Artist Interview: Sarah Kapustin of the Rubens Quartet

By Patrick Burke on February 19, 2015
Rubens Quartet

Having studied with György Kurtág and members of the Amadeus, Juilliard and Hagen Quartets, the Rubens Quartet brings their polished sound and youthful energy to the PCMS stage on Thursday, March 19. Sarah Kapustin (violin) was kind enough to correspond with me during the European leg of their current tour, and we discussed the Rubens’  upcoming program, their educational philosophy and their unique instruments.

Patrick Burke: Your PCMS program opens with an interesting pairing of Beethoven's Opus 18, No. 3, followed by the Janáček Kreutzer Sonata. Could you talk about these two works and why the Quartet chose to combine these on the first half?

Sarah Kapustin: Beethoven is of course one of the greatest quartet composers, and we try to have at least one of his quartets in our repertoire each season. The six Op. 18 quartets are his first attempt at the genre, and they are absolute gems, full of energy and humor, undoubtedly influenced by his mentor Franz Joseph Haydn. Yet Beethoven's prickly and dramatic personality already shines through in these early works. Janáček wrote both of his string quartets right at the end of his life, and they are a wonderfully unique and imaginative addition to the genre. The "Kreutzer Sonata" is based on a short story of the same title by Leo Tolstoy and tells the gruesome tale of a man who in a mad rage murders his wife and her lover. Due to the nature of the story, the piece is very fragmented and unpredictable; someone will be playing a theme of great beauty which is then rudely interrupted by fast, frantic and even ugly sounds. It's a piece which depicts the extremes of human emotions. We find it fascinating to pair an early Beethoven quartet with Janáček; hearing these pieces back to back allows the audience to experience firsthand the dramatic evolution that the string quartet genre made over the span of 120 years.

PB: On the second half, Dimitri Murrath and Judith Serkin will join the Quartet for a performance of Brahms’ String Sextet, Opus 36. How did this collaboration come about, and what are you most looking forward to in working with these artists?

SK: I have spent many summers at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont and met and played with both Dimitri and Judith during my time there. Two seasons ago our quartet performed in Brattleboro, VT and Blue Hill, ME, and I had the idea of inviting these two wonderful artists (two of my favorite chamber music partners) to join us for a Brahms sextet since they both live in New England. We had such a great time together that we decided to try and make it happen again on another occasion. We're thrilled to have a reunion in Philly!

PB: The Quartet is dedicated to musical outreach and education, and before your performance you will be working with students from Temple University Music Prep Program. What drives your interest in working with students? Could you describe “The art of perception: the perception of art”, and what you hope the students will take away from this experience?

SK: We are passionate about exposing the younger generation to classical music, and in particular chamber music.

The average age of our audiences is quite high, and we feel that it is a part of our responsibility as performing artists to bring our work outside the concert hall to schools, in order to cultivate the next generation of audiences. Our DVD "The art of perception: the perception of art" (which has subtitles in English) documents a year-long collaboration between our quartet and a high school in Amsterdam. We have distributed this DVD to schools all over the Netherlands and have since done similar chamber music workshops in schools in Haarlem, Utrecht, Leiden and others. On this US tour we are combining playing and teaching in each of the cities we visit.

PB: Many of our patrons are interested in the history of the instruments artists play on. The Quartet performs on instruments from the collection of the Nationaal Muziekinstrumentenfonds. Could you share with us any stories pertaining to these instruments?

SK: We are very grateful to play on beautiful Italian instruments from the NMF, an instrument foundation based in Amsterdam. My violin is made by G.F. Rogeri from Brescia, circa 1690; it is only about five years younger than J.S. Bach! It is humbling to realize that his music was in all likelihood played on this instrument during his lifetime...and still is, by me! Roeland [Jagers] plays on a Pistucci viola from Naples (ca. 1910) and Joachim[Eijlander] on a Ciocchi cello from Padua and a rare Nikolai Kittel bow from St. Petersburg, both made around 1870. Giles [Francis] is fortunate to own a Grancino violin from Cremona, also about the same age as my Rogeri.

The Rubens Quartet performs with Dimitri Murrath, viola and Judith Serkin, cello on Thursday, March 19 at the American Philosophical Society’s Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, please visit the concert page.

For more information on Rubens Quartet, visit their website.