Each May, the Juilliard String Quartet hosts a weeklong seminar. This year one of the participating ensembles was the Ansonia Quartet: second-year master’s students Sumire Hirotsuru and Byungchan Lee (violins), Meagan Turner (viola), and Isabel Kwon (cello). Sumire wrote about the experience.
After an intense year participating in Juilliard’s Honors Chamber Music Program, my fellow Ansonia Quartet members and I attended the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar in the last week of our life as master’s students, with our final concert taking place a few hours after commencement. Our wonderful seminar coaches were Astrid Schween (Pre- College ’80; BM ’84, MM ’85, who’s been the JSQ’s cellist since 2016) and Joseph Lin (Pre-College ’96; who was soon to step down as the JSQ’s first violinist). During the week there was also an inspiring master class by the quartet’s violist, Roger Tapping, who had been our coach all year, and the JSQ’s second violinist, Ronald Copes, who had taught our quartet since we formed within weeks of arriving at Juilliard.
It was a great pleasure to get to work with all four members of the JSQ after having been coached by two of them, and it was fascinating to absorb and compare what they each said about our playing. Each has a different way of conveying their thoughts—one had very specific phrasing ideas about specific measures, one had conceptual thinking about a piece as a whole, one raised our attention so we really had to listen and react to each other, and one kept questioning us about each of our decisions about dynamics and tempo changes. But while each of their approaches were unique, they all culminated in our thinking about the same fundamental question: “Why are we playing this way out of a million other possible ways?”
In our past two years as a quartet, we have traveled together to Japan, Toronto, Nova Scotia, and a dozen Gluck Community Service Fellowship performances in healthcare facilities in the New York City area. I really enjoyed how we each reacted differently to the audiences in different countries and settings—and I also loved figuring out the best way of presenting our music in each circumstance. I truly believe the most beautiful thing about live music is creating an atmosphere in the venue.
I am sure this fundamental question of “Why are we playing this way?” will continue to challenge me for the rest of my life, but I’m very happy that I was able to experience how it makes a difference to actively think about it in chamber music settings with the best members and coaches I could ask for. Thank you Ansonia, thank you Juilliard String Quartet, and thank you Juilliard! I hope I can return what I learned here to the larger society in some way.
Since graduating, Sumire Hirotsuru (MM ’18, violin) has toured with Juilliard415 to Leipzig, Germany; she also performed at festivals in Texas, New York City, Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut as well as one she started several years ago in her hometown in Japan. This fall she's launching Smilee Entertainment, an entertainment business services company, and continuing to perform and teach in New York City.