Vermeer String Quartet
Shmuel Ashkenasi, violin
Mathias Tacke, violin
Richard Young, viola
Marc Johnson, cello
With performances in practically every major city in North and South America, Europe, the Far East, and Australia, the Vermeer Quartet has achieved an international stature as one of the world's finest ensembles. Formed in 1969 at Marlboro, its members are originally from Israel, Germany, New York, and Nebraska, thus providing a unique blend of musical and cultural backgrounds. Switzerland’s Suisse writes, “Out of this alchemy is born a thing of beauty which one can define, without hesitation, as perfection.”
The Vermeer has performed at virtually all the most prestigious festivals, including Tanglewood, Aldeburgh, Norfolk, Aspen, Mostly Mozart, Taos, Bath, South Bank, Lucerne, Stresa, Flanders, Kneisal Hall, Caramoor, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein, Orlando, Daniel, Edinburgh, Great Woods, Spoleto, Ravinia, and the Casals Festival. Based in Chicago, they spend part of each summer on the coast of Maine as the featured ensemble for Bay Chamber Concerts. The Vermeer has been associated with Northern Illinois University as “resident artist faculty” since 1970. They are also Fellows at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.
The Vermeer Quartet has performed well over two hundred works, including nearly all the “standard” string quartets, many lesser-known compositions, a number of contemporary scores, and various other works with guests. Their discography includes the complete string quartets of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Bartok, plus various other works by Schubert, Brahms, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Schnittke, Verdi, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak. About their Beethoven recordings, Stereo Review says, “What these peerless players give us is a heady blend of old-fashioned warmth and communicativeness, with exemplary demonstrations of modern standards of both taste and technique. More persuasive performances of any of these quartets are simply not to be found.”
The Vermeer Quartet's Grammy-nominated CD of The Seven Last Words of Christ features introductions by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Evangelist Billy Graham, Father Virgil Elizondo, Dr. Martin Marty, Elder Dallin Oaks, Rev. Kelly Clem, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Father Raymond Brown, and Jason Robards. Rev. Theodore Hesburgh (President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame) writes, “It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate group of theologians and preachers for the Vermeer's Seven Last Words of Christ recording. The makeup of this group suggests not only a certain moral authority, but a spirit of inclusiveness. At the same time, in a most personal and effective manner, it reflects our religious and social diversity.” The American Record Guide calls this CD “an experience unlike any other.”
The Vermeer has played The Seven Last Words of Christ all over the world. Australia's The Age writes, "Their performance was magnificent: majestic in style, technically without flaw, and utterly persuasive." According to Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung, "This is music-making which reveals much of the inner self: music-making of untamed necessity that goes far beyond that which is merely pleasing to the ear.” The Chicago Tribune writes: "When presented as poignantly as the Vermeer presents it, the inner core of the piece is left so exposed that both religious and dramatic power radiate from within. The tender loving care that the Vermeer lavishes over every phrase of this unique score is something quite special to behold." Poland's Ruch Muzyczny sums up, "The Vermeer's interpretation seems so nearly ideal that one can more easily appreciate music as universal harmony." Following their very first live radio broadcast of this work in 1988 over WFMT (Chicago), well over a hundred different speakers have collaborated with the Vermeer, including some of the most renowned religious figures of our time. Their performances have by now reached an estimated 75 million listeners worldwide, thus demonstrating an enduring appeal that extends far beyond the traditional classical music audience. A book entitled ECHOES FROM CALVARY: Meditations on Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) chronicles their long-time involvement with this Good Friday masterpiece and offers rare insight from many perspectives.
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