[ Alumni General Interviews ]
How Norfolk Chamber Music Festival
Helped Us Win an Award
The Rolston String Quartet (Norfolk ’16) credits attending the Norfolk Festival’s Chamber Music Session with helping them win the 2016 Banff International String Quartet competition. Cellist Jonathan Lo explains why.
Jonathan Lo, cellist in the award-winning Rolston String Quartet, can point directly to one reason he’s glad the quartet attended Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in 2016, a month before they competed in the Banff International String Quartet Competition. They won — and, attending Norfolk to prepare, he says, is part of the reason why.
“It was absolutely instrumental,” he says. “To work with the Brentano, Emerson String Quartet and all the others that year, and to be able to perform our competition repertoire as much as possible—for Norfolk to really support that, I guess our goals in prepping as well as possible coupled with the coaching we had absolutely played an integral part to help us get to a favorable outcome. Without it I think things could have turned out very very differently.”
And what a difference that win has made to this young quartet. Formed in the summer of 2013, the quartet was practicing in Toronto when it was offered a residency at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. “That changed a lot of things,” Lo says. “When we moved to Houston, we could focus on being just a quartet — prepping for international competitions and finding ways to get our name out there, trying to make something, fighting tooth and nail.”
Lo knew about Norfolk because he had attended as an individual Fellow in 2012. “I had a great time there,” he says. “Really the main attractions then and now are the faculty they have. It’s really top notch, especially as a quartet. We really wanted to work with other professional quartets to pick their brains, in particular the Brentano, which is a close mentor of ours.”
So the quartet applied to attend the summer of 2016 as part of their competition prep. “The camaraderie between the fellows and the faculty and staff — also the community and audiences — really were first rate,” Lo says. “There are very few venues like the music shed. It’s always a very interesting venue to play in.”
Since the Banff win, the Rolston has toured all over the world and, this year has a string quartet fellowship at Yale, which includes additional study with the Brentano String Quartet. “We went from having sporadic concerts here and there to adjusting to being on tour for several weeks at a time and performing all over the world,” Lo says of their post-award lives. “This was a crash course in professional string quartet life.”
Like many cellists, Lo started his string playing life on the violin. He was four and, recalls the group violin classes this way: “As far as I can remember, I didn’t enjoy those classes one bit. I thought the sound of the violin was too high pitched, too shrill.” His parents asked the teacher for other options, and she pointed to cello. “I switched,” and that, as they say, was that. “There is something quite captivating about its range and the variety of its tonal palette and timbre,” Lo says. “There’s something very alluring about the sound. And the versatility is quite gratifying. You can cover high and low registers and everything in between.”
By Janet Reynolds
Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.