URBANA — The Grammy Award-winning Pacifica Quartet  is leaving the University of Illinois School of Music at the end of the academic year for Indiana University.
Karl Kramer, director of the UI School of Music, confirmed Wednesday morning that the quartet, in-residence since 2003 at the UI, resigned Tuesday night, effective at the end of the spring semester.
Kramer said Indiana gave the quartet a better offer. The UI School of Music countered, he said.
Sibbi Berhnardsson, violinist in the quartet, told The News-Gazette on Wednesday afternoon that the decision to leave Illinois was painful.
"I'm filled with mixed feelings, to be perfectly honest," he said.
He said the offer from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana happened "incredibly quickly" and that Pacifica had not sought the job, nor was it looking for a change. Indiana approached the quartet just last week.
"It became a very, very difficult situation, an incredibly painful decision. We were struggling with it basically nonstop. We felt we were giving up a lot by leaving. We think nothing but the best of Champaign, the School of Music, the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Chancellor (Phyllis) Wise," he said. "We just read her blog about the importance of arts in Illinois, and that showed us what a great place it is."
Bernhardsson said he and the other quartet members have made many friends here in the past nine years, and valued their collaboration with Krannert Center and its director, Mike Ross. He said there is no Krannert at Indiana, or elsewhere, for that matter.
"Mike Ross was such an ally and sounding board for ideas; our relationship with Krannert couldn't be better," Bernhardsson said.
However, he said the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana is one of the premier music institutions in the world.
"It has a fantastic faculty; we know many of them," he said. "It was maybe a new challenge and opportunity we wanted to explore."
"The School of Music at Indiana has a storied legacy, a great legacy. It’s a huge school. Honestly, that’s the reason we left. It may be one of the premier music schools in the world, and we wanted to take it onto the next challenge. The people who have taught there in the past and teach there now are rather formidable. We are honored to be part of that faculty."
The UI's struggle with finances from the state and its recent scandals at the leadership level didn't even enter the quartet members' minds when making the decision, Bernhardsson said. Those issues are just something he reads about, he said.
Bernhardsson believes Illinois will have no problem replacing the Pacifica with great faculty or a great quartet because of its reputation, Krannert Center, and the "special" audiences here..
Though Kramer, who was responsible for bringing the Pacifica here, also is leaving the UI, for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Australia — his last day here is March 31 — the disappointment about Pacifica's resignation was palpable in his voice.
Kramer said the Pacifica has had a "huge impact" on the university and community.
"They started as a relatively unknown group and blossomed here as performers and teachers," he said. "They did a lot of great things for the university. They carried the flag for us all over the country, all over the world. They had a huge local following."
Kramer said 400 to 500 persons consistently attended concerts here by Pacifica, which this academic year is presenting at Krannert Center the complete cycle of Beethoven quartets.
"You rarely see that many people at a chamber music concert," Kramer said.
Some of Pacifica's fans likely discovered chamber music at the DoCha (downtown Champaign) Chamber Music Festival that Pacifica violist Masumi Per Rostad founded two years ago. In the festival, chamber groups and other musicians, most of them classically trained young professors at the UI, presented free concerts in informal settings and then in the auditorium at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum.
Rostad, 34, said in 2010 that one of the inspirations for the festival was the diverse audiences the Pacifica sees when it performs at Krannert.
"As a string quartet, you tend to see a lot of older audience members," he said. "That's great. We don't discriminate. But it's really exciting when you have a really diverse audience. We would love to have all ages come to our concerts here at the festival."
When the Pacifica joined the UI in 2003, the quartet already enjoyed critical acclaim and was considered one of the hottest young string quartets in the world.
Six years later, in early 2009, the Pacifica won the Grammy for best chamber music performance of 2008 for its Naxos recording of the Elliott Carter String Quartets Nos. 1 and 5.
Also in 2009, Musical America, the oldest magazine in America about classical music, named Pacifica its Ensemble of the Year.
"Shortly after its 1994 formation in California, the Pacifica Quartet won top prizes in the music world's most prestigious competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Prize. The quartet has since received many honors, including being appointed quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009-12), a position previously held by the Guarneri Quartet," reads the Pacifica website.
In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America's Cleveland Quartet Award and the appointment to Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society Two.
In 2006 the Pacifica received an Avery Fisher Career Grant, becoming only the second chamber ensemble so honored in the long history of the grant program. Also in 2006 the quartet was featured on the cover of Gramophone and heralded as one of "five new quartets you should know about," the only American quartet to make the list.
The other members of the Pacifica are Simin Ganatra on first violin and Brandon Vamos on cello.