by Mike Telin

Linden-QuartetOne of the great joys of living in a region that has more then its share of music schools is that quite often “students” return to the area as accomplished professional artists. And, one can find joy in knowing that you first heard them perform way back when. Case in point, the Linden String Quartet.

On Tuesday, April 2nd beginning at 7:30 PM, in Severance Hall’s Reinberger Chamber Hall, the quartet will present their first concert as part of the Parallels Cleveland Chamber Music Series. The concert features guest artists pianist Arthur Rowe and Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil in Chausson’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Quartet in D major. The program also includes Haydn’s Quartet in D major, Op. 76, and William Bolcom’s Three Rags for String Quartet.

Founded in the spring of 2008 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, violinists Sarah McElravy and Catherine Cosbey, violist Eric Wong and cellist Felix Umansky have quickly established an impressive reputation on the national and international chamber music circuit.

After winning the Gold Medal and Grand Prize of the 2009 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, they were awarded the Coleman-Barstow Prize at the Coleman National Chamber Ensemble Competition that same year. In 2010, they earned First Prize at the 2010 Hugo Kauder Competition, and most recently, the ProQuartet Prize at the 9th Borciani International String Quartet Competition. The quartet recently completed a two-year Graduate String-Quartet-in-Residence program at Yale where they were mentored by the Tokyo String Quartet.

For those of us who do remember the Linden Quartet in their formative years, we will also remember them as an ensemble that was committed to community — they were early adapters of the “lets take chamber music to the people” mentality.

We spoke to violinist Catherine Cosbey by telephone in New York where the quartet was participating in workshops with the Takács quartet at Carnegie Hall.

Mike Telin: Congratulations on all the quartet’s successes. How are things going with the Takács workshops?

Catherine Cosbey: The last few days have been so cool and the Takács are amazing. There are two other quartets here as well. The first day we all played for each other and then the Takács played two movements from the Brahms A major. It was unbelievable for all of us to be alone in the room with them while they performed. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

MT: The Linden quartet is quite busy between now and the performance here in Cleveland.

CC: We’re on the road for about a month. We started with a residency at the University of Iowa, then we were in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska and now we’re in New York. We leave from here to go to Utah to do a residency in Logan, then to Baltimore and finally back to Cleveland to organize everything for the concert. So yes, things are a little chaotic but we’ve been fortunate to have had quite a few concerts over the past few years.

MT: Again, congratulations. I feel kind of old because it seems like only yesterday you were all still students at CIM. Which, by the way, has given birth to enough quartets to have its own festival.

CC: It is amazing. I think it’s partly due to The Cleveland Quartet legacy, which still lives on, and of course there’s the Cavani Quartet and Peter Salaff who were so inspiring. They all really fostered the love of chamber music mentality.

MT: So you are still in love with it?

CC: Oh yes. The lifestyle does get a little bit difficult, but to be able to be on stage playing Beethoven Op. 132, and getting to meet so many people, that is amazing.

MT: Tell me about Parallels Cleveland Chamber Music Series. The program is fantastic. Is this the quartet’s own creation and if so, why did you decide to take on the challenge of creating your own series?

CC: Yes, this is our thing and we decided to do it because we were really craving to be a part of a community in a more profound way. There is something to be said for going into a city, giving a concert and then leaving, and I do think that [kind of thing] plays an important role in communities — the beauty of a shared listening experience. But as a performer, when you go somewhere and then leave, you don’t see the effects of what you did. And, you don’t have a lot of artistic control in terms of the way the series is run. We wanted to have a more complete artistic experience, the ability to build something with an audience, and this series is our answer to that.

MT: I understand. So many times the artists fly in the night before and leave the day after, and they are not seen again until the presenter decides it is time to bring them back. I agree that these situations do play an important role in a community’s cultural life, but it is very different from the artist who lives and works in a community every day.

CC: And we think the whole local food movement [should extend to] local musicians as well — that needs to be a movement too. Cleveland is an amazing place for culture, especially music, and there is certainly no shortage of people who are excited to be a part of it.

MT: How many concerts do you have planned?

CC: We have five concerts planned for next year. We’re still tweaking things but we’re pretty excited. We’ll be doing an all-quintet program with Peter Frankl and I think he said the last time he performed in Cleveland he played some Mozart concertos with George Szell.

MT: Will they all be in Reinberger?

CC: Yes. We are lucky to have people who were really excited about the idea and we willing to fund it or help with the funding.

MT: I must say that I continue to be impressed with young musicians like yourselves who go out and start their own things. You’re not afraid to be entrepreneurial.

CC: But it is out of necessity, and things have changed so much in the last ten years.

MT: They have, but for a very long time I think students were told that they should practice really hard so somebody will hire you. And things like how to market yourself or your ideas were never discussed.

CC: I understand that was the way it was, but I do think a big change has happened in the last five years. I notice that when we go places to teach, more people are now talking about the need to entrepreneurial — this whole do-it-yourself mentality.

MT: Are you finding that teachers are also encouraging this mentality?

CC: Oh yes. We were just at the University of Iowa and they are now including [entrepreneurship] as part of their chamber music core. And the students also have to take public speaking. They also have to come up with a presenting idea, put on a concert, and do all of the marketing. I think that is so great to see because these are the tools that you really need to have. Yes, a conservatory model really does focus on playing, which of course is at the heart of everything, but it is no secret that all of these other things are very important as well, and we’re learning as we go.

Published on March 25, 2013

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