Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Juilliard String Quartet performs tomorrow at UH-Manoa

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

When he was 8 or 9, Ronald Copes discovered a violin in a closet of the family home and was immediately intrigued by the sounds it made.

Juilliard String Quartet

Joel Smirnoff, first violin; Ronald Copes, second violin; Samuel Rhodes, viola; and Joel Krosnick, cello

8 p.m. Thursday

Orvis Auditorium, UH-Manoa

$24 ($15 students)


"My mother studied violin for a year in college, but she had given up on it," said Copes, who now is second violinist with the Juilliard String Quartet, which performs here tomorrow.

"I asked her to show me how to play it, and initially she said no.

So I made a deal: My parents would provide lessons as long as I practiced."

This was in lieu of playing the piano, an instrument he didn’t enjoy but which his parents had pressed him to take up. Many young people have this experience, he said, and he’s adamant that enforced lessons are not the best way to nurture interest.

In contrast to the piano, "I was eager to learn to play the violin, so it was a case of my parents playing to my emerging sense of being an individual. By the time I was playing two or three years, I knew the violin would play a big role in my life."

That childhood brush with one of the most romantic instruments eventually paid off, enabling Copes to join the eminent Juilliard String Quartet four years ago.

He never attended the prestigious music school after which the chamber music group is named.

Copes, speaking by telephone from his Tenafly, N.J., home, said he got the nod, replacing retiring JSQ founder Robert Mann, because of his extensive chamber experience and his university background. He had been a member of the Dunsmuir Piano Quartet for 20 years and a professor of violin at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

As a member of the JSQ, Copes travels extensively, logging between 60 and 70 concerts a year.

Sound is everything for the quartet, who will perform in the University of Hawaii’s Orvis Auditorium.

"What we love is a concert hall is which the sound simply helps create beauty," said Copes. "You can have it in a large or a small hall; as long as you don’t have to fight (bad) acoustics. Intimacy can be very special in a smaller venue, but then again, some small rooms are dead acoustically.

"The problem is, you don’t know what’s in store till you’re there," he said, reflecting on the realities of the road. "Often, you have to experience a site to know if it’s suitable. But there is a network of performers that have played all over, and I recall once, when our quartet was in Europe, we ran into colleagues who told us we were going to hate one particular hall. They were right."

Copes said interest in chamber music is relatively high now. "But it varies, depending on the area," he said "In many communities where chamber music is viable, there are presenters or arts organization whose commitment is deep and, if there is a vital teacher of chamber music, it’s a strength that spills over into the community."

He said chamber groups must begin to attract younger audiences if they’re to survive. "That’s why we try to do concerts in schools, or master classes at conservatories," he said.

This won’t be Copes’ first Hawaii performance: Several years ago, he played viola as part of the Los Angeles Piano Quartet and did a residency in the Islands, doing a cluster of school concerts.

Copes said it’s particularly an honor to belong to this quartet because there’s very little turnover: "I’m only the 11th member in the 54 years of the group’s existence."

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