As a student of the Department of Music, my years at Penn have been filled with musical events around campus. The Provost’s Year of Sound has made this semester particularly musical, with an exciting line up of lectures and concerts. In addition to events and resources coming to Penn this year, Penn’s existing musical resources have the opportunity to reach a broader audience. One such group is the Daedalus Quartet, Penn’s string quartet in residence consisting of Min-Young Kim (violin), Matilda Kaul (Violin), Jessica Thompson (viola), and Thomas Kraines (cello). Since 2006, the quartet has played an integral role in bringing the experience of chamber music to students. Especially in the Year of Sound, the quartet hopes to make chamber music accessible to as much of Penn community as possible.
I first met the Daedalus Quartet last fall, at one of their college house concerts. I am not exactly sure what I expected from such an informal setting, but my expectations were far exceeded by the quality of the performance. Even more amazing to me was the geniality of the quartet; instead of discreetly exiting after the performance, the musicians stayed after the concert to answer questions and casually chat with students. When the first violinist, Min-Young Kim, invited me to a “sight-reading party” the following weekend, I realized how privileged I was to be in my position. University life, especially at Penn, is a golden age, decked with resources and opportunities unavailable to the outside world. For only a short period of my life, I can attend a chamber music concert for free just a few floors up from my cozy apartment, and then be invited to play with a professional quartet.
The rarity of these intimate experiences is both the inspiration and the challenge of the Daedalus Quartet’s position here at Penn. They know the difficulty of experiencing classical music outside the university, where the luxury of time to attend concerts may be in short supply. One of the foremost goals of the quartet is allowing students to experience music as much as possible while it is still easily accessible. At a university as large as Penn, however, reaching the vast array of students on campus is a difficult task. As expected, the easiest way to connect with students is through the Department of Music. Most recently, the quartet partnered with a composition class to bring the students’ final projects to life at the end of the term. For student composers, having a personal composition performed by a professional quartet is a rare and inspiring experience. The quartet also interacts with students in a series of “sight reading parties,” as I mentioned earlier. These parties are intended to be a fun way to bring together students from a variety of musical backgrounds in a no-pressure environment. At first, I was intimidated by the idea of playing alongside world-renowned musicians. To my surprise, I was completely wrong to have such inhibitions. The members of the quartet laughed off any mistakes students made and created a relaxed, lighthearted atmosphere. Speaking from experience, the Daedalus Quartet would love students from across the university to attend; all majors, minors, and skill levels are welcome.
Beyond the music department, the Daedalus Quartet interacts with a wider range of students through concerts hosted by academic departments, college houses, and student groups. On October 16th, for example, the quartet collaborated with students to create an intimate and engaging program for the Philomathean Society’s Bicentennial Concert. The concert served both as a testament to the rich programming of the Philomathean Society and to the type of events the Daedalus Quartet facilitates year round. Philo’s concert hall, a small room on the fourth floor of College Hall, may not have the acoustics of the Kimmel Center, but it has its charm. In this setting, the musicians were only feet away from their listeners, providing the audience with an engaging experience unlike any professional venue. Sitting nearly arms’ length away from the performers, who had, to borrow a phrase from a Houston Chronicle review of the quartet, “magic that hushed the audience,” I could appreciate the tenacity with which each member handled her or his instrument. The music was both relaxing and thrilling; I was at ease enough to listen forever and on the edge of my seat waiting for each phrase to resolve. I wondered how we, as a university, were able to snatch them away from the rest of the world, but Thomas Kraines summed the situation up simply:
“Quartets want universities, and vice versa.”
He explained that not only do quartets enjoy the stability of a university home, they also grow their programs and repertoire from interactions with the students and faculty. By working together closely with the university, both Penn and the Daedalus Quartet benefit in ways otherwise impossible. One such example is the upcoming Penn Humanities Forum Concert on November 6, where the Daedalus Quartet will be debuting their program, “Music from Exile.” The Humanities Forum approached the quartet about the possibility of a concert, potentially relating to the forum’s theme this year, violence. The quartet used the theme as a source of inspiration and built their program, consisting of works ranging from Schoenberg’s “Ode to Napoleon” to Korngold’s String Quartet No. 3. All of the works featured in the program were composed by individuals who were either arrested or exiled by the Third Reich, and the impact of their journey can be felt in their music. “Music from Exile” brings violence to mind from a different perspective than we typically encounter and will hopefully spark new discussions about the pervasive impact of violence.
Through the variety of events they host, the Daedalus Quartet hopes to inspire students with their music. Even at a research-oriented institution, the importance of the arts and creativity cannot be overlooked. As Min-Young Kim pointed out, even the great Albert Einstein was a dedicated amateur violinist, which potentially aided the innovative approach he took to physics. More recently, Thomas C. Südhof (the 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine) was quoted in The Lancet as crediting his powers of analysis and concentration to playing a musical instrument. Music, and the arts in general, can have a significant influence on our lives, and we might not know it until we hear that one piece that changes everything. No matter how casually or seriously students encounter music at Penn, the Daedalus Quartet hopes they can give students a positive experience with the arts to carry with them the rest of their lives.
Please visit www.phf.upenn.edu for more information about the Daedalus Quartet's November 6 performance of "Music From Exile" at Penn Museum. Buy tickets>