The Big Picture:

Winter Term at the Smithsonian


Getting to play priceless Stradivarius instruments wasn't the impetus behind the Winter Term project that took the student members of the Polaris String Quartet to Washington, D.C., in January, but it was a perq the four young musicians will long remember. (From the left: senior Kurt Johnson, violin; junior Esther Noh, violin; senior Heather Vorwerck, cello; and junior Ellen Butters, viola.)

Their project was an educational-outreach collaboration between the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society and the Oberlin Conservatory. The quartet members conducted music-education workshops for more than 1000 elementary, middle, and high-school students in the D.C. area. The logic of a collaboration that built on the strengths of Oberlin's intensive string quartet projects, long a feature of Winter Term, seemed self evident, says Kenneth Slowick, artistic director of the Chamber Music Society. The two institutions have enjoyed a close relationship for many years says Slowick, who is also artistic director of Oberlin's Baroque Performance Institute, noting that they are "two of the most important American centers for historical performance practice. . . ."

The crowning glory of the quartet's week-long stay were two concerts held in the Smithsonian's Hall of Musical Instruments. The Quartet performed on the four spectacular instruments of the Smithsonian's Herbert R. Axelrod Stradivarius Quartet-first for the National Board of the American History Museum and then for an audience of nearly 200 Oberlin alumni.