Spirituality in the strings
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Spirituality in the strings

 The Colorado String Quartet, actually based in Bergen County and New York, draws the line at working on the High Holidays. Half of the all-women group — Julie Rosenfeld of Teaneck and Diane Chaplin of Englewood — is Jewish.

And they got the name, said Rosenberg, because the group’s founder, violinist Lydia Redding, went to school at the University of Colorado (she now lives in Teaneck).

Rosenfeld, who grew up near Los Angeles, "never had a bat mitzvah, because I was studying violin way too hard," but did perform a few times at her family’s synagogue. These days, she said, "my spirituality is coming from Beethoven."

As a "history buff," however, she found much to enjoy when the quartet performed in Tel Aviv two years ago, her first trip to Israel. "I grew up in L.A. — there was nothing historic [there] ever."

Chaplin also grew up in Los Angeles and the two knew each other casually as high school musicians there. Chaplin’s parents were professional musicians, she said, her mother Jewish, her father not. Although her mother made latkes and matzoh brei, the only holidays marked in their home were Christmas and Easter, though not in a religious way. She became interested in Judaism after she started dating her boyfriend, Howard Patterson of Portland, Ore., one of the Flying Karamazov Brothers and active in Portland’s Reconstructionist synagogue. She started teaching herself Hebrew and began attending Maywood’s Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County.

Within a year, Chaplin was chanting her first Torah portion. She learned the skill partly because, as a musician, she couldn’t look at the text and not "pay attention to the music. I had to know how to read the markings." She’s now the temple’s ritual director, puts out its newsletter and "if I’m in town and I’m not working, I go to Shabbat services."

The quartet tours a lot and is also quartet-in-residence at Bard College in upstate New York, giving private lessons, coaching chamber ensembles, and teaching a "kind of live music appreciation class — no records, just us," said Rosenfeld. It’s also where they’re recording the five quartets Beethoven wrote between 18’3 and his death in 18’7; by the group’s ‘5th anniversary in ‘008, they plan to have recorded all 16 Beethoven quartets.
The group played all those quartets in Berlin several years ago, becoming the first female quartet to have performed the cycle in both Europe and North America. In many places, the ability of women to play Beethoven is still an open question, said Rosenfeld. The Berlin engagement was part of a broader event on "Beethoven: Mannlich (male) oder Weiblich (female)?" A music presenter in Marrakesh who is also fascinated with this question may bring them to play the cycle there a year from now.

Rosenfeld sounded pained when discussing some people’s inability to get past the femaleness of the quartet. She said some reviewers not only still discuss what the four women wear at their performances, but sometimes discuss that even before talking about their music or give the clothing more coverage. "I just want you to listen with your eyes closed." 

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