The Verona Quartet
The Verona Quartet is among the foremost U.S. chamber ensembles of its generation, notable for combining an international touring schedule with residencies at some of the country's top educational institutions. The group has a broad repertory ranging from traditional string quartets of the 18th to the early 20th century, to contemporary works, to collaborations outside the usual sphere of classical music. The Verona Quartet was formed in 2013 when its four members were students at Indiana University's music school. Those members -- violinists Jonathan Ong and Dorothy Ro, violist Abigail Rojansky, and cellist Jonathan Dormand -- had diverse international origins in the U.S., Canada, and Singapore. At first, the group was called the Wasmuth Quartet, but the name was changed to the easier-to-remember Verona Quartet, which was also intended as a tribute to William Shakespeare. The quartet was tutored at first by the Pacifica Quartet, Indiana's faculty ensemble, and later benefited from the mentorship of the Cleveland and Juilliard Quartets. The Verona Quartet performed well on the contest circuit, with top prizes at the 2015 Concert Artists Guild Competition and the Wigmore Hall International Chamber Music Competition, among others, and in 2020, the group took home Chamber Music America's Cleveland Quartet Award. The Verona Quartet has appeared at such venues as Wigmore Hall in London, the Melbourne Recital Hall in Australia, and most of the major halls in the U.S. Northeast. It has a long record of appearances at festivals, including La Jolla Summerfest in California, Bravo! Vail in Colorado, and Caramoor in upstate New York, where it served one of its many residencies; others have included those at the Juilliard School and, most recently, the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. In addition to playing standard repertory, the Verona Quartet has commissioned new music from Julia Adolphe, Sebastian Currier, and Michael Gilbertson (the Pulitzer Prize-nominated work entitled Quartet), among others. The quartet has embarked on cross-genre collaborations, including a live-performance installation with visual artist Ana Prvački, exchanged with traditional poets from the United Arab Emirates, and a project with the folk trio I'm With Her. In 2021, the Verona Quartet released its debut album, Diffusion, on the Azica Records label, featuring works by Janáček, Szymanowski, and Ravel. A second release, SHATTER, was scheduled for 2022 and featured works by Adolphe, Gilbertson, and Reena Esmail, as well as an appearance by singer Saili Oak.
© James Manheim /TiVo
© James Manheim /TiVo
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Chamber Music - Released June 25, 2021 | Azica Records
The liner notes to this release, with its brief title "Diffusion", don't shed a lot of light on the Verona Quartet. The biography on the group's website offers a little bit more information. The four musicians (Jonathan Ong, Dorothy Ro, violins – Abigail Rojansky, viola – Jonathan Dormand, cello) of this North American quartet, residing since August 2020 at the prestigious Oberlin College and Conservatory, have cultivated something of an air of mystery.To get to the bottom of things, we have to get familiar with their music, and what a wonderful surprise! The sounds, textures and timbres are a real pleasure. What is immediately striking upon listening to this original programme, which combines three mesmerising and captivating quartets from the early twentieth century in a summary of the most striking aesthetics of that era in Europe, is the balance inherent in the ensemble. The polyphony enjoys incredible clarity; the attacks are distinguished by their captivating sharpness, free of dryness; the textures are adorned with constantly changing hues, which keep the listener in suspense—listen to the very beautiful Allegro moderato from Ravel's Quartet (1903), which truly is "très doux", as the composer put it, in terms of its phrasing as much as its breath and expressive intentions. The Ravelian sweetness here is also of the utmost tenderness. Impressive!The desire for precision from the four members of the Verona Quartet never takes them into the field of strict objectivity or cold analysis. Ravel's Quartet closes this album with a few moments of very rare poetry, but the sound of Verona always contains a certain je-ne-sais-quoi which is gently playful, or slightly arch (Ravel, Assez vif), and which shines an unusual light on the expressive ambivalences of Lettres intimes by Janáček (January-February 1928), which is very adroitly balanced between the nostalgic and the mischievous. What about Szymanowski? The Verona Quartet situate him precisely between two worlds, as concerned with Viennese ancestry as with the Slavic folk spirit: the ample melodic lines (Moderato dolce e tranquillo) and the polyphonic games (Lento) radiate with the same power as the spirit of rupture that sometimes produces some very spicy harmonic friction (Vivace, scherzando). Highly recommended. © Pierre-Yves Lascar / Qobuz