Harumi Rhodes is a “deeply expressive violinist” (New York Times) and a member of the world-renowned Takács Quartet, a resident ensemble at the University of Colorado Boulder. Kathy Kucsan sat down with Ms. Rhodes in early 2020 to discuss her passion for chamber music and Takács’ mentorship of the Ivalas Quartet.
Kathy: Thank you for joining me today! Let’s talk a little about [the chamber music ensemble Takács Quartet and your playing with them, which is amazing. The Ivalas Quartet is here in residence just to study with Takács, is that correct?
Harumi: That’s correct, yeah. This is the Ivalas Quartet’s first year with us. It’s a two year program that we have the graduate string quartet in residence. It’s an artist diploma program. They’re about to be completing their first semester with us. They just gave their first recital last night.
Harumi: Part of the program, they have two required recitals per year on campus and they do a number of other performances in the community as well. So last night their program was a Haydn quartet, and the first string quartet of George Walker, and they ended with Beethoven 59-2. Huge program, a wonderful program, and very varied, and really showed their strengths. They’re a young dynamic group with lots of energy, and fire, and lots of flair, and a heightened head, lots of sensitivity, and very stylish. We’re just very excited about this group.
Kathy: When you work with them, do you meet with them weekly? Do you do coaching as a quartet? You coach them as a quartet?
Harumi: The norm is that every week that we’re in town, they receive two coachings and a one on one, so not all of us at once. We do have, for example, in September we gave a master class for a specific select group of people in the Takács society who very generously helped partially fund their education here. We did a public master class with them, so they played some of their repertoire and we coached them in this public setting. It’s a really fascinating way for members of the community to get to know the Ivalas Quartet, and also get to know a little bit about the process and how we work with a group that’s on a very high level. Really push them toward just refining their skills or, in some cases, just discussing with them, like I was saying, for various possibilities; perhaps what the composer meant by writing such and such articulation in the score, just exploring things together. Doing that is a luxury. To be able to discuss those things is a luxury, I think.
Kathy: How do you select the quartet that comes in to be in residence with you?
Harumi: We have an audition process which consists of a video tape pre-screening round, and the finalists from that we invite to campus and we have a full day of activities for them. Which includes not just an audition, but also, not public, a private coaching with all four of us together at the same time. We’re really interested in, of course, how they play, but we’re equally interested in how they change, and if they’re capable of change, and how they respond in the moment to either constructive criticism or even just conversation, this kind of interaction with us. That’s equally important for a two year program. We’re looking for a group that can really grow.
Harumi: We had some very fine groups come in this last audition season, and it was a hard decision. At the end the Ivalas Quartet not only came in sounding fantastic, but in that process of interacting with us we really felt like this is a group to be looking out for.
Kathy: You’ve been talking this whole time really about the relationship between you and music, and you and each other, and the music and everyone.
Harumi: It’s something I think about a lot because it’s easy to feel, not to get too cheesy, it’s easy these days just to feel quite lonely I think, for many reasons. It’s easy to feel isolated. Music can sometimes be a way to hide from the world. People can just go into a practice room and close the door and hide and just be alone. What’s important to me is music is too universal, and too beautiful, and too important to keep a secret. It’s important for us to share music. Everyone finds different ways. The way that I have been able to do that is through chamber music and through teaching. It’s the relationships that are built through music and the ties that we make through sharing music, that are extremely important to me.
Kathy: For the people that are huge orchestra fans, they’ll come to the Colorado Music Festival [to hear or play] the big Mahler pieces. What would you say to them about what is special and important about chamber music?
Harumi: I think for someone who is not a musician or someone who isn’t inside the music in the way that we are, I would say chamber music has taught me how to listen. It inspires me to listen in a way that nothing else does. It inspires me to both lead with an open heart, and also follow with an open heart and simultaneously, so I’m not doing one or the other I’m doing both. Chamber music is a great way to do that because it’s a constant conversation of possibilities where you’re always changing on the fly and responding to each other, so everything that’s happening is exponential. It keeps you alert, it keeps your ears sharp. For me it has to do with feeling like I’m being equal parts flexible and equal parts stubborn, really holding onto my beliefs, but also being able to do it in a way that is just extremely open and flexible.
Harumi: It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about being in the game and being alive. There might be a day when I’m exhausted or there might be a day where I’m sad or not feeling good, but it’s that kind of rejuvenation that keeps me alive every day in a way that’s vibrant and excited to share the things that I have to say, and to listen to what other people have to say. That’s what chamber music is for me. Of course it’s about the score and about the music, and I think that’s very personal. Some people might not love certain scores and pieces of music the way I do, but the things that I’m talking about I think are things that are a little bit more universal. For me, chamber music is that vehicle that brings that out. It makes me feel alive.