The Verona Quartet, who until this month were known as the Wasmuth Quartet, are quickly establishing themselves as one of the most innovative young groups on the international music scene.
The American quartet comprises the violinists Jonathan Ong, 28, and Dorothy Ro, 25, the violist Abigail Rojansky, 25, and the cellist Warren Hagerty, 23. The quartet formed two years ago when Ong, Rojansky and Hagerty were students at Indiana University, and within months of their formation, they’d won first prize at the Kuttner String Quartet competition. Last June, Ro signed up, too.
Last week, they performed with student poets at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi to an audience of Emirati students, ahead of public concerts tonight and on Tuesday. The experience was one that the poets and musicians found moving, so much so that one of the poets was in tears.
Rojansky says: “It sounds clichéd that music is the universal language, but it’s the emotion behind the music that’s universal, and the students really understand it. As the first student started to recite her poem, although I didn’t understand what she was saying, I found having her put into words what we were playing incredibly moving.”
Rojansky says that the strings – especially the cello – are the closest thing to the human voice: “So people really connect with it, and it can really evoke an emotional reaction.”
The quartet were brought over by Jennifer Laursen of Chamber Music Abu Dhabi, whose mission is to build a vibrant classical-music scene in the capital.
“I think classical music is really taking off here,” says Laursen. “When we brought the Aeolus Quartet here for a similar collaboration last year, 15 students attended the concert. This time, we had 79. This was so satisfying for me – the best day of my five years here in Abu Dhabi.”
The Verona Quartet are also collaborating with Brighton College Abu Dhabi’s head of keyboard studies and the revered Greek pianist Ioannis Potamousis to perform a piano quintet by the Czech composer Antonín Dvorák on Tuesday. Rojansky describes the piece as “romantic and beautiful. You can really get into the music and just let it wash over you.”
Last week, the quartet performed pieces written by the NYU Abu Dhabi senior student composer Cristóbal MarYan and visiting assistant professor Matthew Quayle at a concert held at NYUAD’s Saadiyat Island campus. The piece by 22-year-old MarYan was based on a gory folklore tale from his native Mexico. The composition gave an aura of eerie suspense, building up to murderous crescendos.
He explains: “It’s about a dog with a very long tail, at the end of which is a child’s hand. He hides in a river with the child’s hand sticking out so when the men pass by, they think a child is drowning, so they grab the hand and the dog eats them. I was inspired by that tale and wanted to represent it in music.”
The quartet say that string instruments naturally lend themselves to such spooky repertoire. “You do hear a lot of violin sounds in horror movies”, says Hagerty.
“It’s easy to recreate human sounds on the violin like screaming,” adds Ong. “And you can slide between notes to create this weird slimy sound, which you can’t on the piano.”