Thursday, May 05, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Post-Audubon life for David Ehrlich
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Five years after his extremely public breakup with the acclaimed Audubon Quartet, violinist and conductor David Ehrlich is busy bringing high-profile classical acts to town through his involvement with Musica Viva. Reinstated to Virginia Tech in 2004 as outreach fellow of fine arts, Ehrlich is expanding his efforts. He sat down recently to share some thoughts on life after the quartet, the post-Sept. 11 visa problems that have canceled a much-anticipated event for the second year in a row, and his ongoing efforts to enliven the local community through art.
So once again, the French concert has been stopped. Can you tell me about what happened?
David Ehrlich: The musicians are Michel Lethiec, clarinet, and Pierre Henri Xuereb, viola. … Through my years with the Quartet we performed with them several times in France. They were also here more than once. … Now, after 9/11, the U.S. and France are not on such good terms. … These guys are major major artists. … We all decided, if this fails again, we won’t be able to continue. We won’t be able to bring French musicians for awhile.
So what about the Avalon Quartet, who you’ve brought in their place?
DE: The Avalon Quartet is one of the hottest quartets in the country. … A great great musician was a man by the name of Isaac Stern; he decided who would make it or not before most people were involved. He invited them to his festival, and he presented them at Carnegie Hall. That says it all.
Can you tell me about the Audubon Quartet?
DE: All my life I wanted to play chamber music, and the Audubon Quartet was already here in residence, and they were looking for a first violinist, and they called me. … So I came here and had been with the Quartet from ‘84 until 2000. … And then in 2000 our quartet exploded, and that’s a somewhat painful story. I don’t want to go into that much. But that ended. Because of personal issues in the quartet, Virginia Tech said that unless we can settle all our differences they will terminate the contract. … Things like that happen to quartets from time to time; not in the way that it happened here. Here was very unique and very nasty.
And what about Musica Viva?
DE: When we started Musica Viva, the idea was that … we would bring complete ensembles — some young, on their way up, like the Avalon. … We can also bring some very established older ensembles that already have a world reputation. And also we have a commitment to education, which means that we will also do programs in schools and also hopefully maybe add concerts that will be just young people performing. … It’s a gift to the community. And it’s a gift to us, because we like to perform music. And we are involved with the Renaissance Music Academy. My wife [pianist Theresa Ehrlich] and I strongly believe that it is very important for a community to see professionals perform. The concerts that we offer here are on par with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and the best places, so this community is blessed now … and it’s caught and it’s doing well. I would like to … maybe add other types of music — for example bluegrass and jazz music, high level. … We’ve now completed five seasons, which is a big number, and we survived. And we are in the black, we’re not in the red, through the generous donations of people and through the incredible work of the board members. … Everybody volunteers, including myself, and we work a lot, and we make it happen. It’s a very good thing for the community.
Can you tell me more about this project in Wytheville and Chatham, and your position as outreach fellow?
DE: They didn’t have strings at all, and that’s the bulk of orchestral instruments. And they wanted us to come and provide it. And Tech, under the administration of outreach, wants to contribute. So they’re sending me and one of my jobs is to go there, see what they have, develop a whole program, recruit teachers. And those communities have caught fire. … The head of outreach said to me, "Are you aware of Richard Florida?" [author of "The Rise of the Creative Class"]. He claims that major cities in the U.S. that have a lot of arts and culture and diversity … all those communities have gone through the roof economically. … So the thought was, let’s find two communities that can be a pilot program. … and it so happened that two communities called the Renaissance Academy. … Virginia Tech is heading the project, helping in any way they can and even helping to find money if possible. And the Renaissance Music Academy is a model and they are providing the teachers. … So we went with the heads of outreach to these places. … The communities just said, "Come and do it, we’re ready." So we did some programs, we did school concerts, we did concerts for the community. … It is a wonderful effort of a lot of talent in this community. Because, you know, you tell them it supports kids who need it, and everybody wakes up.
Hear the Avalon Quartet Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. in the Virginia Tech Squires Recital Salon.