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No Strings Attached

Among its annual tours to locations such as Europe, South America and Australia, the Ciompi Quartet can be found in places a little closer to home, including undergraduate dorms.

Started about 40 years ago by Giorgio Ciompi, a highly acclaimed violinist and former faculty member of Duke's music department, the Ciompi Quartet performs music nationally and internationally. The group consists of four professors of the practice and serves as Duke's on-campus string quartet.

Quartet member Hsiao-mei Ku said traveling is one of her favorite things about the quartet is that it gives her the opportunity to collaborate with different artists from many countries to keep the quartet's style fresh.

The experience of touring and performing in a quartet is a unique experience for each of its members. With only four people in the group, and no conductor, they have to be more imaginative and learn to communicate nonverbally through music.

Eric Pritchard, one of the two violinists in the group, likened the quartet to a family, complete with close-knit relationships as well as occasional conflicts.

"We spend a great deal of time together and we're working for a common purpose," Pritchard said. "However, because disagreements inevitably come up, it's difficult to remember our common goals."

He added, however, that as a family, they get to know each other well and learn the "musical language" of the other members.

Ku, the other violinist of the group, also said that being in a quartet teaches musicians "how to talk and listen through music."

In addition to this musical communication, Ciompi Quartet members cite other elements that make the experience unique and enjoyable.

Pritchard enjoys the opportunity to design a musical program that reflects the group's musical values. Jonathan Bagg, the quartet's viola player, likes the flexibility and versatility of the group as well as the chance to play pieces in styles ranging from classical to contemporary. Fred Raimi, the cellist of the group, simply said that "playing music" was his favorite part.

Ciompi Quartet members play unique roles on campus by not only intensively performing and touring, but also teaching students to perform with their respective instruments. Kathy Silbiger, program director of Duke's Institute of the Arts, said that it is rare for universities to have an on-campus quartet because of the expensive cost.

All of the members use their experience to educate their students, and Ku commented that by performing in a quartet with also seek to be a significant part of the whole Duke community. Some of the members have served as faculty-in-residence, and the group has also performed free concerts in dorms.

"Whether it's inside the University community or outside the University community," Pritchard said, "we're always interested in bringing our music to people who have not experienced it before."

Bagg remarked that the quartet wants to connect and interest people as well as "stay on the cutting edge of what it means to be a string quartet."

The influence and renown of the Ciompi Quartet are not limited to the Duke community. Those at Duke and other places who have heard them perform express an admiration for the group.

Among these is John Lambert, a former classical music reviewer for Spectator Magazine who first heard the Ciompi Quartet in the 1960s as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He praised the quartet for its strong ability to communicate with each other, resulting in high-quality performances.

"My 25 years as a critic would have been infinitely poorer had not this wonderful ensemble been literally in my backyard," he said.


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