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October 20, 2000
Volume 38, No. 5


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Musicians find a home: The Maia Quartet settles in Iowa
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Musicians find a home: The Maia Quartet settles in Iowa

Members of the Maia Quartet, violinist Amy Kuhlman Appold, violinist Tim Shiu, cellist Amos Yang, and violist Beth Oakes, rehearse in the Voxman Music Building. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

I’m sitting in a mirrored practice room, watching The University of Iowa’s in-house chamber musicians, the Maia String Quartet, play through Haydn’s Opus 71, No. 1. Their bows, each of which costs more than my car, fly like branches in a stiff wind. The four of them are completely in sync, so much so that they’re breathing together, sharply through their noses. They split at a coda, cellist Amos Yang going back to the beginning and the others playing on toward the end. They finish, laughing easily at the mistake. They’ve got the rapport of old friends—affectionate teasing, inside jokes, a willingness to share anecdotes about each other.

The Maia String Quartet has been playing together for a decade. They’ve taught at and attended, on fellowship, some of the most prestigious music schools in the country. And as of last semester, they’re all visiting faculty members at Iowa.

"One of our first coaches told us that the most important thing a string quartet can do is survive," says Amy Kuhlmann Appold, one of the quartet’s two violinists. "We’ve been hanging together for 10 years now, so we’ve got that going for us."

Appold, fellow violinist Tim Shiu, and violist Beth Oakes met at the Cleveland Institute of Music and began playing together as a quartet in 1989. Their original cellist dropped out three years ago, making room for Yang, a Juilliard grad.

  Cellist Amos Yang will perform at 8 p.m., Oct. 30, in Clapp Recital Hall. The concert is free and open to the public. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Spring 2000 was the Maia String Quartet’s first regular semester at The University of Iowa. Last year they visited the campus three times, teaching weeklong workshops on rehearsal technique for students in the School of Music. At that time, they were part of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra in Lafayette, La. Before that they taught at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and prior to that they were on fellowship at Juilliard.

"Until now, we’ve been nomads," Appold says.

"Iowa City is full of possibilities for us as musicians," Shiu says. "It seems to be a community where we can give back in so many ways that would really be valued."

And they’ve got a plan to do that. The quartet will give concerts in Clapp Recital Hall this year, and the members also will be giving individual recitals. The four of them are faculty members in the School of Music, teaching classes and coaching students on chamber music. On top of that, the quartet will be working with local high school orchestras, and they hope to set up workshops for local amateur musicians. They also are participating in the UI’s Arts Share Program, which provides arts education outreach opportunities for Iowa schools and communities.

"I would guess the percentage of people interested in chamber music is probably even higher in Iowa City than it is in London," Yang says.

"That’s one reason why we’re here," Oakes says, "because the community missed having a string quartet."

"When the University’s Stradivari Quartet retired after more than 20 years, people in the community went to the music school and asked them to bring a string quartet to Iowa. At the time they were looking for someone, we were looking for a place to be," Appold says.

The quartet members spend much of their time at the University working with student chamber musicians, coaching them on technique and interpretation. They rehearse five times a week, focusing on the pieces they play at their concerts.

"There’s so much spontaneity possible when making chamber music," Shiu says. "And the repertoire is rich and variable. It gives us so much to delve into."

Watching them rehearse, I’m reminded of something Appold said to me earlier, when she was warming up.

"The thing that first excited me about being in a string quartet was the idea that the musicians communicated without speaking. If one person diminuendos, they all follow. I loved that."

If listening to them practice is any indication, Appold should be happy. The four of them are playing together perfectly, breathing in 4/4 time.

Article by Jeremy Kryt

Excerpted from a story that originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of the University of Iowa's research magazine, Illumine.


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