Quite a Catch: Fontana snags Artemis Quartet for rare return

Those on the hunt for world-renowned music should visit the Artemis Quartet at Kalamazoo College’s Stetson Chapel.

The Berlin-based string quartet will perform pieces by Bartok, Beethoven and Schumann as part of the Fontana Chamber Arts concert series.

“There’s a certain level of musicality of nuance and just a beauty that you can walk away with,” said David Baldwin, executive and artistic director of Fontana. “It’s a very accessible program and a good night out.”

Baldwin said the quartet’s last visit here was in 2007.

“They don’t do as much touring in America, and when they do, there are limited dates,” he said. “They’re a very European-based group.”

The quartet’s return engagement to Kalamazoo comes after the loss of one of its original members, violist Friedemann Weigle, who took his own life in 2015 following a long battle with bipolar depression. His death cast uncertainty over the future of the quartet.

One year later, Anthea Kreston, a cellist and Chicago native, was selected to fill the space left by Weigle.

The quartet was formed in 1989 at the University of Music Lübeck and is counted among the foremost worldwide quartets performing today. They are known for their performances of the Beethoven string quartets and have performed at all the great musical centers and international festivals in Europe, the United States, Asia, South America and Australia.

According to a review of the quartet published in The Guardian, "(T)hey play with admirable freshness and lucidity, if a certain emotional cool. The Artemis performance was a constant reminder of its innovative force, from the melancholy ceremonials of the opening fugue to the ambiguities of the finale. The central set of variations, which, even after repeated hearings, takes you endlessly by surprise, was superbly controlled and articulate.”

Baldwin said getting the group back was quite a coup, but he was finally able to make it happen by persistently working with their agents. He thinks it helps that Fontana concerts are scheduled on Fridays or Saturdays and that his organization also brings in groups such as the Emerson or Juilliard string quartets.

However, he does not limit the schedule to one type of music.

“One of the nice things about my job is that I have a free reign,” Baldwin said. "I can do jazz, classical, quartets or vocal recitals. I make it as diverse as possible in order to attract audiences.”

As an example, he cited a performance that paired banjo player Bela Fleck with the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet at Chenery Auditorium.

Baldwin said Stetson was selected as the venue for the Artemis Quartet because of its aesthetics and acoustics. One of the challenges his organization has had with Stetson is patrons’ perceptions that there’s a lack of parking and direct walkways to get there.

“I think it’s a beautiful venue. We don’t like to use it in the winter because some of our patrons find it treacherous walking in the snow,” he said. “One of the reasons we use venues like this is that students can pay $5 for a Student Rush ticket and walk there.

“We make it extremely affordable and market directly to them. That’s probably a different crowd too, but it’s incredibly important to all of us.”

Artemis Quartet
Stetson Chapel
1200 Academy St., Kalamazoo
April 7, 7:30 p.m., $38