The intimacy of a string quartet is amplified by the Jupiter String Quartet, since three of its four members have personal links offstage.
The quartet-in-residence at the University of Illinois will play Saturday as part of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra’s Signature Series. The concert, which will mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Augustana College's Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.
The quartet is made up of two sisters, Meg and Liz Freivogel, who play violin and viola, respectively; cellist Daniel McDonough, Meg’s husband; and violinist Nelson Lee. They've been playing together for 19 years.
“There’s a bond really stronger than the average string quartet, which is kind of married to each other,” McDonough said this week. “We’re doubly married. It’s one of the reasons we’ve stayed together for so long. I’m proud of the fact we’ve never had a member leave. There’s a commitment to each other we really honor.”
The four musicians met at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and the quartet was based in that city until seven years ago, when it took the residency at the University of Illinois, where members teach and direct the chamber music program.
“We were making our career basically by playing concerts. We started to have families, needed more stability,” McDonough said, noting they have seven children among the four members. “We were looking for an opportunity to do some teaching. (Illinois) has a wonderful performing arts center. It was a nice fit for us.
“The teaching aspect informs the playing,” McDonough said.
The quartet chose its name because Jupiter was the most prominent planet in the night sky at the time of its formation, and its astrological symbol resembles the number four, he said.
“We like the connotation of joy and strength; there are some musical references, and it’s understandable in many languages,” McDonough said. “We like the celestial quality.”
In Saturday’s concert, they will perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat, Op. 127; Mozart’s Quartet in A Major, K. 464; and Kati Agocs’ “Imprimatur” (2018), composed for the Jupiter, co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival, Harvard Musical Association, and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at University of Illinois.
“We’re trying all the time to bring new music into the world,” McDonough said, noting Agocs is a Boston singer by training. “We work with composers to get some funding, try to get a piece. There’s nothing more exciting than to hear a piece that’s never been heard before. This one is a really beautiful, lyrical piece.”
“What we try to do with our instruments is imitate the human voice,” McDonough said. “The more vocal we can sound in instruments, the more beautiful the music is. The naturalness of the human voice is enviable.”
Mozart’s last symphony (No. 41) is nicknamed “Jupiter,” and the quartet the Jupiter is playing was penned three years earlier, in 1785. In honor of Beethoven’s year, they’re doing a late quartet, written when he was completely deaf, two years before his 1827 death at 56.
“The late quartets, they’re so interesting and full of kind of mysterious, curious markings,” McDonough said. “They’re just profound works of art that continue to challenge performers and audiences.”
During this year, the Jupiter is doing a series of concerts called “Beethoven’s Orbit,” including those composers he influenced and was influenced by.
“He opened tons of new doors in what was possible,” the cellist said. “That struggle also shows in his music. I remember viewing one of his manuscripts at the Library of Congress, and he was scratching things out. There were holes in the parchment paper from his quill. He really worked for what he got.”
The quartet’s honors and awards include the grand prizes in the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the Young Concert Artists International auditions in New York City, Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America and Avery Fisher Career Grant. From 2007 to 2010, the quartet was in residence at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Two.
Tickets for the Saturday concert are $18–$65 for adults, and $10–$33 for students. They're available at QCSO.org or 563-322-7276.