Artist Interview: Emilie-Anne Gendron, violin

By Jessica Wolford on October 24, 2017

Emilie-Anne Gendron, violin, returns to the PCMS stage on November 19—this time debuting with Momenta Quartet. Previously seen with Musicians from Marlboro and the Gamut Bach Ensemble, Ms. Gendron's appearance next month will be quite different. The Quartet is devoted to the development of new works by emerging composers, and the program you'll hear remains true to that mission. In our interview below, Ms. Gendron shares her thoughts on the November program, the world premiere of Teddy Poll's Quartet, collaborating with and learning from Samuel Rhodes and Marcy Rosen, her new relationship with an on-loan violin, and more on the Quartet's devotion to new works.

Jessica Wolford: Momenta Quartet debuts with PCMS on November 19. What are you most looking forward to with this debut?

Emilie-Anne Gendron: Few other series compare to PCMS in the diversity and breadth of their programming and in their commitment to the affordability and accessibility of great music. It shows in how welcoming, open-minded, and committed the PCMS audiences are. This will be a repeat PCMS appearance for me personally (I've played on the series before as part of Musicians from Marlboro and the Gamut Bach Ensemble—speaking of which, my next appearance as a member of Gamut will be on December 13, 2017 at Church Of the Holy Trinity!) But this will be my first appearance on the series with my quartet, the Momenta Quartet. We're a group dedicated to exploring music from a vast array of eras and aesthetics, with a special focus on living composers and the music of our time.

Our November 19th concert showcases this latter aspect of Momenta's mission, with Philadelphia premieres of Momenta repertoire fixtures by Alvin Singleton and Agustin Fernandez; a brand-new work by Philadelphia composer Teddy Poll; and the Schulhoff string sextet with eminent guests Marcy Rosen and Samuel Rhodes. I'm excited to be returning to the wonderful group of folks that make up PCMS on both sides of the stage, and now for my quartet to share in that experience too. And I look forward to sharing a new side of my musical interests and passions with the PCMS audience.

The Momenta Quartet performing Alvin Singleton's Somehow We Can

JW: The Quartet will be giving the world premiere of Teddy Poll’s String Quartet, a piece commissioned by PCMS in honor of Robert Capanna. What were your first impressions of this new work?

EG: Teddy Poll's new quartet, "Suite Sicilienne," is a nostalgic, expansive work consisting of four interconnected sections played without pause. In Poll's own words, it's in a rough sonata form, a compelling new take on "the grand megamovements of late Mahler and early Schoenberg that don’t merely articulate the form but dramatize and ritualize it." The Sicilienne rhythm, a dance-like dotted-triplet figure, pervades the work and immediately evokes pastoral undertones for the listener. Pastoral references (whether in painting, literature, or music) serve as symbols of an idyllic time that's long-lost and irrecoverable, buried deep within the human psyche. To me, Poll's intriguing work deftly captures that seductive pull of memory where history and myth converge. The score is prefaced on the front page by an enigmatic poem by Tang Dynasty poet Li Po, which serves mainly as a private point of departure for the players' imaginations, but I think it's also a great mental image for listeners to have:

"I dwell among the green hills: you ask me why.
My soul at ease, I smile without reply.
The peach petals are swept along the stream
To other lands outside this mortal dream."

We look forward to giving the world premiere of this lushly beautiful work!

Emilie-Anne Gendron

JW: The final piece of the evening, Schulhoff’s String Sextet, joins you with Samuel Rhodes, viola, and Marcy Rosen, cello. Can you tell us about your collaboration with these two artists?

EG: We are thrilled to appear on November 19 with our eminent guest artists, cellist Marcy Rosen and violist Samuel Rhodes. As a group and as individuals, we each share many associations with Marcy and Sam going back to our student days. Our violist Stephanie Griffin and cellist Michael Haas studied with Sam and Marcy, respectively; all four of us individually had the privilege of having Sam as a chamber music coach and mentor during our many combined years at Juilliard. In fact, it is directly thanks to Sam that this configuration of Momenta personnel exists. I have been privileged to spend four summers at Marlboro with both Marcy and Sam, and I will soon be embarking on a Musicians from Marlboro National Tour with Marcy this coming January of 2018. Momenta has had the great honor of collaborating with Sam and Marcy many times in the past, in works ranging from Boccherini, to Mendelssohn, to Eric Nathan, to Gesualdo; appearing in such venues and series as the Center for Jewish History (as part of our Yeshiva University residency), the Chamber Music Live series which Marcy directs at Queens College, and repeat appearances on our annual member-curated Momenta Festival. In fact, just three weeks ago on the third night of the festival, all six of us performed Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence to a sold-out crowd at Columbia University's Italian Academy. It's a real treat to get to see Marcy and Sam twice in a month!

