To be mentored intensely by the Juilliard String Quartet is a dream for many ensembles, and as Juilliard’s current graduate resident quartet, the Attacca Quartet is the most recent recipient of this honor. Now reaching the end of the first year of its two-year Juilliard residency, the Attacca will present the 19th annual Lisa Arnhold Memorial Recital on Tuesday, May 8 at 8 p.m. in Alice Tully Hall.
The quartet, which formed at Juilliard in 2003, is made up of Amy Schroeder (B.M. ’06, M.M. ’08, violin); Keiko Tokunaga (Pre-College ’03; B.M. ’07, M.M. ’08, violin); Luke Fleming (M.M. ’07, viola), who will receive his D.M.A. this month; and cellist Andrew Yee (B.M. ’06, M.M. ’08, cello). In a recent interview with The Journal, the musicians called the repertoire on the May recital three of their favorite pieces of all time, with Fleming noting, “it’s an Attacca show-and-tell of the three parts of our playing that we consider representative of our work right now.”
The performance kicks off with Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2, honoring the quartet’s special project, which they refer to as “the 68”—their mission is to perform all 68 of the string quartets Haydn wrote. This particular work is the composer’s last finished quartet, and one that Tokunaga calls “one of our favorites of all the Haydn quartets we’ve played.”
Inspired by recordings of the Austrian ensemble Quatuor Mosaïque and suggested by Yee, the 68 venture has proved transformational to the Attacca. Schroeder explained, “Every time we read a new Haydn quartet, we are discovering part of him as a person and as a composer, and we see new sides to his humor or his strife. It has opened us up as musicians because Haydn as a composer has a palette that ranges greatly in variety. We’ve found new sounds as a result of that, and it has improved us as a quartet.”
Accompanying the Haydn on the first half of the Arnhold recital is Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” which Fleming said has “so much virtuosity for every part. Everyone gets a chance to show off.” He adds, “The background and story of the work is really gripping. It’s the last piece he wrote, and it has to do with forbidden romance.” The Janacek is a piece the quartet wanted to learn for a long time, Schroeder said, and now that they have, they try to program it as often as possible.
The concert is rounded out by Beethoven’s masterful String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132, a staple of the Attacca’s repertoire this season. “It’s been one of our favorites, if not our very favorite, for a very long time,” Schroeder said. They played it last May in the finals of the 2011 Osaka Competition—which they won—and then on the November tour of Japan which was part of the competition prize. “Performing it 12 times in Japan was an incredible experience, so we’re really excited to play it in New York,” Schroeder added.
In April, the Attacca received the Arthur W. Foote Award from the Harvard Musical Association and in March finished recording the complete works for string quartet of John Adams, which is set to be released next year by Azica Records. Following the Juilliard residency, the ensemble’s long-term goals include university residencies and more recording projects, including works of standard repertoire.
But no matter what the project at hand, the group tries always “to remind ourselves constantly that we all are servants to the great music we play,” Tokunaga said.
The Attacca’s musical philosophy has been simple and obvious from the beginning, Yee said: “Play music that you love and play like there is no tomorrow. We all love the music so much that it seems silly to ever not give it that treatment. My dream was to play string quartets for the rest of my life, and I think that feeling all runs through our veins every time we walk on stage."