Artist Interview: Omni Quartet

By Erik Petersons on December 3, 2018

When Amy Lee, Alicia Koelz, Joanna Zakany, and Tanya Ell joined the Cleveland Orchestra within three years of each other in the mid-2000s, and became good friends, a string quartet quickly formed. Their debut program with PCMS on January 6th reveals the darker side of Mozart as well as his bright Flute Quartet (with Joshua Smith) and lyrical Oboe Quartet (with Frank Rosenwein). We spoke recently about their program, goals as an ensemble, and what books they are currently reading.

Erik Petersons: You are bringing an all-Mozart program when you appear with PCMS on January 6th. Are there similarities between each work that the audience can listen for?

Amy Lee: With an all-Mozart program, the audience as well as the musicians are afforded the unique opportunity to hear Mozart’s development as a composer. Of course, Mozart was a genius from the very beginning, but his music changes considerably over the years.  Although we begin with his latest composition on our program first, the rest of the program is in chronological order.

Beyond this, I always find it is interesting to listen for Mozart’s darker side. Most often we think of Mozart’s music as being in full sunlight, so that when he does venture into more mournful or stormy territory, it is particularly noteworthy and poignant.

Lastly, we begin and end our program with a fugue. The similarity definitely ends there, with one being a harbinger of Beethoven, and the other being the very essence of Mozart.

EP: All four members of the quartet are in the Cleveland Orchestra. How did you meet and what inspired the formation of the ensemble? What are the some of the strengths each person brings to the group?

AL: We are dear friends to begin with, and after playing together once we never looked back. Alicia and Joanna joined The Cleveland Orchestra around the same time and became fast friends. When Tanya joined, we formed a string trio and with Amy’s arrival a year later, we found our missing piece. Amy brings vivacious energy, Alicia a calming presence, Joanna positivity, and Tanya is our rock.

EP: Have you collaborated with Frank and Josh before? What is it like to work with them?

AL: We have collaborated with both of them in different ensembles throughout the years. Both of them bring such thoughtful, yet spontaneous musicality. Their love for music is incredibly infectious and brings music to life in such an authentic and vocal-based way. They make a great team onstage and we always have the best time collaborating with them.

EP: As you near ten years as an ensemble, what are some memorable moments looking back? What are some of your goals moving forward?

AL: Learning and performing all the Beethoven Quartets! We started learning them early on in our time together, and we hope to perform multiple cycles to see how they evolve over time. In general, we hope to continue laughing back stage while perfecting the music on stage.

EP: What are each of you reading at the moment?

AL: I’m reading “The Absorbent Mind” by Maria Montessori. As a mom of twin toddlers, this is an interesting read. Dr. Montessori used the phrase 'absorbent mind' to characterize the child's most crucial developmental stage, the first six years. Written a century ago, it is amazing how relevant her teaching method is still to this date. Many things have changed but not the way young kids learn.

Alicia Koelz: I’m too busy taking care of 3 kids to read much besides news at the moment, but I’m anxiously awaiting the third and final installment of Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Kingkiller Chronicles.”

Joanna Zakany: I’m reading the heart of yoga by TKV Desikachar. I have a steady physical yoga practice and am enjoying delving more into the history, psychology and philosophy that yoga has to offer!

Tanya Ell: I’m rereading “The Power of Myth”, an interview of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers. It explores how myths, and storytelling throughout human history have helped us understand our experience as human beings.

The Omni Quartet performs with Joshua Smith, flute, and Frank Rosenwein, oboe, on Sunday, January 6, at 3:00 pm at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. For tickets and information, visit the concert page.