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Lydian String Quartet bedazzles during rehearsals

By Katie Decker-Jacoby

Section: Arts

October 28, 2016

Mark Berger, Judith Eissenberg, Joshua Gordon and Andrea Segar sat center stage in the Slosberg Recital Hall on Oct. 20, playing instruments, critiquing arrangements and listening to original compositions. The quartet covered an assortment of pieces: While one of the compositions was so intense that it produced goosebumps, another exuded a lighter and more joyful spirit.

The group typically performs classical, romantic, modern and contemporary works, meeting four days a week for three to four hours a day. The quartet’s 29 recordings showcase its renditions of pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Bob Nieske, John Harbison and several others.

All four members are professors or associate professors of their practice at Brandeis. Berger is a violinist and an associate professor of the practice, joining the group in 2014. Eissenberg is a violinist, professor of the practice and founding member of the Lydian String Quartet. Gordon is a cellist and professor of the practice, entering the group in 2002. Segar is a violinist and associate professor of the practice who started her career at Brandeis and in the quartet this school year.

Since the group’s formation in 1980, there have only been four changes in membership. “Each time there’s a change, it brings a difference, a new infusion of ideas, life and musicality. I think this is one of my favorite changes. This is definitely the honeymoon period, so it’s a good time to hear us,” expressed Eissenberg.

On top of covering arrangements with such a seamless group dynamic and by such acclaimed composers, the Lydian String Quartet has performed in Washington, D.C., New York, California, France, England, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and Armenia. The quartet will add Taiwan to its long list this upcoming December. The Lydian String Quartet will spend two weeks there in a residency, interacting with students and performing for them.

Of all these venues, the Lydian String Quartet delighted in its trip to California the most. “What was great about it is that we got to play our own repertoire. All three pieces were written for us,” Eissenberg said. The group enjoyed working directly with young composers at other universities, as it made the Lydian String Quartet feel more engaged and included in the different communities.

The largest audience the quartet performed in front of contained around 800 people, according to Eissenberg. When asked what it is like to perform, especially in front of such vast audiences, Eissenberg explained that she feels a balance of fear and excitement. “When we’re playing, whatever the music holds inside of itself and our feelings as people playing together, it is a huge range of everything you’ve ever wanted to feel,” Eissenberg remarked. “We amplify what our audience wants to feel and our audience amplifies what we’re doing on stage. Audience is so important to performing,” she added.

The group has graced Brandeis with its outstanding recitals, but also gives back to the community through its Lydian String Quartet Commission Prize. “The goal of this commission prize is to encourage creativity and enhance the string quartet literature at the highest level of composition,” according to the quartet’s website. More than 400 musicians applied in 2012, which was the first year the group put forward the commission prize.

Having formed in 1980, the Lydian String Quartet has been around for over 30 years. The group launched “Around the World in a String Quartet,” a “multi-year concert series that explores string quartet music from local world musical traditions in and beyond the western European art music setting,” according to the group’s website.

The quartet has also joined forces with tabla player Sandeep Das, pipa player Chen Yihan, Syrian clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh and Brandeis alums. The group has not collaborated with any students, but it is an idea the quartet might visit in the near future.

However, the Lydian String Quartet has played compositions by Brandeis undergraduate and graduate students. “There’s a theory class that has all the students writing minuets and that’s an annual thing. We play their minuets and they record them. That’s a lot of fun too,” explained Eissenberg.

While recording pieces is “a lot of fun,” the process can be rather exacting. “Torture. Plain and simple torture,” Eissenberg described the process. “You have to do spots over and over again and then piece it together. It feels like what you’re doing is trying to get something right as opposed to making music, which is what a concert feels like,” Eissenberg elaborated. She noted that a 30-minute arrangement can take two eight-hour days to finalize.

Although the quartet loves journeying to other parts of the world for competitions and concerts, the group’s home is at Brandeis. “I have to say, if I had to list my all-time favorite, it’s playing here at Brandeis. I’ve been here since 1980 and I feel like this is my family. My family’s on stage, my family’s in the audience. It’s our students,” Eissenberg proudly asserted.

Speaking of home at Brandeis, the Lydian String Quartet eagerly anticipates its concert on Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. in the Slosberg Music Center. Tickets are available for purchase online, by phone and at the ticket booth in the Shapiro Campus Center.

As Eissenberg stated, “it’s a good time to hear us,” so go buy tickets and partake in an experience that will be sure to send chills down your back and leave you wanting more.

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