by the Verona Quartet, 2017–18 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence
Over the course of their year-long residence, Caramoor’s String Quartet-in-Residence spends a few weeks in the fall and spring at Caramoor preparing for their Music Room performances, working with local schools, and taking advantage of Caramoor’s grounds. The Verona Quartet will close their residency with a performance during the Summer Season, but first they share what those weeks in residency mean to them.
As our quartet minivan rolls into the driveway of the Gifford Artists’ Residence, we can hardly believe our residency at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts is drawing to a close in just a few months. We unload the car and begin the walk up the familiar steps to the apartment where we will spend the next ten days rehearsing concert programs, preparing school presentations, and cooking delicious meals for each other. On the menu today: matzo lasagna, chicken soup, and beef bulgogi. Tomorrow, maybe a trip to the restaurant Truck for tacos and margaritas. Every young artist who passes through the hallowed halls of the Rosen House boasts a shared passion for Truck thanks to patron Judy Evnin, who never fails to bring us there for dinner during our visits.
The responsibilities that are placed upon the Quartet-in-Residence are both important and meaningful. Caramoor designed the residency not just to benefit the artist, but also to serve the community. This past fall, we visited 12 schools over eight days and engaged the students with a range of activities including musical presentations, master classes, orchestra sectionals, and private coaching sessions. Our goal was not just to impart knowledge, but to build relationships and cultivate the next generation of music lovers. These are all essential skills that every quartet must learn in order to stay relevant in today’s music world; being able to hold a class of middle school students in rapt attention is no less challenging than performing in a hall front of an audience!
Although the typical Verona Quartet day at Caramoor varies; one such day looks like this:
7:30am — Breakfast and Coffee/Tea, Warm-Up Practice
9:00am to 11:30am — High School Outreach
11:30am — Lunch, Afternoon Nap
1:00pm to 2:00pm — Personal Practice
2:00pm to 5:00pm — First Rehearsal
5:00pm — Break, Hike around Caramoor grounds
6:00pm to 8:00pm — Second Rehearsal
8:00pm — Dinner, Quartet Meeting, Outreach Planning
9:30pm onwards — Personal Time (for practice or rest)
Some days we hit our beds exhausted, having spent every last ounce of mental energy toiling over whether or not Haydn had originally intended to slur two notes, or if Beethoven had really meant to give us a tempo marking that only the gods could achieve. In order to prevent burnout (since we basically live and work together 24/7 during the residency), we’ve found that it is crucial to have small pockets of time during the day where all instruments are laid down and everyone can retreat to their rooms for a brief nap or a moment of solitude. For musicians who spend all day listening to themselves, critiquing the tiniest details, silence is one of the most vital — and overlooked — tools for recuperation. We also reserve a day off during the week where we just lounge around in pajamas or go out on the town for a nice meal and maybe a horror movie.
Every residency visit culminates with a concert in the Rosen House at Caramoor’s Music Room, a beautiful hall adorned with priceless artwork on all sides, with rows of red velvet chairs aligned in the center facing an elegant stage. It is an intimate setting, perfect for chamber music, and one can easily tell how beloved Caramoor is by the droves of faithful audience members who fill up the seats. It is also encouraging to see, peppered amongst the audience, a handful of students from the schools we visited over the week, inspired by a school presentation to come and watch a live concert. Community engagement is more than just a duty; it is a privilege, and the reward is the face of a child immersed in the same music that we pour ourselves into.
We arrive at the door to the Gifford this spring afternoon armed with the knowledge that we are about to embark on another ten days of intensive and meaningful work, some of us perhaps accompanied by a nagging sense of pressure to perform our tasks well. As the apartment door swings open, we are immediately greeted by a plate of chocolate croissants and pastries on the dining table (yes, the staff knows the way to the Verona Quartet’s heart), and beside it, an official calendar proudly opened to a picture of the quartet, taken during one of our school visits. It brings a smile to our faces and any earlier vestiges of stress fall away. This is what makes our residency at Caramoor so special — it is not simply an illustrious program that boasts some of the world’s most distinguished quartets among its alumni; it is also a family, a home away from home where the quartet is cared for by staff and administration as it pursues its musical goals. During the week, we are invited to go on afternoon walks around the campus with the staff and to play with their adorable dogs. We get together for dinner parties in the Gifford, or have an enjoyable lunch together after a full morning of school presentations. It is this relationship that makes Caramoor such a nurturing environment for the career of a young quartet, where work is demanding and oftentimes overwhelming.
As the spring portion of our residency nears completion, there is a certain sadness at the thought of leaving the womb that is Caramoor; one wishes it could last longer, but we cannot deny such an extraordinary experience to the next quartet in line. Instead, we will leave with a mixture of gratitude and pride for having been selected for the residency, and with the knowledge that the Verona Quartet will always be a part of the ever-growing Caramoor family.