In 1958, the same year that Béla Bartók's Violin
Concerto No. 1 premiered in Basel, Switzerland, the Oberlin
String Quartet won fourth prize in the Concours International
de Quatuor, sponsored by H.M. Queen Elisabeth, in Liege, Belgium.
Like the provenance of the
Bartók Concerto, inspired by the composer's short-lived
relationship with the violinist Stefi Geyer and first heard 50
years after it was composed, it would be nearly that long before
music by the Oberlin String Quartet would be heard again
ensemble disbanded in 1959, after four brief seasons.
Now a new Oberlin String
Quartet has emerged. Formed this year, the ensemble makes its first
public appearance Sunday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. in Finney
Chapel with a free concert featuring Beethoven's String
Quartet in E-flat, Op. 127 and Brahms' Quintet in
F minor, Op. 34, a program that will be reprised at Ashland
University's Elizabeth Pastor Recital Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
These performances will be followed by a tour that culminates in
Reinberger Hall on Feb. 2, 2005.
Members of the quartet are violinist Gregory
Fulkerson '70, violinist Kyung
Sun Lee, violist Peter
Slowik, and cellist Darrett
Adkins '91, all of whom are faculty members at the Conservatory.
Joining the ensemble for the Brahms Quintet is pianist Angela
Cheng, associate professor of piano at the Conservatory.
"We hope to represent the highest musical ideals of the
Oberlin Conservatory of Music by performing the great masterworks
of the quartet literature in meticulously prepared and compellingly
envisioned performances," says Fulkerson of the quartet's
mission. "We have the luxury of being able to rehearse in
much more detail than many established groups can. Rehearsals are
approached with total idealism and the optimism that all technical
difficulties will be ultimately resolved. As we get closer to the
concerts, I expect that the rehearsals will become increasingly
Each member of the quartet is a distinguished artist in his or
her own right, and each possesses a vast array of performance experience,
not only individually and with large ensembles, but also with other
chamber groups. Fulkerson, the quartet's first violinist,
was the founding violinist of the Audubon Quartet. Lee performed
as a member of the Trio Con Voce and the Kumho String Quartet.
Slowik has performed with the Mirecourt Trio and the Vermeer Quartet.
Adkins, a former member of the Flux Quartet, continues to perform
with the Zephyr and the Oberlin trios.
The first Oberlin String Quartet also consisted of Conservatory
faculty members and was formed at Oberlin in 1955 by violinist
Andor Toth and violist William Berman. Violinist John Dalley and
cellist Peter Howard joined in 1958.
In the late summer of that year, the quartet performed a series
of engagements in Germany and Belgium and collected enthusiastic
reviews from the critics. In Liege, at the Concours International
de Quatuor, the ensemble was awarded fourth prize (a first prize
was not bestowed). A press account from the Brussels newspaper Le
Soir reported "the 500 listeners who attended the finals
in the hall of the Ste. Libre d'Emulation completely disagreed
with the jury in thunderously applauding the Oberlin String Quartet,
whose presentation had been particularly impressive in the Quartet
The Oberlin String Quartet–then and now–exemplifies
the excellence engendered by a dedication to chamber music that
has been at the core of the musical life of Oberlin throughout
its history. Fulkerson explains:
"The ability to play chamber music requires particularly
complex listening skills–one must hear four voices both
separately and together. In addition, the breadth and quality of
the repertoire for string quartet is unexcelled, which requires
the highest level of analytical skills. For teaching musical skills
for string players at a conservatory, nothing is better than quartet
work, and lots of it."
According to Fulkerson, it was the genius of David Robertson,
dean of the Conservatory from 1949 until his death in 1961, and
his advisors in the 1950s to place chamber music in the center
of the Oberlin string curriculum, at a significant cost in faculty
"I believe that that intense focus on chamber music has
been the crucial element in the success that Oberlin's graduates
have had in the professional world," he says.
Following their Finney Chapel debut and Ashland University performance,
the quartet is scheduled for two engagements in Seattle, Washington,
followed by performances at San Francisco's Gould Theater
(located in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor) and
Scripps College in Claremont, California. Then the quartet will
be back in Ohio for a concert at Cleveland's Reinberger Hall.
In addition to the Beethoven String Quartet,
the program for the ensemble's West Coast tour and for Reinberger
Hall includes Mozart's String Quartet in B-flat, K. 589.
The Oberlin and Ashland concerts are free. Ticket information for
the Reinberger concert is available by calling the Severance Hall
Box Office at 216-231-1111 or 1-800-686-1141.