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World Travelers

Renowned string quartet returns to Richmond.


Nor can Tree name a favorite destination. "Despite the great distances we go, we don't actually get to see much," he says. In general, the classical music audiences he encounters are receptive and appreciative. It's no wonder. Over their 40 years, the Guarneri String Quartet has received Chamber Music America's highest honor, the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, while The New York Times has said, "The Guarneri has no superior on the world's stages."

One of the things Tree finds most appealing about chamber music is the ability to work with colleagues he respects and admires. He also appreciates the rich and broad repertoire. "Even after 40 years of touring, we still haven't gotten to many works, although we've played most of the great standards."

Although you'd think that after years of playing many of the same pieces they would become easier, Tree doesn't necessarily agree. "In some ways it's easier — we're more accustomed to playing — but in some ways it's difficult, and we find ourselves having to dig deeper. We're like actors playing roles — it's a never-ending education."

As a faculty member of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, Tree spends a lot of his time off the stage, teaching students with ambitious dreams. The one thing he tells them about, but can't really teach, is how to deal with the working conditions of a traveling musician. "I talk to my students about it all the time," he says. "How to keep healthy on tour, how to warm up with very little time. But in the end, you can really only learn this through experience."

Another learning process for the quartet occurred in 2001 when the group's personnel changed for the first time in 37 years. Founding cellist David Soyer retired and his student Peter Wiley replaced him. The transition wasn't easy. "It's like a vocal quartet would be if the baritone left and you got a new singer — his voice could be darker, and you have to adjust," Tree says. "Peter's playing is as different from David's as his personality is."

The Guarneri String Quartet plays in Richmond often, and the upcoming performance will feature works by Mozart, Bridge and Ravel. The group also frequently performs with the Shanghai Quartet, which is known here for its residency at the University of Richmond. According to Tree, "We're very familiar with Richmond and glad to visit a friendly place." S

The Guarneri String Quartet performs Saturday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. at the VCU Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $10-$25. Call 828-6776.

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