by Maggie Molloy
Beethoven to Britten, Sibelius to Shostakovich—the sky is the limit for the Seattle-based Skyros Quartet. Comprised of violinists Sarah Pizzichemi and James Moat, violist Justin Kurys, and cellist Willie Braun, the quartet is known for their innovative and interactive approach to classical music both old and new.
Founded in 2010, Skyros studied chamber music at the University of Texas at Austin under the mentorship of the Miró Quartet and Sandy Yamamoto. By 2012, they became the first quartet-in-residence at the University of Nebraska, where they pursued doctorates in chamber music performance under the guidance of the Chiara String Quartet.
Suffice it to say, they’re pretty qualified musicians. And lucky for us, they recently relocated to Seattle to continue their work as contemporary classical performers, teachers, and collaborators.
You can catch Skyros in action on Friday, May 27 at our annual Second Inversion Showcase at Northwest Folklife, along with Sound of Late and the Westerlies. In the meantime, we sat down with the quartet to talk about classical music, cultural heritages, and #casualfridays:
Second Inversion: How would you describe or characterize your ensemble’s sound?
James Moat: Whether we’re playing Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, or Ruben Naeff’s “Jackass,” our group strives to create a sound world that is true to the nature of the composer.
When performing the classics, we have help from history to determine what kind of character and sound we’re looking for in our performance. When playing modern works, we’ve always taken every opportunity to work directly with the composer. This type of collaboration is always interesting because the composer has a chance to work with us to find the sound that they want, and we also have a chance to provide them with our own interpretations. The result is a wonderful blend of everyone’s artistic contributions.
SI: The Pacific Northwest is really blossoming in the contemporary classical music sphere—what do you think makes our music scene here so unique?
Willie Braun: Contemporary classical music in Seattle is more than just a sphere or scene, it’s a whole community of composers, performers, and audiences who are passionate about sharing the experience of new music. Having recently moved to the Seattle area last fall, our quartet has felt very welcomed into this community. It is refreshing to see so many artists collaborating, working together, and supporting one another to create music rather than compete for audiences.
The result is a diverse community representing many unique spectrums of contemporary classical music. Seattleites are great audiences, ready and willing to try something new. Going back a few decades, Seattle has a rich history of supporting innovation in music (i.e. grunge) and audiences here are still eager to explore new sounds and experiences.
SI: Northwest Folklife strengthens local communities through art and music, celebrating diverse cultural heritages and working to ensure their continued growth and development. What types of communities or music traditions are represented in your music?
Sarah Pizzichemi: The classic canon of string quartet literature is a melting pot of Western art music and a diverse range of influences from Balinese gamelan and Russian folk music, to American jazz and the Finnish national epic poem. The intimate yet universal appeal of four voices in conversation through the timbral spectrum of the string instrument family has made it an ideal medium for composers to record their most cherished musical thoughts, and a way to celebrate many cultural heritages in one masterwork.
We consider ourselves above all else collaborators, and we especially like to work with living composers who are continuing this tradition of musical globalization through the lens of today’s experiences. As an ensemble we also directly explore specific musical traditions like Celtic, Americana, pop culture, film scores, and different types of folk music in contexts like our #casualfriday series on Facebook and YouTube.
SI: As Seattleites, what does the annual Northwest Folklife Festival mean to you?
Sarah Pizzichemi: Skyros Quartet just moved to the Seattle area in September, but I personally was born and raised here. Some of my earliest memories are coming to Folklife to hear the cornucopia of different kinds of music. My parents were fans of world and folk music, so it was so influential for me to hear live ensembles and bands playing such a diverse range of music all in one setting.
As a junior high school student I participated in Folklife as an Irish Dancer, and as a high schooler, I would come to Folklife with other musician friends and we would busk near the Center House playing Shostakovich quartets. I will never forget the invigorating feeling of catching the attention of passersby with the ferocious second movement of the Eighth String Quartet!
I’ve continued to make memories with friends at Folklife, especially visiting the Trad Stage, as I have quite a few friends in the Celtic music circuit. I can’t wait for this year and the special opportunity to share my passion of contemporary classical music with Folklife audiences.
SI: What are you most looking forward to with this performance, and what do you hope audiences will gain from it?
Justin Kurys: As a quartet, we are very passionate about reaching and connecting with new audiences. As this is our first time performing at Folklife, we are looking forward to interacting with the diverse audience this type of event attracts!
Performances are always at their best when a connection with the audience is created. We hope to engage the audience and create a musical landscape for them to take a journey with us as we perform a very interesting and varied show. The music we will perform shows a different side of art music from what is generally conceived of when people think of classical art music, so we hope that this inspires thought and emotion that is somewhat unexpected from the audience coming into this.
The Skyros Quartet will be featured along with Sound of Late and the Westerlies at our 2nd Annual Second Inversion Showcase at Folklife on Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. For more information, please click here or RSVP to our Facebook event.