In February, the Manhattan-based Calidore String Quartet (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi) joined eight soloists and ensembles on the roster of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (BBT) Award and Fellowship winners for 2016. This put them in the company of, among others, Quatuor Ebène, Benjamin Beilman, the Navarra Quartet, Augustin Hadelich, Cuarteto Casals, the Pavel Haas Quartet, and Vilde Frang. The Calidore was also the first North American ensemble to win a fellowship in the program’s 13-year history.
The announcement came in the midst of the first year of their appointment as artists in residence at Stony Brook University, selected by the Emerson Quartet. “It’s definitely a dream of ours,” the quartet told me earlier this year, “to be located at one place, at a university, because we’re all passionately involved in working with young people, and at Stony Brook we have a teaching component that we very much enjoy.”
Their latest release, due for US release in late spring, is music from World War I.
What makes the BBT Fellowship such an important award for the quartet?
It’s a great honor to be recognized by an organization that has been so successful in identifying new leaders in the performing-arts world—their motto is “rewarding musical excellence”—and we’re the first North American ensemble to receive the prize.
At what point did you realize you had a chance at the fellowship?
After our nomination for the award we submitted live recordings, a proposal, biographical materials, and our upcoming concert schedule. Both rounds of adjudication were then based on these materials.
What recordings did you send them?
Because the BBT requires that the recordings be of live performances, we used recordings from the McGill International String Quartet Academy in Montréal compiled from performances we had given over the course of two summers in Pollack Hall—a great-sounding place.
What does the fellowship mean in practical terms?
In practical terms it means joining the BBT roster, and working with a fund of £20,000 (around $28,000). It includes detailed guidance on how to use our award to promote and develop our career.
How are you going to use the money?
The biggest project is to record a CD. The trust is helping us to make contacts in the recording industry, based on their previous collaborations and contacts, with the hope of establishing a long-term relationship.
Have they worked on your ‘look’ at all?
We haven’t had our photoshoot yet, but when we do, the BBT not only funds it but helps us to decide what kind of details in our photos are going to attract the attention of graphic designers and marketing professionals. It’s been really cool, and in sync with one of our most important goals: to create an international presence.
Whose music do you have in mind for the recording?
The selection of repertoire is still an ongoing process, but it will include a new 10- to 12- minute-long quartet by Pulitzer-Prize winner Caroline Shaw. We are set to premiere it at Soka University of America in Orange County, on November 6, 2016.
I reviewed your performance of Shaw’s ‘Entr’acte’; it was brilliant. Have you been working with her long?
Estelle has been friends with her since they went to Yale; they met their first semester when they were assigned to play Mozart’s K. 465. Caroline was an excellent violinist; Estelle found out about her composing only when Caroline mentioned, during graduation, that she was going to study composing at Princeton. We were very excited when she won the Pulitzer because it meant others were acknowledging her work, which we already firmly believed in.
How did the French CD happen?
We were recommended by one of our mentors, Guillaume Sutre, who had been asked by the Hortus Musicus label if he knew of a good young quartet for the 14th recording in a series celebrating musicians and WWI. The main piece is Hindemith’s Fourth Quartet, written in the aftermath of the war. The rest of the repertoire was very different for us: Milhaud’s Fourth Quartet, with its folk-like melodies; only the second recording of Toch’s Serenade for two violins and viola; and the world-premiere recording of a suite by Jacques de la Presle—looking back to a happier and simpler time, written in a very accessible tonal language. His great-grandson thanked us for bringing the music to life.
What adventures do you have planned for the coming months?
We will be returning to the East Neuk Festival in Saint Andrews, Scotland, to play the complete Mendelssohn quartets, spread out over four days and paired with piano music played by Christian Zacharias and Joseph Moog. That’s on top of playing the Mendelssohn Octet at Stony Brook with the Emerson Quartet; Beethoven No. 15, Op. 132, at Lincoln Center; a Carnegie Hall concert (Mozart, Hindemith, Mendelssohn); a short West Coast swing (Santa Rosa, Three Rivers, and Visalia); and the Green Lake Festival, an idyllic Golden Pond setting for chamber music.