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Artist Interview: Vera Quartet

By Erik Petersons on November 21, 2019

The Vera Quartet moved to Philadelphia last year for at least two reasons—they began their two-year residency at Curtis, and at the same time, won a coveted spot on the Astral artist roster. Both have bolstered their career as a quartet and infused their schedule with coachings, performances, and lots of traveling. I caught up with Pedro (violin) and Justin (cello) and discussed their December 12 debut program on our series, their time here in Philadelphia, and their residency at Bayard Taylor School.

Erik Petersons: Your PCMS debut program on December 12 features a world premiere by Richard Brodhead. Tell us about this work and what the audience can listen for. What is your process like working with the composers of new works?

Justin Goldsmith: We always love working with composers and learning their language. Each composer has a very different way of expressing their individual ideas, and it takes some time for us to learn that language. This piece features a substantial and vividly characterized rondo sandwiched between two slower, more elegiac movements. This rondo jumps between three distinct musical voices: agitated and angular, lyrical, and playfully march-like. In his notes, Mr. Brodhead writes that the piece is written in memory of his father-in-law who passed away while the piece was being written. These slow movements in particular are where we hear the searching, lamenting quality we might expect from a piece written in response to the death of a loved one.

EP: Roberto Díaz, the president of Curtis, is joining you for Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat Major. What dynamic does he bring into the ensemble or insights into the music?

Pedro Rodríguez Rodríguez: It is a great pleasure for us to welcome Roberto Díaz once again into our ensemble for this concert. He always brings with him his beautiful musicianship, an incredible energy and passion for the music, as well as a great sense of humor!

EP: What inspired the formation of the quartet in 2015?

PR: We formed at Indiana University where Inés, Justin, and I were studying at the time. Inés and I have always wanted to have a string quartet, so we started talking to people, and playing in various groups, until Justin's teacher Peter Stumpf recommended us to read with him. Shortly after we started playing together we won a competition to be in residence for a week at the Beethovenhaus Bonn and played a recital at their beautiful chamber hall. That gave us a taste of what quartet life is, and by the end of the year, it was clear that we were going to be a quartet.

EP: How has your time as an Astral Artist and being in residence at Curtis expanded your experience as a professional artist? What are your goals for the future?

PR: Being in residence at Curtis is quite amazing! It is a very nurturing environment to be a part of, and they help us in every possible way. From faculty, to students, to administration—everyone there is phenomenal! It is particularly exciting for us to be able to take part in Curtis on Tour, their global touring initiative. Last year it brought us to Vietnam and Hong Kong, and this year we will appear in concert series across the U.S. with pianist Meng-Chieh Lieu. Astral is another great support for us. Since we joined them one year ago, they have been extremely helpful and insightful in all things career related. It is a small team of very dedicated people, and it truly feels like a small family there.

EP: Prior to your concert, the quartet will hold a small residency at an elementary school in the city. Tell us about your work there and what you hope students will take away from the experience.

PR: We are thrilled to be able to return to the Bayard Taylor School this season. Astral brought us there last year, and we just loved the school. We are holding four sessions for fourth graders, where we talk about team building and conflict resolution through chamber music using the string quartet as a model. They have an important Hispanic community, and some of the classes are bilingual, so I found it really fun to be able to interact with them in both languages!

EP: After a rehearsal or concert in Philly, where is your favorite place to go for a meal as a quartet?

JG: We often end up at Tio Flores or The Foodery, which are both relatively close to Curtis.

The Vera Quartet appears with PCMS on Thursday, December 12 at the American Philosophical Society.