Artist Interview: Pacifica Quartet’s Masumi Rostad

By Patrick Burke on October 30, 2013

The Pacifica Quartet is known for their often daring programmatic choices. From recording and performing the complete quartets of Mendelssohn, Carter and Shostakovitch to their constant pursuit of expanding the string quartet repertoire, the Pacifica Quartet always leaves the audience changed. Recently I corresponded with the Quartet's violist, Masumi Rostad (far left), about the group's November 20th program at the Perelman Theater, their masterclass at Temple, and their collaborations with pianist Marc-André Hamelin and composer Jennifer Higdon.

Patrick Burke : Your concert pairs the Beethoven Op. 130/133 with the Ornstein Piano Quintet. Could you talk about why you decided to perform these two works together?

Masumi Rostad: Beethoven's Opus 130 with the Grosse Fuge is a monumental work that thrust itself into the forefront of experimental musical concept in its day. Stravinsky remarked that it was the first modern piece. The Ornstein is an equally monumental work at about 40 minutes in length. It is a tour de force, and the two pieces complement each other very well.

PB: You’re performing the Piano Quintet with Marc-André Hamelin. What is the group’s history with Mr. Hamelin, and what are the challenges the ensemble faces in this work?

MR: Our collaboration with Marc-André Hamelin is a new relationship that we are excited to be exploring. He is a magnificent musician, and we have long been inspired by his artistry.

PB: Continuing with the Philadelphia connections, the Pacifica Quartet recently work with Jennifer Higdon and Nathan and Julie Gunn on Ms. Higdon’s new work Dooryard Bloom. How involved was the quartet in the creative process, and what was it like collaborating with these artists?

MR: Performing Jennifer Higdon's new work, Dooryard Bloom, was exciting! It was originally scored for baritone and orchestra, and the new chamber ensemble reduction that we worked on and performed with Nathan and Julie Gunn offered a lot of interesting new possibilities with the music. Having performed Higdon's beautiful quartet Voices (originally commissioned by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society) which was revised in 1999 for our quartet, we relished the opportunity to delve further into her work.

PB: Before your concert, the quartet will be conducting a master class with students at Temple University. Could you describe the master class experience and the value of interacting with young musicians? What do you hope they take away from the experience?

MR: Working with young musicians is an opportunity to learn. We often find ourselves dealing with issues that cause us to question what we think we know, and this challenge is often enlightening.

PB: Many of our patrons are interested in the instruments that soloists and ensembles perform on. In this respect, it’s hard not to think about the famed Stradivarius “Paganini Quartet” that the Tokyo Quartet played on for so many years. Could you share with us how you picked your instrument, and any stories behind the instrument itself?

MR: I am so incredibly lucky to be performing on my Brothers Amati viola ca. 1619. I've been looking for my dream viola for my entire life, and I finally found it this year! I was able to purchase it with a generous loan from the Marlboro School of Music instrument fund. Every time I pick it up, I learn something new. Additionally, Simin Ganatra plays a Tononi violin ca. 1710, Sibbi Bernhardsson plays a Carlo Antonio Testore violin ca. 1764, and Brandon Vamos plays a Gasparo da Salo cello ca. 1580.

The Pacifica Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin appear with PCMS on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. For tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on the Pacifica Quartet, please visit their website.