Striking A Balance — Jupiter String Quartet In Concert

It has not been a normal season for the world’s orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists. With empty concert halls and virtual productions, livestreaming has become a beacon — allowing musicians to practice their craft even without audiences present. Prerecorded concerts are the new normal, gathering people from near and far to bond over art. 

On Saturday April 3, the Jupiter String Quartet — violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough, based at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana — presented two works in a streamed recital for the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. 

The group opened with the world premiere of Stephen Andrew Taylor’s Chaconne/Labyrinth. Prior to the performance, Taylor said that the piece is meant to depict both the physical structure of coronavirus proteins, as well as the endless “loop” many people have found themselves stuck in since the pandemic interrupted their daily lives. The work was cyclical, using a repetitive chord progression while toggling between cacophony and serene solo lines. Fleeting moments of slow lyrical material introduced by the viola were effortlessly passed around, offering points of sweetness. 

The Jupiters produced an ethereal soundscape, relishing in its underlying peace, but the meandering dissonance always returned with crisp articulations and explosive chords. The group displayed stellar musicianship giving careful attention to dynamics and phrasing — cherishing tender moments within such a tense texture. It was easy to feel the strife throughout as sighs of exasperation, perhaps like the ones we’ve been making since last March. 

Franz Schubert’s Quartet in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”) completed the program —  another work precariously balanced between moments of chaos and warmth. The quartet easily managed its continuous flow of motion and ferocity in the opening movement, opting for a more gentle, almost stately sound in the second. McDonough provided welcome support for the violins, who were free to soar above the texture. The quartet maintained high energy in the last two movements, weaving in and out of the thick sound with precise control of the quick, tumbling material. 

Together for twenty years, Jupiter meshes as an ensemble of four individuals, unified by the goal of producing performances at the highest musical level. This recital was an honest one, openly displaying the range of emotions everyone can resonate with. But it offered more than a showcase of wonderful works — it offered solace and reminded people to hope for better times ahead. There will always be moments of joy and consolation, even amid all the dissonance of the last 365 days.

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