GREENSBORO — During his 15 years with the Eastern Music Festival, Music Director Gerard Schwarz has recruited renowned solo guest artists to perform with the faculty orchestra.
But never a string quartet — until this week.
Julian Schwarz, a well-known cellist and son of Gerard Schwarz, recommended The Pacifica Quartet. His friend, violist Mark Holloway, had recently joined the Grammy Award-winning classical music ensemble.
“This is one of the great quartets,” Gerard Schwarz said of the group that also includes violinists Simin Ganatra and Austin Hartman and cellist Brandon Vamos.
The quartet fit EMF into its packed summer concert schedule that will take them to popular music festivals from east to west coast and into Canada.
“We were really thrilled when the invitation came, to work with (Gerard Schwarz), at a festival with great students and faculty,” Holloway said from Bloomington, Ind., where the quartet is in residence at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
On Saturday, the quartet will perform with the faculty orchestra of professional musicians at the opening concert of EMF’s Festival Orchestra Series.
On Sunday, the quartet will give a 3 p.m. recital that shows its prowess as interpreters of string cycle quartets.
Cycles consist of works written by the same composer over time to show how he evolved.
“You gain a window, not just into the individual pieces of these composers whose cycles we play, but of the trajectory of their life and the trajectory of music in general,” Holloway said.
The quartet won’t perform a cycle, but one piece from each of three major composers.
Then at 7 p.m. Sunday, members will conduct master classes with EMF students.
All are open to the public. Master classes are free to watch.
Holloway is impressed that, at EMF, 270 young musicians from around the world want to spend five summer weeks taking lessons, practicing, rehearsing and performing.
“It shows that there’s a real commitment and passion on their part to be musicians — to learning, to growing to exploring,” Holloway said.
“Perhaps we can teach them how to do this, how to do that, how to make that work, bend your elbow, move your fingers this way,” he said. “But there’s a certain joy for life and enthusiasm that’s nice to be around.”
Saturday’s concert will open with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a popular EMF guest artist, playing Bach’s Violin Concerto with the faculty orchestra.
It will conclude with Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, the Organ Symphony, performed by the orchestra and organist André Lash.
Second on the program is the orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Concerto Gross, Opus 6, No. 7.
The Pacifica Quartet then will join on composer Arnold Schoenberg’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra.
Schoenberg modeled his 1933 concerto on Handel’s Concerto Grosso, although it’s not an exact copy.
“The audience gets to hear the original that Schoenberg worked from, and then what Schoenberg did to it,” Schwarz said.
At Sunday’s recital, the quartet will perform three pieces, one each from Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Beethoven.
“One of the great joys of being in a string quartet is the repertoire,” Holloway said. “The greatest composers wrote for us.”
He is particularly fond of the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 2 that the ensemble will play.
The Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 3 “is a big, joyous orchestral piece with a lot of range and a lot of power,” Holloway said. “At the same time, a lot of subtlety and beauty and introspection.”
He calls Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9, Opus 59, No. 3 “one of the great masterpieces. ... Audiences really seem to love this one.”
What can the quartet’s EMF audiences expect?
“Hopefully a commitment to communication, both within the ensemble and with our young students, and with our audience, trying to bring this great music to life,” Holloway said.