Warm Sounds of the Jupiter Quartet

Mark MacNamara on January 16, 2012
Jupiter String Quartet
Jupiter String Quartet

A string quartet is always strange blood. Imagine four people spending years with each other, to the point where they need only start sentences to be understood. Where one may chastise another for playing too quickly by emphasizing a particular note. Where moods are measured in bow lengths and the most esoteric body language.

One quartet like this, the Jupiter String Quartet, has been together for 10 years. “It’s like being married,” says its violist, Liz Freivogel. Literally and figuratively. Jupiter comprises Nelson Lee, first violin; Meg Freivogel, second violin; her older sister, Liz, on viola; and Meg’s husband, Daniel McDonough, on cello. They’re all in their early 30s. All live in Boston.

The quartet tours the West Coast this month and comes to the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society on Sunday, Jan 22, at 5 p.m. The concert will feature Beethoven’s Opus 74 quartet, Bartók’s No. 6, and Mendelssohn’s Opus 44, No. 1.

However, there’s a program note. Meg had a baby girl at the end of December, so she and Daniel have been replaced by Nelson’s wife, Denise Doric, on cello and by Liz and Meg’s younger brother, Jay, who will be playing second violin.

“We’re a very tight, intimate group,” notes Liz, “and we’re outspoken. But after all these years we’ve ironed over the differences, and we’ve learned to talk through most things. There’s no ‘top dog’; majority rules, but if someone feels strongly about doing something another way, we’ll do two or three concerts one way and then change it.”

Jupiter was born in 2001. Three of the members met at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Liz joined them from Oberlin College. The group eventually took root at the New England Conservatory of Music.

“We strive for a warm, burnished sound,” says Nelson. “And we play from the bottom up. The cello provides a cushion of sound.”

“Yes, a strong bass voice,” adds Liz. “So we can listen down to that. And also [we play our instruments] closer to the bridge, more core in the sound, not a floaty dulce sound.”

The Jupiters, who go on the road about half the year, have received various honors, including first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition, grand prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competion, membership in Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two, and Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award. The quartet also won the 2005 Young Concert Artists International auditions and now holds YCA’s Helen F. Whitaker Chamber Music Chair. Recently, they were also honored to receive an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

“Of course, one of the great things about chamber music,” says Liz, “is watching the interaction among the musicians — and that’s particularly true with us. We’re very spontaneous; we always try to be in the moment. There’s a lot of different kinds of conversations going on between us. And we move around a lot. We get a lot of comments about that. The notion of classical music is that the players are very stiff, but we’re not. Which is one reason we appeal to younger audiences, as well as older audiences.”