In more than half dozen chamber music concerts this summer, the Princeton area has an opportunity to hear a spectrum of ensembles. The purveyors of this bounty are Princeton University Summer Concerts (four concerts, overwhelmingly classical, each with a different ensemble in Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton campus), the Princeton Festival (two concerts: one jazz, one classical at the Lawrenceville School); Westminster Choir College of Rider University (two concerts: one jazz, one early music in Westminster’s Bristol Chapel in Princeton), and Grounds for Sculpture (a folk-oriented performance by the Susquehanna Ensemble, with the somewhat unusual instrumentation of flute, oboe, viola, and cello, in Hamilton.)
Violinist Peter Winograd stands out by appearing in two concerts. On Tuesday, June 20, he plays with the American String Quartet, his regular chamber music ensemble, under the auspices of the Princeton University Summer Concerts in Richardson Auditorium. And on Sunday, July 2, he appears for the first time with Concordia Chamber Players, in an event sponsored by the Princeton Festival in the Lawrenceville School’s Kirby Arts Center.
The American String Quartet concert, which includes music by Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms, is the most musically conservative of the four events sponsored by the Princeton Summer Concerts. Members of the quartet, besides Winograd, are Laurie Carney, violin; Daniel Avshalomov, viola; and Wolfram Koessel, cello. “We offered them several programs, including Shostakovich and Bartok, and this was what they chose,” Winograd says, in a telephone interview from his West Nyack, New York, home.
During this centenary year of Shostakovich’s birth, an anniversary marked in general by restraint, a Shostakovich quartet appears in the Borealis Quartet program of the Princeton Summer series on Thursday, July 6, and also in the Princeton Festival’s Concordia Chamber Players’ (Lawrenceville School) program on Sunday, July 2. The Lawrenceville program also includes works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Schubert.
Additional performers in what Winograd calls the “mix and match” Concordia ensemble are his wife Catarina Szepes, violin; Daniel Pannier, viola; Mark Kosower, cello; Michelle Djokic, cello; and Blair McMillen, piano. Cellist Djokic, drawing on her web of connections in the New York-Philadelphia chamber music corridor, founded the loosely-organized Concordia Chamber Players in 1997. The home base of the group is New Hope’s acoustically attractive 500-seat Stephen Buck Theater.
Since Winograd appears both with his regular quartet in Princeton and with the ad hoc group in Lawrenceville, we asked him about the difference between playing in an established ensemble and playing on a mix and match basis. “There are a bunch of us who play in formed chamber groups who do this type of playing, and we have the same reactions. It’s easier for something to come together when it’s your own group. You can easily achieve polish and unanimity of purpose. It can be exciting to strive for highest level of music in a formed group. But when we play with other experienced players who know the repertoire well, there’s an incredible spontaneity and excitement about putting a piece together in a matter of days, rather than months. It’s the best of both worlds when you can participate in both kinds of groups.”
There is some unpredictability, however, to playing outside a musician’s regular ensemble. “When someone asks you to play with a mix and match group, you never know what type of dynamic there will be,” Winograd says. “You may see eye to eye about a particular piece and disagree a lot about another. People may be arguing the entire time about tempo. Sometimes they don’t take to each others’ musical personality. When players differ musically, there’s tension because one style goes against the other, and it’s difficult to achieve homogeneity or unanimity. If someone who plays Mozart very romantically is paired with someone who sees it strictly classically, one is not going to convince the other in two rehearsals.” There is a practical upside, though, to combining oil and water attitudes in a mix and match group. “Often,” Winograd says, “there’s not enough time to develop tensions.”
Having been married to fellow Lawrenceville performer Catarina Szepes for 10 years, Winograd has had ample opportunity to develop tensions with her musical style. But mutual stress is not one of the pair’s activities. “For some couples, playing together is a slippery slope,” Winograd says. “You have to criticize and disagree.” No problem here. “We met at a chamber music festival in Taos, New Mexico, in the ‘90s, and since then we’ve looked for opportunities to play together. We’ve always kept our sense of humor, and enjoyed collaborating. It brings out the best in both of us.”
