Obama Inaugural Luncheon to Feature Eastman String Quartet

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 02:36 PM

The Eastman String Quartet The Eastman String Quartet (Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)

Along with New York politicos and influence peddlers, a string quartet from Rochester is heading to the nation's capital for President Barack Obama's second inauguration on Monday.

The ensemble, comprised of students from the Eastman School of Music, will perform a 70-minute program of American works and traditional quartet literature during the inaugural luncheon that takes place in the Capitol after the ceremony.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the inaugural committee, invited Eastman to select a group to perform at the luncheon. The conservatory held auditions in October, a process that attracted 10 student groups. The winning ensemble, formed specifically for the occasion, will play works by Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak and Copland, as well as pieces with a jazzier flavor: Gershwin's "Lullaby," Joplin's "The Entertainer."

The quartet decided to leave out pricklier or darker works, meaning no Bartok or Shostakovich. "That kind of music doesn’t help in digesting food," noted Hyeok Kwon, the group's cellist.

The traditional inaugural luncheon is one of the few times when the President, vice president, Supreme Court justices and both houses of Congress come together in the same spot. The 200 guests are served in the Capitol's Statuary Hall right after the president's address. It's also an outlet for classical music: in 2009, Smithsonian Chamber Players performed for the event.

The Eastman musicians are scheduled to arrive at the Capitol on Sunday for a thorough security screening, which means leaving their instruments in the building overnight. "Hopefully I can find a corner to practice in the Capital," said Kwon. "I actually have concerto competitions coming up."

Whether by design or coincidence, the ensemble features students from diverse backgrounds: Violinists Che Ho Lam and Markiyan Melnychenko grew up in Hong Kong and Australia, respectively; violist Kelsey Farr is originally from Minnesota and cellist Kwon hails from South Korea.

Together, the musicians say they have been rehearsing intensely this past week. "We all have really high expectations for what we produce that day," said Farr. "It hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s going to be such an unreal experience."

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