Aeolus String Quartet

Former graduate string quartet at UT has graduated to teaching and a bustling career

The Aeolus at work: (l-r) Nicholas Tavani, Rachel Shapiro, Alan Richardson, and Gregory Luce
The Aeolus at work: (l-r) Nicholas Tavani, Rachel Shapiro, Alan Richardson, and Gregory Luce
Courtesy of The Aeolus String Quartet

Music students are a lot like medieval apprentices. They learn a whole set of unspoken rules, traditions, and techniques that define the art – not things you can quickly pick up from a textbook or YouTube, but subtle principles gleaned through a long process of working with master musicians.

The Aeolus String Quartet spent two years as the Butler School of Music's first graduate string quartet in residence, during which its members apprenticed with the masterful Miró Quartet, UT's faculty string quartet in residence since 2007. Aeolus first violinist Nicholas Tavani described the period as "formative" for the quartet, developing such hard-to-pinpoint skills as how to achieve balance in the ensemble, how to communicate with one another during a performance, and nitpicky details like how to release the ends of notes in sync. "The Miró Quartet really whipped us into shape!"

Tavani and Aeolus members Rachel Shapiro, violin; Gregory Luce, viola; and Alan Richardson, cello, are definitely in shape now, playing with buzzing energy and incisiveness. This year, they balance a bustling performance schedule – the Smithsonian, Lincoln Center – with a new residency at the shiny Juilliard School of Music in New York. And the tables have turned; now Aeolus' members are coaching undergraduate chamber groups and passing the skills they've cultivated down the line.

Aeolus returns to Austin this week for Salon Concerts' 2013-14 season with a heavy-hitting program including Ravel's evocative String Quartet. Tavani describes the composer as "a watchmaker" who meticulously crafts his music, even though the result sounds gestural and whimsical. "There's not a note out of place in that entire quartet!" he exclaims. In contrast stands Amy Beach's 1907 Piano Quintet, which beams with lush harmonies and romantic melodies reminiscent of Brahms. A New Hampshire native, the self-taught Beach became one of the first professionally successful female composers, though her work was less well-known and performed in her lifetime. It's a fitting work for Salon Concerts since Artistic Director Kathryn Mishell is a composer herself and producer/host of KMFA's Into the Light, which champions female composers.

This is an exciting moment for the musicians of Aeolus, shedding their roles as students and entering the realm of masters while concertizing like crazy. But they still love to visit Austin, where they can see familiar faces in the audience and visit with some of their mentors. And Tavani confides, "We miss the food there a lot. It's tacos once a day when we're back."

The Aeolus Quartet will perform Sunday, Nov. 24, 4:30pm; and Monday, Nov. 25, 7pm, at locations to be announced, as part of Salon Concerts' 2013-14 season. For more information, visit

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