The Colorado Music Festival is proud to have the Ivalas Quartet as our Festival Fellows this season, selected by the Sphinx Organization. In this interview, Music Director Peter Oundjian talks with the Quartet about the music they play, their mission, and more. Hear them live on July 31 at Boulder’s Arts in the Park.
Peter Oundjian: The Ivalas [Quartet], who are our fellows this summer of 2020. And we’re delighted to have them with us this evening. Reuben, nothing quite like playing Haydn, right?
Reuben Kebede: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s so fun to play, and almost every quartet that he wrote has something going on in it that’s funny. In this one specifically, I think it’s really cool how he decided to build the whole piece on the octave motif being passed around. Another thing that’s very interesting about this one is he wrote it for the violinist Johann Peter Salomon, and he was a very virtuosic violinist so he was playing first violin in the quartet at that time. You can really tell in the first violin part, in Anita’s part, that Haydn was influenced by the players as well as other things. So I find that very interesting about it.
Peter: Yeah. Oh, there’s just nothing quite like the spirit. And I see that Reuben, you make Anita play the virtuosic part.
Reuben: Yeah, I do [laughs], we’ll switch in a little bit here and I get to play the folky type of music. At least on this concert.
Anita Dumar: I have to play the scales and arpeggios. [laughs]
Peter: Well, we’re going to move on to a piece by Jessie Montgomery, but before we do that, I want to just make mention of this wonderful video that you did a few weeks ago of George Walker’s slow movement of his second string quartet. It is so moving, that video, and it really was stimulating. I mean, we discussed it together, but it’s something that you put together with your own passion. I want to thank all four of you for doing that. In case anybody has not yet seen that, it’s really an extremely moving experience and your playing of that George Walker is absolutely exquisite. Was it quite something to play that in that kind of context? Because I know you played the quartet before, but talk about that experience.
Anita: Yeah. Well, I mean, we just want to thank you and thank the Festival for giving us this opportunity and this platform. I think many of us around the world, and certainly us, we’re very angered and saddened by the events that were happening in the world. Sometimes it’s easy to say, “what can we do?” We just play these wooden boxes. We can’t really make any global impact off of that, or we can’t do anything that feels like it matters in the moment.
But I think one of the ways that we have reconciled with ourselves throughout this whole process, is that we can’t change the entire globe—that’s not the sphere of influence that we were personally given in this life right now. But we can try to make the world a slightly better place, a slightly more educated, a slightly more thoughtful place, a slightly more loving place in the way that we can. We can’t reach a million Instagram followers, but we were given this platform here. We were given the opportunity by [Colorado Music Festival] to do this.
So to play a piece that isn’t widely known, but should be widely known and especially a movement so touching, because it was specifically dedicated to George Walker’s grandmother, who he lost as well. When we were here doing a couple takes, the take that we ended up loving the most was the one that we said to ourselves, “This is for George Floyd. This is for Breonna Taylor. This is for all of the lives that have been lost.” It’s not about us. It’s not about how nervous we are here. It’s not about whether we started this note late or earlier. The point is that it’s a tribute to the victims of racism and of police brutality. We were just really grateful that we’re given this platform to do what we can and to honor their memory in the way that we can. So again, we thank you for that. It was a very, very moving experience built into that.
Peter: When I first heard your performance of it, I sensed very much exactly what you said. It was really inspired and very, very moving. So congratulations to all of you, and thank you. We’re going to move on to a piece by Jessie Montgomery now, which is of a very different character from the piece that we were just talking about. Tell us a little bit about Jessie and about this piece, Strum.
Anita: Jessie Montgomery is a really amazing African-American female composer out of New York City. We fell in love with this piece a few years ago, and we’re really excited that we get to keep playing it. Especially with our new violist, Aimée, from the past year, but she is actually… Jessie Montgomery was the former violinist in the Catalyst Quartet, which is another diverse ensemble that we have looked up to for a while now and who have also championed works by composers of color. So we’re really excited that we can get a piece of her genius and try to make it part of our own ensemble, as we also have a similar mission that they do.
Peter: Wonderful. Well, given that it has the title Strum, I’m assuming that there’s a fair amount of pizzicato in this piece.
Anita: There might be some strumming, there might. [laughs] Can’t promise, you have to watch and see, but there might be some strumming. It’s very folksy sounding and it’s very, very easy listening for all types of audiences, which is really awesome. So we’re excited to play it.
Peter: Great. Well, we’re excited to hear it. We’re delighted that you’re based in Boulder as you have been for the last year, and we’ll continue to be for a while under the guidance of the wonderful Takács Quartet. So without further ado, except that you’re going to switch places, I think.
Anita: We are. [laughs]
[Note: the following performance of Haydn’s Op. 71, No. 2, movement 1 by the Ivalas Quartet took place during the 2020 Virtual Festival]