Pacifica Quartet says farewell to founding member and violinist

Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist

The Pacifica Quartet

The Pacifica Quartet

A few matters to write about.

A developing story

Word came quietly from Norman Lebrecht’s music website and then from the website of the Jacob School’s resident string ensemble: “The Pacifica Quartet has announced the departure of founding member and first violinist Simin Ganatra. Ms. Ganatra, who has been the first violinist of the ensemble since their founding in 1994, will be leaving at the end of the 2015-16 season to assume an expanded role at Indiana University’s Jacobs School… and pursue other musical opportunities. The Pacifica Quartet will announce Ms. Ganatra’s replacement at a later date.”

On behalf of his Pacifica colleagues, violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson told us in the news release: “We are so very proud of Simin and wish her nothing but the best on her new adventure. As we say farewell to Simin, we look forward with much excitement to the next leg on our musical journey.”

On behalf of herself, Simin Ganatra said: “The decision to leave was not an easy one, but after 22 years with the ensemble, I feel ready to explore other musical opportunities. I will excitedly watch as my colleagues continue to grow artistically and further develop this remarkable ensemble into the quartet of the future.”

There were immediate questions without answers.

One: When is “a later date?”

Two: What are the specifics about Simin Ganatra’s new job, the job with “an expanded role at IU?

Three and Four: As for the Pacifica and its change of personnel — Will the group stay here and continue its important efforts to heighten student enthusiasm for chamber music training? Or will the Pacifica depart to headquarter elsewhere?

Five: What are the why and wherefores for these changes?

I emailed the Pacifica’s usual spokesperson, violinist Sigurbjorn “Sibbi” Bernhardsson. Sibbi answered: “Dear Peter. Thanks for your email. Sorry for the late reply. I am en route to Japan. The short answer is that we are all very much staying and will continue our work at Jsom. We have had over 20 wonderful years with Simin. She has taken a more expanded role at Jsom. The Pacifica Quartet will continue on, and we are in the midst of finding a replacement. Please write to Brandon [cellist Brandon Vamos] and Simin directly about this for future clarification.”

I wrote back: “Thank you, Sibbi. That’s great news. Happy journey!” Then I wrote Brandon and Simin.

She answered: “I just arrived in Japan and am reading your email now. Hope it is not too late to respond. I am taking on a more extensive role at Jacobs which I am really excited about. I absolutely love the school and love that I will be able to do even more on campus. I plan to still perform extensively, and more in Blooomington than I have been able to, and look forward to exploring other repertoire. As you may or may not know, Brandon and I have two wonderful girls, ages 5 and 10, and this new position allows me to pursue the dreams I have for my career while at the same time not leaving them home 3-4 days every week with a nanny. I also know that I will be able to devote more time to my students. Thanks for your interest and support.”

What more can I say except to emphasize the good news: that, after all, we’re not losing anyone, and we’ll be gaining another violinist for the Pacifica package. My frown has changed to a smile.

BLEMF remembered

If you read my reviews of five Early Music events that took place during an extended Memorial Day weekend, you’re undoubtedly aware that I was pleased by what some devoted and gifted musicians managed to contribute to the town’s musical scene and, thereby, keep BLEMF’s footprint distinct.

Just the idea of doing it took courage on the part of performers and, perhaps even more, on the part of planners: the board members of Bloomington Early Music, the faculty and students at the Jacobs School’s Historical Performance Institute, and the leaders in the student group Gamma Ut. They all apparently felt the need to test whether or not Bloomington misses BLEMF, its Bloomington Early Music Festival, enough to attempt a revival. I think the test validated the belief of local enthusiasts that public reaction to the event was encouraging and that what we saw and heard merited future efforts.

This time around, the musicians worked for free so that audiences could come free of charge. In the long run, that won’t work and would hinder growth. Local talents, from the Jacobs School and from loyal alums, are far more likely to do their parts without compensation, but adding musicians of note from greater distances becomes another reality: paying musicians, which is only fair, requires paying customers.

So, not all the tests have been taken. But I’m encouraged that there are enough musicians of serious interest to sustain the desire, and there will be, I think, a continuing interest from those of us who listen (and, yes, pay for tickets) if the offerings promise sufficient pleasure. The wonderful thing is that Bloomington had and has and will continue to have contingents of talents for BLEMF-like endeavors, a talent base from and with which to start. Then, depending on the budget’s health, decisions about celebrity invites can be made.

I’m encouraged.

At the auditorium

Somehow, I always wish for more when the brochure detailing the IU Auditorium’s next season arrives in the mail. I always want more to be chosen from the classic arts. But how valid can my argument be when the coming season holds two hardcore classical ensembles in the month of January: the Cleveland Orchestra and Dance Theater of Harlem?

The Clevelanders give a concert at the Auditorium on the 18th (the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto Number 2 with Yefim Bronfman as soloist and the Sibelius Symphony Number 2). The orchestra’s stay also includes, as is becoming a wonderful custom, a residency that gives IU music students opportunities to engage with the orchestra’s musicians through master classes and additional small ensemble concerts, which all Bloomingtonians are able to take advantage of.

The Dance Theater of Harlem’s performance on January 28 will also be enriched by a short residency designed for ballet and dance students, a most welcome add-on.


I missed the recent welcoming event in the City Hall Council Chambers for Sean Stamowitz, hired by Mayor Hamilton and Linda Williamson, Bloomington’s interim director of economic and sustainable development, to become assistant director for the arts. Sean succeeds Miah Michaelsen, a terrifically productive predecessor who has moved on to become the Indiana Arts Commission’s deputy director.

We, on the Bloomington Arts Commission, miss Miah. I miss Miah. But Sean Stamowitz appears to have a rich background for his new job, along with the right temperament. I express regret for having missed the City Hall get-together but look forward, as a member of the BAC, to working with him. Belatedly, I say, “Welcome, colleague.”

Contact Peter Jacobi at

Show times

• Competition sessions for the 10th USA International Harp Competition set for this week are open to the public. Second stage sessions are scheduled in Recital Hall on Monday and Tuesday mornings starting at 9 and afternoons starting at 3. Third stage sessions are set for Auer Hall on Wednesday morning starting at 9 and Wednesday afternoon at 2:30. Free.

• In addition, this afternoon at 3 in Auer, the 10th USA offers a recital by Yuying Chen, winner of the most recent Israel Harp Competition On a later date, the USA reciprocates by sending the winner of its current competition to Israel for a recital. The local recital is free.

• Thursday evening at 7 in Auer, the 10th USA sponsors a “Stars of Tomorrow” concert, featuring young harpists considered to be stars in the making. Free.

• Friday afternoon at 3 in the Memorial Union’s Alumni Hall, a Competition Celebration Gala honors its founder, Susann McDonald. Featured is the performance of “Fantasie for Madame McD, “ a tribute composed by Don Freund to be played by McDonald’s faculty colleague, Elzbieta Szmyt. Free.

• Saturday evening at 7 in the Musical Arts Center, hear the three finalists of the harp competition perform with orchestra. Following this final stage, the judges will announce their choices for medals and other honors. Free.

© The Herald Times June 2016

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