When a long-established string quartet brings in a fifth collaborator, questions inevitably arise: how will the four players interact with the newcomer? Who will call the shots in rehearsals, and how does the group dynamic change?
When the Pacifica Quartet gave a performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in the WQXR Café, that fifth member was Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He recently recorded the clarinet quintets of Brahms and Mozart with the Pacifica, for an album due out next spring.
"It's great to have that influx of new energy and new thoughts," Pacifica violist Masumi Per Rostad told host Jeff Spurgeon. "It changes our rehearsal process. It changes the way we interact with each other when it's just the four of us."
McGill joked that the group puts on its polite company face when he enters the room. "What's kind of funny about that, especially with a string quartet, is that most of the time, you’re really welcome, because they spend a lot of time with each other,” said McGill. "Every group has its own specific dynamic and it’s really fascinating to be able to feel that."
Along with his job at the Met, McGill is active as a chamber musician and soloist. He encounters a lot of Mozart, be it his chamber music or operas like Cosi fan tutte. "The way he captures the overtones and the sweetest part of the instrument is better than any other composer," McGill said of his clarinet writing. "The part of the instrument that sounds like the human voice – that’s the part that he zeroes in on and uses to the best of his abilities."
The Pacifica's Cafe Concert came one day after the quartet appeared at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall to perform with another notable artist, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, in the rarely-heard Leo Ornstein Piano Quintet. Next year, the ensemble will mark its 20th anniversary with the premieres of commissioned works by Shulamit Ran and Julia Wolfe, the latter of which will be a string quintet with cellist Johannes Moser.
The Pacifica has seen other changes lately too. Last year, the group left the University of Illinois after nearly a decade as the resident quartet to join the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. It is the first quartet-in-residence at a school with a long string pedagogy tradition but much less of a chamber music bent. The quartet now teaches some 35 ensembles.
Does the name “Pacifica” – a holdover from the group’s founding in Los Angeles – ever seem strange given their Midwestern orientation now? “It’s a nice name and we’ve been happy with it," said Rostad. "Our students like to joke that they could call us the Cornfield-ica.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Noriko Okabe; Text & Production: Brian Wise