String quartet brings genre-blurring show to Maryland Theatre

March 07, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Carpe Diem String Quartet  from left, violinist John Ewing, violinist Charles Wetherbee, viola player Korine Fujiwara and cellist Kristin Ostling  will play a concert Narch 15 in Hagerstown featuring classical music, rock, jazz, dance music and more.
Submitted photo

When it comes to a certain string quartet known as Carpe Diem, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

Sure, the musicians play violins and cellos and can fill a concert hall with the sounds of Beethoven and Mendelssohn.

But they might also throw in a few tunes from Pink Floyd and “The Simpsons.”

And while they don’t mind performing in formal attire, don’t be surprised to see them barefoot and in blue jeans.

What else would you expect from a group known for blurring the lines of music genres?

“We’re all over the map,” said Carpe Diem viola player Korine Fujiwara in describing the group’s repertoire.

“Eclectic. Things that we enjoy. Musical tapas. Outside the box. It defies description. It defies categorization,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s a little of this, a little of that. Other times, it’s a lot of this and a lot of that. We really want to explore all types of music.”

The Columbus, Ohio-based quartet will bring its innovative style of music to The Maryland Theatre on Thursday, March 15, as part of the Hagerstown Community Concert Association’s 2011-12 season.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Carpe Diem is comprised of violist Fujiwara, violinists Charles Wetherbee and John Ewing and cellist Kristin Ostling.

“Korine, John and I all met in Columbus while working for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra,” Wetherbee said. “Korine and I started playing chamber music in the Mid-America Chamber Festival held each year in Delaware, Ohio. We realized that we had good chemistry and that we loved playing quartet music. So we began working together more and more regularly. Carpe Diem just evolved naturally from this.”

The group gave its first concert in early 2005, he said.

Ostling, who played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, came onboard later, replacing an original member.

Wetherbee said the four members decided early on “to perform the music that we love and the music that interests us. If we enjoy listening to it, we enjoy playing it.”

Wetherbee said the group doesn’t want to be pegged to a particular musical style.

“Our music is informed from our training in the classics. But it is continually evolving as we find new composers that speak to us. We also continue to add new music that we arrange or write,” he said. “We enjoy the challenge of continually exploring and trying new things.”

Maybe that’s why their concert selections often catch audiences off guard. Mixed in with Shostakovich you might hear rock, jazz, folk, even a tango or two.

“If music is played well and with all the intensity and honesty that we can bring to it, then surprise isn’t really what we are after, but rather the opening of doors that previously were shut,” Wetherbee noted.

“We put our hearts, minds, souls into every piece we play, no matter who wrote it, no matter when it was written,” Fujiwara said. “We rehearse all of it, we talk about all of it, we argue about some of it. We take it all seriously. But then we have a great time playing it on stage. All that smiling? Yes, it is true. We are having a blast.”

While the four musicians enjoy what they’re doing, they also appreciate the recognition Carpe Diem has increasingly received.

An album of works by Russian composer Sergei Taneyev was nominated for four Grammy Awards in 2009 — Best Classical Album, Best Chamber Music Performance, Best New Artist and Best Engineered Album-Classical.

The quartet is the resident ensemble for Columbus (Ohio) Dance Theater and their joint project, “The String Machine,” was aired by WOSU-PBS television through 2007-2008 and was nominated for an Emmy Award.

“Most recently, we were awarded a grant from PNC Arts Live,” Wetherbee said. “We were the only quartet in America chosen for this award.”

Their increasing popularity has equated to more time on the road.

“This year has been especially busy with touring,” Wetherbee said. “We have been on the road nearly three out of four weeks. Some seasons it’s a little less than that and then we can get to recording more. Last year, we released three CDs but this year we will probably only get to one.”

Regardless of where they are, the members make a point to interact with the community.

While in Hagerstown, for instance, the Hagerstown Community Concert Association and Washington County Public Schools have arranged for more than 900 students to attend a Carpe Diem outreach program at The Maryland Theatre the morning of their evening performance.

“We have always felt that our community outreach and engagement is crucial to our mission as a string quartet,” Fujiwara said. “We play free concerts in nursing facilities, Alzheimer’s facilities, facilities with a homebound population that cannot get out to a concert. We feel that music is a healing art and we have seen how patients respond to our programs.”

Fujiwara said the group also has played free concerts for juvenile detention centers, Head Start programs and students in grades K-12.

“We feel it’s important to do all of it in the spirit of paying it forward,” she said.

Fujiwara said string quartets and chamber music often have the reputation of “being some kind of a standoffish experience — where you have to behave a in certain manner, clap at certain times, dress a certain way. We try to cross that line, break those boundaries.

“People are quick to say they don’t like something, even if they have never experienced it before in their lives. We try to bring chamber music to them in a way that seems relevant and play the music that they know, the music we think they might enjoy. If they take the time to listen a little longer, they might come away from the experience loving chamber music — loving quartet music.”

“If we bring it to them right where they are living,” she added, “or where they go to school or when they are stuck in a very dark period of their lives, we have a chance to make a change in their lives. Small, yes, but positive.”

And while it can be a rewarding experience for the audience, it’s also rewarding to the musicians.

“Sometimes, the looks on the faces, the reaction of either joy, thankfulness or often times shock that we came and did something for them, for free — this is very rewarding,” Fujiwara said.

Fujiwara said the audience at the upcoming Hagerstown concert can expect a great mix of music — “some originals, some big standards, some with a twist. There is something on this program for everyone. We plan to send them all home happy.”

If you go ...       

WHAT: Carpe Diem String Quartet

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $25; $3 students. Season tickets $50. Tickets will be sold at the door.

CONTACT: Call 301-790-0980 or go to

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