Reflections: Julius String Quartet on their MacPhail Fall Residency

A short interview with the Julius String Quartet and Beth Nault-Warner, MacPhail Director of Marketing  

As part of the 2021 Madeline Island Chamber Music Emerging Artist Quartet-in-Residence, this year’s program award recipients, the Julius Quartet, spent a week this November at MacPhail Minneapolis and at several partnership schools. The quartet led community engagement activities (lectures, demonstrations, and performances) all culminating with a concert in Antonello Hall at MacPhail on Saturday night. Julius Quartet Concert: A New Spring I met up with the quartet after their performance and asked a few questions about their week.

Beth: It has been such a wonderful week having you here at MacPhail and at several of our partnership schools. Thank you for letting us follow you around to document some of the great stops that you have made so that we can share it with our community. Now that it is over, and you are able to begin reflecting on the magnificent work that you have accomplished this week, what is one of the highlights?  

David: One of the high points for me was playing for the 3–4-year old’s at Breck. That is the youngest audience that we have ever played for. It was interesting seeing how visceral their reactions to the music were.  

Helen: They are so cute. They were sitting on these plastic risers and when they got bored, they would tap their feet against the riser and make sounds.  

Beth: You also performed for MacPhail’s Voices of Experience. What was it like working with adults?  

Helen: It was wonderful. They asked great questions. It was more like an open discussion than a Q&A. It was nice to talk to other musicians.  

John: These are people that are deeply passionate about music. You could see how into it they are.  

David: It was interesting to share the history of our group and string quartets. We tried to tie the discussion to voices and singing. They were just eating it all up. 

Beth: Earlier, you mentioned performing at one of our school partnerships, Ascension Catholic School. Tell us a little about that.  

David: This is an afterschool program. Every single kid loved being there and they wanted to be there- chose to be. They ate up every second and hung on to every word.  

Helen: We played Schisma by Caroline Shaw. It was something completely foreign to them, yet they were all tapping their feet to it. They had so many great, wonderful, and specific questions, like, they asked Sebastian why his tail piece is a certain way. All great things that are so curious.  

David: One boy raised his hand and said, “I want to play viola. You inspired me to play the viola.”   

Here, John excitedly interrupts: Their energy was infectious. We were feeding off that, big time. More so than some of the other high schools even. More than other, beefier kind of orchestra programs. The energy was palpable. They were giving us energy, and we were feeding it right back.  

David: What was especially great, in this school, after we did our presentation, they had us play alongside the students. Side by side. We did not do too much, just played with them, but when we were done, they seemed the most disappointed to see us leave.  

Helen: Afterwards, one of the kids asked if we could stay forever. It was sweet. They were not afraid to ask questions and to be themselves. It felt like the connection was somehow different than other visits that we did.  

John: The connection was truly wonderful.  

Beth: What do you get from a week like this?  

John: A tremendous sense of fulfillment. This is something that we love doing. It was put on halt by COVID. And it has been slowly coming back in different capacities as things get safer and people get more confident. This week was like a throwback to pre-covid. The energy. It is incredibly fulfilling because these students are the next generation of musicians. Whether they choose to pursue music or just make joyful noise in the world. I would say fulfillment.  

David: Playing concerts is great and sharing music with people is always fantastic. But engaging a younger audience is an important mission for us. Getting a chance to cultivate a younger audience that you don’t see at some of the concerts.  

John: Music just makes people better people. And the principles of chamber music- the collaboration, compromise, communication- these elements are just so important especially now, these days. It is about so much more than just music. These principles permeate so many other things. And so maybe they don’t fully realize what they are witnessing but music helps bring a new spirit to it, a fresh spirit. 

Helen: There is gratitude from us. What we do could be considered very privileged. Not everybody gets to study classical music and play instruments. This week makes us realize that and we are grateful.  

John: We are grateful that we could do this, that there is an organization like Macphail that believes in us. It was one of the important things about Madeline Island Chamber Music. When we saw the opportunity, we hopped right on it. Jonathan (Madeline Island Chamber Music’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Swartz) really believed in us and gave us the confidence to do what we did there on the island. We worked with high school students, incredibly talented players, and were able to continue to develop our teaching skills and then also spend some of the one-on-one time with him (Jonathan) discussing the future of the group and how we can fulfil a need in the world of chamber music. Those conversations radiated to this week, to what we did this week. We feel like we were really fulfilling a need. It was fulfilling in all the meanings of the word.  

The Julius Quartet Residency Reviews from School Partnership Teachers 

“The students at Birch Lake Elementary were completely engaged and inspired by the incredible talent and knowledge of the musicians in the Julius Quartet. It was an experience they will remember forever. They’re still talking about it!”

Jena Levelius, the music teacher at Birch Lake Elementary 

“Our string program in Minneapolis is small, partnering with MacPhail, not just for the Julius Quartet, but with lots of things, has been a huge pillar of support for strings and music education for South. I really appreciate the partnership. (MacPhail) has done sectionals with us. We will be partnering with the MacPhail North Side Youth Orchestra in February. These connections are crucial to sustaining our programming and keeping kids excited about staying in orchestra.” 

Sophia Butler, South High School Orchestra and Jazz Teacher 

“Comparing a string quartet to a sandwich? Our youngest students got it: bread, meat, cheese, and lettuce! The Julius Quartet performed for our preschoolers Wednesday morning and demonstrated the violin, viola, and cello, and then performed music that literally moved them! Then, the Julius Quartet worked with Breck’s Chamber Players providing new insights on the pieces they have been rehearsing. Thank you to the Julius Quartet for sharing your time and talents with Breck’s students!” 

Katie Peterson, Breck School 
Published on Date: Nov 24, 2021
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