I know I can speak for all of my Momenta colleagues when I say it has been a highlight of our careers to be able to call these great artists not only our teachers, but now also our colleagues. Each rehearsal and performance with them is a tremendous learning experience that deepens and elevates our musicianship.

JW: The Momenta Quartet is passionate about performing pieces by emerging composers. Could you speak to the importance of this and the Quartet’s mission, and tell us a little about the Momenta Festival that just wrapped up in early October.

EG: Working with young emerging composers, and championing international composers from diverse aesthetic and cultural backgrounds, has been a hallmark of Momenta's mission from the very start. We maintain numerous rotating mini-residencies involving workshops, readings, lectures, masterclasses, and performances with various colleges, universities, and conservatories (indeed, Momenta originated out of a residency with Temple University's composition department). We believe firmly that all music deserves to be treated equally, and we endeavor to devote as much time, care, and commitment to a new student work as to the imposing musical monuments. A typical Momenta program could include works from both ends of this spectrum, along with any number of fixtures from our growing list of personal repertoire. The potential result of such unlikely musical juxtapositions can be unexpectedly eye-opening, not to mention refreshing!


Momenta Quartet performs with Elizabeth Brown, theremin, at the Momenta Festival III. Photo Credit: Nana Shi

Indeed, this past October we just wrapped up our third annual Momenta Festival, a sold-out extravaganza of four concerts, each concert curated by one of our members. In typical Momenta fashion, our festivals feature a voracious breadth of composers, styles, and eras; last month's featured works spanning three centuries by 17 composers, with eight guest artists ranging from Marcy Rosen and Sam Rhodes, to the therminist Elizabeth Brown, to the Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz.

Moreover, our recent festival featured two works you'll have a chance to hear on November 19 as fixtures of our unique personal repertoire. Bolivian-British composer Agustin Fernández's "String Quartet No. 3: Sin tiempo" (2013) is based on the Catholic liberation theology and the failed Teoponte uprising in Bolivia in the 1970's; it is the second Koussevitzky Foundation-commissioned work written for and dedicated to Momenta. The eminent Alvin Singleton's electrifying "Somehow We Can" (1994) is dedicated to the memory of iconic singer and civil rights icon Marian Anderson. We were just awarded a Chamber Music America grant for Alvin to write us a brand-new string quartet. We are excited to be making the Philadelphia premiere of both of these important additions to the string quartet canon.

Momenta Quartet performs with Elizabeth Brown, thereminist, at the Momenta Festival III. Photo Credit: John Gurrin

JW: Our audiences enjoy learning about the instruments our musicians play on. Would you be able to share a little history of your violin and its tendencies, and how you chose that instrument?

EG: On November 19 I will be performing on a fine old French violin, labeled 1810 Nicolas Lupot, on generous loan from Mrs. Mary Heller to Marlboro School of Music and Festival, which recently offered me the privilege of using this instrument. The instrument is in great condition, with lovely reddish varnish; its tone is big and bright, but with flashes of depth. I have been playing on it for about three weeks, which in the time-span of getting to know an instrument is extremely short (considering that one can spend years or even a lifetime with one instrument)! It's analogous to getting acquainted a person; it happens in stages and not all at once. One may have first impressions, but with repeated contact, one uncovers countless deeper layers and nuances of personality. I am enjoying the process of learning about the different colors of this instrument's personality and grateful to Marlboro Music for the chance to use it. I'm looking forward to performing on it on November 19.

Emilie-Anne Gendron and the Momenta Quartet appear with Samuel Rhodes, viola, and Marcy Rosen, cello on Sunday, November 19 at 3pm at the American Philosophical Society's Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.