Born in Berlin, Szepes trained at the Karlsruhe Hochschule for Music before coming to the United States. Besides the Taos music festival, she has participated in Vermont’s Marlboro Festival.
Winograd was born into a musical family in New York City in 1960 and began his musical studies with his parents. His father, Arthur Winograd, is the founding cellist of the Juilliard Quartet. His mother, who died in the late 1980s, was a professional pianist. His older sister is a psychotherapist in Chatham. “She started piano but didn’t take to it,” Winograd says. “Even so, because of her early background, when she comes to concerts she gets it. That’s what you want in a concertgoer.” Winograd gave his first solo public performance at age 11, and at 17 was accepted as a scholarship student by Juilliard’s noteworthy pedagogue, Dorothy DeLay.
Winograd’s father, now retired, lives in Lincoln Park. “I’ve picked him up and brought him to concerts when we played in Princeton,” son Peter says. “He loves to go over pieces after the concert and discuss musical details.”
He says he “was not conscious that growing up in a musical family was unusual. But I was conscious that I was doing a lot of things that other kids on the block were not doing. I played piano trios with my parents from the time I could handle the violin parts. I must have been about 10. My father was conductor of the Hartford Orchestra and would have members of the orchestra come to our house and play. There were big parties. At the end of the playing, there was lots of food. Those weekends were just part of life for me. I knew that other people were not interested in classical music.”
In 1990, the same year he became a member of the Manhattan School of Music faculty, Winograd became a member of the American Quartet. Founded in 1974, when its original members were students at Juilliard, its personnel studied with members of the Juilliard Quartet. The Quartet has been in residence at the Aspen Music Festival since 1974 and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York since 1984. Over a period of four years beginning in 2001, they brought to Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium a series of concerts called “4-5-6,” which presented, in addition to selected string quartets, the complete quintets and sextets of Mozart and Brahms.
Two of the current American Quartet musicians, violinist Laurie Carney and violist Daniel Avshalomov, are original members of the ensemble. The original cellist left in 2002. Current cellist Wolfram Koessel came on board earlier this year. Winograd expects that the present configuration of personnel will be stable.
“Since a quartet has only has four members, changing one player has a dramatic effect on the group.” Winograd says. The quartet approaches making a personnel change with caution. Winograd, whose tenure at the American has encompassed two changes, describes the process of choosing a new player. “We get the names of about 10 people and tell them the repertoire we want to play. Then we read through the pieces. The first time, we just play and talk. Then we call back some of the people, play different repertoire, and go through a rehearsal process. When we think that everything is working, we make an offer.”
Winograd’s first lessons outside his home were in the teaching tradition developed by the Japanese pedagogue, Shinichi Suzuki. He started Suzuki violin at age four and remained with the method, which stresses group instruction and finesses the need to learn to read music, for three years.
Winograd is enthusiastic about the Suzuki method as an avenue to violin teaching for young children. “It’s a great way for young children to become comfortable holding the instrument and learning the basic motions. If they start at 10, they can’t hold the violin. At four, they can do anything.”
The Winograds have seen to it that their children, seven-year-old Sophia and five-year-old Nicholas, have been exposed to Suzuki music instruction. Sophia studies violin; Nicholas, cello. “Studying music is a lot of fun when it’s done right,” Winograd says. “The kids come to American Quartet concerts all the time. They’re good listeners. They can sit through an entire program.”
In the graying audiences for chamber music, children of that age stand out. But, like their father, they may not realize that their family activities are out of the ordinary.
Although Winograd and his wife live outside New York City, they are within easy reach of Manhattan. Their West Nyack home is 30 minutes from the Manhattan School of Music, where he teaches, and 40 minutes from Lincoln Center. That’s handy for a musical family. The Winograd children are both about to perform with their Suzuki classes in Manhattan. With Suzuki’s philosophy confirming their parents’ habitual activities, playing in public may be of no particular significance in their daily lives.