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Pacifica Quartet enjoys varied styles and composers

Pacifica Quartet
Pacifica Quartet
pacificaquartet.com

The Pacifica Quartet has an easy recipe for picking programs.

"We don't choose pieces from stylistic periods or eras," said violist Masumi Per Rostad. "We just do pieces we really like."

And judging by what the foursome will play when they visit Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Tuesday, as part of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City's current season, they like a big mix of composers and styles.

"It gives us a varied repertoire, and we go from there and put a program together."

For this week's concert, the group will be playing Josef Haydn's Quartet op. 64, no. 5 ("Lark"); Bela Bartok's Quartet No. 4; and Franz Schubert's Quartet in D minor ("Death and the Maiden").

The Deseret News caught up with Rostad as he was driving home to Champaign, Ill., after a performance with his colleagues the night before in Minneapolis. The Pacifica is quartet-in-residence at the University of Illinois at Champaign and at the University of Chicago.

Rostad said that it's always a treat to play Schubert. "He can be so serious and deep, and then a minute later so light. And he does it unabashedly free."

This contrast in character and the lengths Schubert goes to develop his ideas captivate Rostad. "It's such a progression with him. He takes his ideas out to their full structural value. You've heard the phrase 'heavenly length'? It applies to Schubert's quartets."

Throughout a large part of their 15-year history, the Pacifica has concentrated on doing complete cycles of composers' quartets. Up to now they've done cycles of Elliott Carter, Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven, and they're about to do Dmitri Shostakovich's complete quartet ouevre.

"It's really fascinating and rewarding to do this, especially from composers who have written a lot of quartets," Rostad said. "You have a better understanding of what goes on in their heads and hearts."

Rostad admits that focusing on the works of one composer can be demanding. "It's an interpretive challenge. You have to find the variety within one composer, and it can be hard."

But the Pacifica has been successful with these large ventures. The group's recording of the complete Carter quartets on Naxos won it a Grammy last year. And that has motivated Pacifica to record the Shostakovich works.

"It's a project that's going to combine all of the Shostakovich quartets with quartets of some of his contemporaries. We're starting it in late spring or summer and we're scheduled to finish it in October."

In addition to their positions at the two universities in Illinois, the Pacifica is also the quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, replacing the now-disbanded Guarneri Quartet. The number of concerts they give there varies from year to year.

"This year we're doing three concerts," Rostad said. "But next year we're doing the complete Shostakovich over four or five concerts. And the year after we're doing the complete Beethoven quartets."

If you go…

What: Pacifica String Quartet

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall

When: Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25 general admission, $5 students

Phone: 801-561-3999

Web: cmsofslc.org

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com