When a cheeky violist dressed in torn jeans challenges three nattily attired string players, you know there’s another viola joke afoot.
It’s also a new CD cover, “Dress Code,” the Altius Quartet’s first recording, and the guys have chosen to have a little fun.
“It’s our debut album,” said cellist Zack Reaves. “‘Dress Code’ was released in April.”
The album has an unusual format, interspersing arrangements of music by Led Zeppelin, Ben E. King and William Bolcom’s “Three Rags,” between separated movements of Haydn’s Quartet in C Major, Op 76, the “Emperor,” that’s on Thursday’s program.
“And we just released our second CD,” Reaves said, “Shostakovich String Quartets Nos. 7, 8 and 9.”
You’ll hear the Altius Quartet perform one of the Shostakovich quartets at the opening recital of the Artist in Residence series at 7 p.m. Thursday in Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College.
“We’re looking forward to returning to Durango,” Reaves said. “We had such a wonderful time there three years ago teaching at Music in the Mountains.”
In 2015, music lovers will remember that the Altius Quartet was the ensemble in residence for two weeks at the Conservatory. Altius gave several concerts at the college, in town and in Bayfield. I followed their progress and noted how Altius brought energy and innovation to the world of string quartets (Herald, July 15, 2014).
“Young in chronological age,” I wrote then, the Quartet consists of 20- and 30-somethings: Violinist Joshua Ulrich, at 35 now, is the old man in the group. Violinist Andrew Giordano and violist Andrew Krimm have both turned 30. And now at 29, cellist Reaves continues to be the younger brother. Have pity.
Altius coalesced in 2011 when all four musicians were graduate students at the Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“We may have had different goals when we entered the program,” Giordano said in 2015. “I wanted to have an orchestral career, for example. But we really enjoyed playing together, and all of us got sold on chamber music. The school created the first graduate chamber ensemble-in-residence for us.”
A mere six years later, Altius has developed a demanding touring schedule, performed at Carnegie Hall, Cincinnati and Aspen’s Chamber Music Festivals, secured professional management with Classics Alive Artists, and won first prize at both the Coltman Competition in Austin, Texas, and the Plowman Competition in Columbia, Missouri.
“We’re now in our seventh season as an ensemble,” Reaves said. “Our big repertoire project for the year is to perform the complete Mendelssohn Quartets over two days sometime in the spring of 2018.”
If you attend the FLC recital next Thursday, you’ll hear part of that massive project: Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80. It will close a big recital program.
“It’s really a ‘greatest hits of the string quartet rep,’” M. Brent Williams, FLC professor of strings said in a separate interview.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.