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All Work and All Play: Aizuri Quartet

The Guarneri Quartet looks down at them from a frame hanging on the wall. There’s that and an espresso machine in the practice room of the Aizuri Quartet, the String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music. The Guarneri once taught there, but the women of Aizuri laughingly confess that sometimes they’re not sure which item in the room—the picture or the coffee-maker—is more important.

Violinists Miho Saegusa and Zoë Martin-Doike, violist Ayane Kozasa, and cellist Karen Ouzounian are all prize-winning instrumentalists who comprise the Aizuri Quartet. But most important to the life of their ensemble is that they’re all characters who have fun together.

This was pointed out to them by a teacher. Three of them had been looking for the final piece of the puzzle—another violinist—and they were told they’d better find someone who was quirky, because they all were. It rang true.

The three had been looking for months, but immediately knew that this violinist was the final piece of the puzzle. They never told her about The Quirk Factor.

They invited Zoë to read through some Haydn with them. She did, then had to leave for a concert. The three had been looking for months, but looked at each other and immediately knew that she was the one. Zoë never knew about “the quirk factor,” as they now call it, but laughs and agrees.

They do have fun, but it’s more than that. Ouzounian recalls being at an arts colony some years ago and hearing all these “hot” cellists and decided that she would “have to work, like, a billion times harder” if she were to make it as a professional. They all have this same fortitude. Saegusa had been going to Aspen for 13 summers, but it finally clicked halfway through college. Martin-Doike loved the social part of playing, meeting and making new friends, but got serious in her early teens.

Kozasa started on violin, and a group of friends wanted to start a quartet, but nobody played viola. They all tried it, but she stuck with it and never looked back.

Along with the fun and hard work is a commitment always to be open and honest with each other. They each talk about the “nurturing” part of the relationship, which is just as important as their passion for the music.

That repertoire not only includes the Haydns and Mendelssohns and Beethovens, but also works by contemporary composers including Lembit Beecher, the first composer-in-residence of Opera Philadelphia and the fiancé of cellist Karen Ouzounian.

Meanwhile, the members of the Aizuri Quartet are working hard, inspired by the Guarneri legacy. And they’re drinking lots of coffee.

Philadelphia Music Makers on WRTI, Sunday, April 12 at 5 pm.

Josef Haydn: String Quartet in Bb, Op. 64, No. 3, first two movements
Lembit Beecher: These Memories May Be True, first two movements
Anton Webern: Langsamer Satz
Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, Scherzo
Josef Haydn: String Quartet in Bb, Op. 64, No. 3, Finale

The Aizuri Quartet plays the Beethoven String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3, movements 3 and 4:

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