PREVIEW (HT): Pacifica Quartet violinist opens up about Pressler, upcoming concert

Pacifica Quartet violinist opens up about Pressler, upcoming concert

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist | Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2013 12:30 am

It was a time for catch up.

PacificaQuartet-250When I spoke with Sibbi Bernhardsson early this past week, I had questions to ask, and he, the usual spokesperson for the Pacifica Quartet, had answers. I called primarily to get information on the quartet’s program Wednesday evening, one of numerous highlights in a tremendously busy week of musical events, from the USA International Harp Competition to significant chamber and percussion concerts, the IU Symphony, and an opera workshop.

But Bernhardsson had just spent a weekend playing the “Menahem Pressler & Friends” concerts, and I wanted his reaction to having been a friend. I also remembered that the Pacifica was completing its first year as the IU Jacobs School’s resident string quartet, and I wanted some reaction to that milestone.

Violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson had a lot to say.

The venerable and remarkable Menahem Pressler, he said, has been a friend and supporter of the Pacifica for some years, and performing with him was not new. “It’s been a great luxury,” said Bernhardsson, “to play with him. He agreed to perform with us on a number of occasions. In the process, he’s become one of our most important mentors. And we admire him so. To rehearse and then play with someone who has been on the stage for 70 years, who lives and breathes the music, who has such insight has been such an opportunity. We’ve taken full advantage, believe me, of his experience. He’s incredibly generous. When we’re with him, we want to know his thoughts. We love him, and he impresses us every time with his focus and total devotion to music. We also enjoy his stories, remembered from his experiences performing all over the world. We’ve learned from his experiences.”

What about the Pacifica’s move to IU and Bloomington? “We’re incredibly happy with our first year,” he said. “It is special to be in a community where music is so important. Our program to make chamber music flourish in the school is doing very well. Fellow faculty and the administration have been so supportive. We coached some 30 student quartets and had 20 public performances, partnering with the Waldron and the museums and even the Kennedy Center. One of our string quartets, which had worked together only since February, took second prize in the important Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. That’s amazing. The winners had been together for five years.”

Bernhardsson spoke about the future: “Our dream is to expand the activities, make this the place where elite students come to learn chamber music. If possible, we’d like to create a graduate program. Right now, we don’t have a procedure for groups that want to turn professional. That’s the next step, to make IU the sought-after destination for string ensembles. We’re looking to be here for many years to come.”

On the immediate horizon, however, is Wednesday night’s concert in Auer Hall. “Our recital being part of the String Academy series, we’re following Mimi Zweig’s request that all programs expose students to 20th century music. We’re including a beautiful piece by Claude Baker from our faculty, four ‘Tableaux funebres.’ The music is stunning. Claude always writes such interesting, provocative music. This is. Playing with us will be a fine pianist who’s studying with Menahem, Ilya Friedberg.

“There’ll be Bartok, too,” said Bernhardsson, “his Quartet No. 6, one of the 20th century’s great. All four movements are marked ‘Mesto,’ which means sad, pensive, melancholic. The movements are, but Bartok’s genius makes each develop differently. Bartok wrote this while emotionally anguished about the world being on the brink of war. This was 1939. The music reflects his mood.”

The Pacifica’s program ends with Dvorak’s String Quintet in E-Flat Major, Opus 97. “That’s a complete turn around,” noted Bernhardsson. “The piece is one of the happiest in the repertoire. Dvorak wrote it while he was living in the United States, and that was a happy time in his life. The piece calls for an extra violist, and we have our IU colleague, Atar Arad, to play it with us. Atar, as you know, is a wonderful musician, and he was a member of the Cleveland Quartet for some years, an ensemble we always looked up to. So, he’s a wonderful partner. We’re proud to be playing with him.”

Look for them all in Auer Hall on Wednesday.

Reach Peter by sending an email to with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

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