack for a silent film from Russia.
The quartet originally had planned to play a Bartok piece at Krannert but switched to the Prokofiev because they had recorded it at the performing arts center and because it appears on their latest CD.
After intermission, the distinguished pianist Menahem Pressler joined the Pacifica on stage to perform Johannes Brahms’ Quintet in F Minor for Piano and Strings, Op. 34. Lovely. As an encore they performed a scherzo by Dvorak.
My only gripe: Pressler and his grand piano were stationed behind the quartet. I could see the top of his head and part of his face but not his hands or the keyboard. The 20 people in the choral balcony (seats only $15 each up there) had a much better view of him.
The Pacifica received a well-deserved standing ovation. I think Krannert Center director Mike Ross, who was sitting in the third or fourth row, was the first to stand. But Scott Schwartz told me later his wife, a pianist, was the first to stand (they were in the balcony) because she so appreciated Pressler's performance. She once took a master class with him.
Some folks here grumbled when the Pacifica pulled up roots and moved to Bloomington. Who can blame them? The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana is one of the top-ranked (if not the top) public university music schools in the country. (Illinois is not too far behind.)
Indiana's music school is twice the size of Illinois, giving the Pacifica a larger group of students to mentor. Pacifica violinist Simin Ganatra told me they have 130 or so students in their quartet class, up from 48 or so at Illinois. She also said it was time for the quartet to make a career change.
She said during a telephone conversation on Monday that smaller schools like Illinois are special, and that she and her quartet colleagues miss C-U and their friends here.
Simin’s mother and sister live in Champaign too. They will remain, as Simin’s sister’s husband teaches at Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston.
We can be happy with the legacy left by the quartet: while here, Masumi founded the DoCha Festival, featuring free chamber music in the classical Orpheum Auditorium. It will continue. And the UI School of Music hired the Jupiter Quartet to succeed Pacifica. The Jupiters seem to be on the same career trajectory. And the Pacifica, with their talent and enthusiasm, made many folks new fans of quartet music.
Note: Fans of the Pacifica as well as of Nathan and Julie Gunn might want to plan to travel to NYC in February. All six will perform together on Feb. 19 in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall.