JACK QuartetOctober 17, 2009
The JACK Quartet leads an exciting career in performance, education and composition with the added responsibility of managing and sustaining an ensemble. All alumni of the Eastman School of Music, the following interview focuses on the Eastman years and how the Quartet utilizes and combines experience and skills to make their performance career thrive!
John Pickford Richards, viola
Ari Streisfeld, violin
Christopher Otto, violin
Kevin McFarland, cello
What skills did you each develop during your time at Eastman that you consider to be valuable in your professional work today?
Collaboration, leadership, musicianship and more! “There was so much focus on arts leadership, I left with a bunch of can-do ambition and an arsenal of practical skills,” John said. Teachers such as Zvi Zeitlin and John Graham taught beyond instrument technique and focused on great musicianship. In addition to private study, Kevin said, “My interactions in chamber music and ensemble situations became the basis for the kind of collaborations I engage in now, with JACK as well as others.” Organizations such as Ossia, Music for All and Musica Nova provided performance opportunities, production experience as well as organizational and interpersonal skills. Ari added, “The incredible new music vibe that was and still is happening at Eastman opened my mind up to new sounds and ideas in music.”
How important do you think it is for musicians to develop entrepreneurial skills and take charge of their own careers?
“As a musician, it is incredibly important to take charge of your own career,” said Ari. “With so many fantastic musicians coming out of top conservatories and schools, it is important to find ways to make yourself, or your group, stand out.” The key to building a successful career today lies in skill development. “Musicians need to be flexible today. The more skills you have the better,” said Kevin. Skills such as creative thinking and innovation combine with musicianship to make communication more effective. “I like to think of entrepreneurial skills as being part of the larger musical experience in the sense that I want to share music with audiences and need skills to do so. The most important skills I’ve encountered focus on performing well, attracting audiences, and maintaining credibility,” John said.
As members of this adventurous ensemble, your careers encompass performance, composition, administration, development, and education, to name a few. How do you balance these diverse activities and how did your time at Eastman better prepare you for the realities of a performance career?
“Sometimes when you’re in school you get used to the idea that you practice, practice, practice and eventually will be prepared for public performance,” said Kevin. “In the real world you don’t have that kind of time. I’ve learned to streamline my practice sessions, thinking of them as a time for problem solving and attacking specific issues as opposed to a time to drill passages with lots of repetition.” Ari spoke of the importance of education in performance. “The Music For All program made me understand the importance of education to non-musicians (especially to school-age children) in order to keep our audiences strong for years to come,” he said. “As a member of a quartet that specializes in contemporary music, this is especially important.” John shared a few words of advice on balance and organization learned at Eastman: “Practice regularly, keep your email inbox as empty as possible, and don’t leave anything to the last minute. Also, play music that inspires you, because performing without inspiration is stressful.”
What advice would you give to current students as the plan and prepare for professional careers?
“Relish any opportunity to play in Kilbourn Hall!” John said. Be confident in your abilities and what you want to achieve. “Don’t discourage yourself. You can make things happen. Get creative!” John added.
“Showcase your talents in every way you can,” continued Ari. “You cannot expect your career to take off just because you spent seven hours a day for four years in the practice room. The most important thing to remember is to not be afraid to get out there and show the world what you can do.” Be individual! “Develop skills that give you a unique niche in the market. There is enough technical proficiency out there that it is no longer impressive on its own,” Kevin added. “What does get noticed is individuality and even idiosyncrasies in musicianship. Do what you love.” And lastly, take advantage of the networking opportunities Eastman provides. “It’s vital to build professional relationships with your peers now, as they will be your best contacts and business resources in the future,” Kevin stated. From personal experience, Eastman contacts have proved to be “an invaluable resource in helping me find freelance opportunities that keep my career afloat.”
Praised for its “powerhouse playing” by the Chicago Sun-Times and its “extraordinary precision” by the Boston Globe, the JACK Quartet has quickly established a reputation for giving high-energy performances of today’s most demanding works for string quartet. Comprising violinists Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Kevin McFarland, the quartet has performed at Carnegie Hall, La Biennale di Venezia, the Lucerne Festival, the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, and the Miller Theatre with future appearances at the Library of Congress, Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, and the Donaueschinger Musiktage. The commissioning and performance of new works for string quartet is integral to the JACK Quartet’s mission, leading them to work closely with composers Helmut Lachenmann, György Kurtág, Matthias Pintscher, Wolfgang Rihm, Elliott Sharp, Samuel Adler, and Aaron Cassidy. Upcoming premieres include works by Caleb Burhans, Peter Ablinger, and Alan Hilario. The members of the quartet met while attending the Eastman School of Music and now seek to broaden and diversify the potential audience for new music through educational presentations designed for a variety of ages, backgrounds, and levels of musical experience.