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Eastman School of Music Residency

Momenta kicked off the month of March with our very first visit to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Our five-day-long residency had been in careful advance planning for well over a season, and included elements central to our quartet mission: to champion the work of living composers by disseminating their works in performance and recordings; to present stimulating programs drawn from diverse musical influences; and to cultivate the next generation by working with student composers. Despite a host of weather-related travel concerns on our travel day (thanks, polar vortex and Winter Storm Titan) we all miraculously managed to descend upon Rochester at the correct time. Over the course of our stay, we were shown kind and generous hospitality at the home of Eastman faculty composer Robert Morris. Additional camaraderie was provided by Bob’s colleague, the composer and eminent music theorist Benjamin Boretz, whose work we would also premiere at our Eastman concert; and Ben’s good friend, sound and visual artist Dorota Czerner, who assisted in the recording session that concluded our residency.

The experience of performing at Eastman, which we did on our second full day, was a pleasure. Hatch Recital Hall has rewarding acoustics, looks gorgeous, and the audience was appreciative. Our program featured the world premieres of two quartets by our friends Bob and Ben. Morris describes his “Quattro per Quattro” (2011) as “a ribbon of colored sound” exploring the fourfold nature of string quartet writing and its instruments. Boretz’s “Qixingshan” (2011) was inspired by the intense and solitary ambience of a trek over a Taiwanese mountain. Also featured was one of the newest offerings from our unique personal repertoire, Elizabeth Brown‘s haunting and atmospheric “Just Visible in the Distance” (2013). Elizabeth–Momenta’s longtime friend, multifaceted shakuhachi-flute-theremin collaborator, and quartet chef-in-residence–dedicated this work to us and we premiered it in Brooklyn last month. We concluded our program with two selections from the great music of the past: Debussy’s visionary String Quartet (which we’re excited to be recording for Albany Records this summer for our new album) and a polyphonic gem from the Spanish Counter-Reformation, the motet “Quam pulchri sunt” by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

We rounded out our Eastman residency with two more rewarding activities. On Day 3, we returned to beautiful Hatch Recital Hall for a reading and symposium with Bob Morris’ composition students. We presented two contrasting string trios that had been written by Bob’s students for the event, each showing an individual voice and the inquisitive exploration of different sound worlds and compositional techniques. In the final two days of our Rochester visit, we immortalized the Boretz and Morris works in a recording session. The final product will feature these works on CD and will be released in several months on the Open Space label. Stay tuned for more information!

Amidst this flurry of activity and working hard, we did our best to make some time to play hard, too. In addition to enjoying the company of our new friends Ben, Bob, and Dorota, we were delighted to reconnect with some old musical friends who have made their way to Rochester. These include the violinist Renée Jolles, a longtime colleague of Stephanie’s in the new-music group Continuum and violin faculty at Eastman; and the Rochester Philharmonic oboe and English horn player Anna Steltenpohl, a pal of Michael and Emilie’s from their Curtis and Juilliard days. Perhaps most life-changing was our discovery of the multifaceted delights of the Wegman’s grocery store franchise. A hallmark of the Momenta lifestyle is an enjoyment of food. The Wegmans open food bar features a dizzying array of selections–some fairly exotic, like peanut doughnuts!–various combinations of which we explored day after day. Our grand finale before the long drive home was our visit to the Wegmans empire’s flagship store (a.k.a. “Mega-Wegs”) in Pittsford. There, we stocked up on the car travel essentials of salt, sugar, and laughter: namely cheese puffs, an array of doughnuts, and St. Patrick’s day-themed-Mad Libs! For all of these reasons, we had a great time in Rochester, and we can’t wait to return!