Isidore String Quartet Outreach Event at Johnson High School on April 24, 2023
On Monday April 24, 2023, a perfect April day, the Isidore String Quartet arrived at Johnson High School, set up on the stage of their impressive, acoustically treated theater, and began to warm up. “Bach, Childs, Price, Haydn?” violist Devin Moore confirmed with the others, the order of works they were planning to perform. The door to the theater opened, and 40 students filed in, each grabbing a program on their way to the first three rows. Eagerness showed in their eyes as they politely waited for the event to start.
The students were absolutely gripped by this powerful, rich work of supreme counterpoint.
After I introduced the wildly successful, surprisingly young ensemble, they dove immediately into a fugue from J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue. The students were absolutely gripped by this powerful, rich work of supreme counterpoint. Enthusiastic applause broke the profound energy. After a humble acknowledgement, Moore thanked the young crowd and introduced his friends: Adrian Steele and Phoenix Avalon, violins, and Joshua McClendon, cello. Moore explained their brief history as a quartet, their experience in New York City and The Juilliard School, and how they reconvened stronger than ever at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Festival, after the forced hiatus of pandemic.
He then introduced the next piece on their concise program, a movement from American composer/jazz pianist Billy Childs’ String Quartet no. 2 (Awakening). Moore conveyed the important biographical context for the work, which depicts Childs’ emotional, physical, and spiritual journey in dealing with his wife’s serious illness and recovery.
Not a sound could be heard among the attentive students until the final note, leading to a boisterous applause.
The White Room, the second movement, conveys the powerlessness and urgency he experienced waiting at her bedside through the use of a plaintive melody set against heartrending bi-tonal harmonies, at times evoking noises of a hospital ward. The piece is visceral, direct, full of character, and it feels relevant. Not a sound could be heard among the attentive students until the final note, leading to a boisterous applause. Switching gears, the quartet performed their own arrangement of Florence Price’s Adoration, a short, beautiful, song-like piece originally for organ. Crafting a unified sound of utter warmth, they passed off the work’s gorgeous melody seamlessly. Demonstrating musical maturity far beyond their age, the Isidore created a sound so tender and patient that it evoked an aura of inevitability. Isidore finished with the playful finale of Haydn’s String Quartet no. 25 in C major, elevating the mood leading into the interactive discussion that followed.
As I asked the quartet about their opinions of new music, their rehearsal and practice schedules, and whether studying music theory really matters, the students thought of their own questions. One student had to know, “What’s it like being at Juilliard?” It was explained that aside from having had world-class instruction from a variety of influences, including the legendary Juilliard String Quartet, one of the most valuable aspects of being at such a top-level conservatory was to witness and experience the exceptional ability and talent of their peers. Being surrounded by the highest level of music-making, both technically and expressively, motivated them individually and as an ensemble. Wrapping up the session, orchestra director Karen George thanked the quartet for the time, performance, and thoughtful discussion. The students’ loud applause was evidence of their deep appreciation for the up-close experience with these rising stars of the field.
Submitted by Daniel Anastasio