Juilliard String Quartet to Perform 

A collaboration and the Juilliard String Quartet.

Almost every time the Memphis Chamber Music Society presents a concert, it's in the landmark home of someone who volunteers to open their doors to a few dozen classical music lovers. It's been that way for 29 years, but this Sunday, there will be that rare exception when the Juilliard String Quartet will perform Sunday, October 15th at 3 p.m. at the Clark Opera Memphis Center.

You can attribute that to a collaboration between two presenters: the Society and the similarly chamber-oriented Concerts International (CI) organization. CI has been around longer — in its 45th year — and offers five or six concerts a year of ensembles with a global reputation, mostly at the University of Memphis. The Chamber Music Society presents nine concerts a year and typically draws from regional musicians who are often with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra or faculty at schools and colleges.

click to enlarge Juilliard String Quartet - SIMON POWIS
  • Simon Powis
  • Juilliard String Quartet

Marsha Evans, founder and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society, says her organization came about somewhat by accident. "I was teaching at Rhodes College and had formed a trio with violinist Max Huls and cellist Linda Minke. We needed a place to do our run-through the evening before our opening night debut."

It happened that William R. Eubanks, the noted interior designer, was glad to have the performance in his posh home, which included a nine-foot piano. "We played the concert to about 60 people," Evans says. "It turned out to be a big hit, and people started calling Bill and saying, 'When are you going to do it again?' That's when I realized this could be a concert series."

The first year of the series there were three concerts and they sold out right away. "The next year we increased to six," she says. "The next year we increased to nine, and that's what we're doing now."

Julie Schap, the artistic director of Concerts International, says the collaboration for this Sunday's concert came about quite naturally, although CI had first dibs on the Juilliard String Quartet for this season. Evans, at the Chamber Music Society, emailed Schap saying she was a little disappointed because she'd hoped to book the quartet, especially since cellist Astrid Schween, a favorite guest at the Society's concerts, was a new member of the group.

Schap says she told Evans that Concerts International would be glad to let the Society have the quartet. But then the two of them talked it through some more and decided a collaboration would be even better. "We have a wonderful history together," Schap says. "She coached me for my first big concert in Memphis." (Schap, a vice president at Merrill Lynch, is also an accomplished pianist.)

For Evans, this is an opportunity to have additional visibility for the Society and show more people what her passion is about. "I strive for variety," she says. "And I strive for the musicians to be thrilled with what they're playing. I try to get programs that represent the passions of the players — and then I get to pick a piece, too."

The Juilliard String Quartet's performance at the Clark Opera Memphis Center will be done in the round, Schap says, giving audience members an atypical view of the musicians — from front, side, and rear — as they perform.

It won't be quite like a concert in the intimate confines of someone's home, although some of those performances have had their unusual moments. Evans recalls that one time the Blair String Quartet was performing at a home and the resident cat managed to find its way into the event after intermission. As the violist was sawing away, the cat jumped onto his lap to general amusement and consternation. But the player kept his cool, raising his bow and raising the viola to accommodate the curious feline.

Sunday's program: Beethoven's Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5; Haydn's Quartet in D Major, Op. 76, No. 5; and Beethoven's String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 127. Tickets are $50. Contact cimemphis.org or 527-3067. Cats not permitted.

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