Playing in a string quartet means taking “a deep dive” into all the music the Rolston String Quartet studies and performs, said Jeffrey Dyrda, a violinist in the group. On Sunday afternoon, the Rolston Quartet plunged into a performance of works by Beethoven, Debussy and Tchaikovsky in Sprague Memorial Hall’s Morse Recital Hall.

The performance marked the first individual recital in New Haven for Dyrda and his colleagues violinist Luri Lee, violist Hezekiah Leung and cellist Jonathan Lo. The Canadian string quartet came to Yale this fall through the School of Music’s Quartet-in-Residence fellowship, a one- or two-year program that gives a notable young quartet the opportunity to work with the world-renowned Brentano String Quartet, YSM’s Faculty Quartet-in-Residence, and to perform and teach music in New Haven.

“I hope that [the Rolston Quartet’s] time at the Yale School of Music will continue to nurture their imagination and provide them a fertile soil to deepen their already mature and inspired playing,” said Brentano String Quartet cellist Nina Lee. “I am positive that the Yale community will embrace Luri, Jeff, Hez and Jonathan as warmly as I have.”

Sunday’s recital offered the Yale community the chance to welcome the Rolston Quartet as enthusiastically as Lee expected. Though only about a third of the 680-seat recital hall was filled, the audience gave the Rolston Quartet a standing ovation at the conclusion of the final work on the program, Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D major, which Dyrda described as a “resonant, excited, beautiful piece.”

The program opened with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 3 in D major. Jonathan Lo, the Rolston Quartet’s cellist, said the piece was “in some ways closer to Mozart than Beethoven’s later works,” which are usually characterized by a sense of weightiness. This musical proximity of the Beethoven quartet to the traditionally lighter-feeling music of Mozart was shown in Dyrda’s description of Beethoven’s piece as “refreshing.” Dyrda said the light character made this particular Beethoven quartet a suitable opening work for a recital program.

Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor followed the Beethoven quartet. Lo described 19th and 20th century French composer Debussy’s quartet as an attempt to break from the Germanic tradition of classical music that dominated the late 19th century. The result: a piece Dyrda said is “full of color and emotion.”

The Debussy quartet was a highlight for audience member Sarah Switzer ’19, a viola student in the undergraduate chamber music class for which the Rolston Quartet serves as teaching assistants. Switzer characterized the Debussy piece as “impressionistic,” adding that the Rolston Quartet’s Sunday recital was a chance for her to learn by listening.

“It’s really nice to hear them perform in their own context,” Switzer said. “It’s one thing to be coached by them in a separate setting, but you don’t really piece together everything they do outside of the time that you see them.”

Melvin Chen, deputy dean of YSM, said in a statement to the News that the Rolston Quartet’s engagement with undergraduate chamber music students is a crucial part of the group’s tenure at Yale. Chen said that the quartet has already integrated itself into the Yale community by helping teach the undergraduate chamber music course, working with students through New Music New Haven and performing in the “Yale in New York” series.

“We are confident that their time in the fellowship program will help them develop both artistically and professionally,” Chen said. “Individually, each is a great musician. More importantly, each is a great human being.”

The Rolston Quartet hopes to continue teaching and performing in the future after its time at Yale. According to Dyrda, the group’s long-term goal is to find a residency that would allow them to live and work in the same place for an extended period. But Lo said these kinds of jobs are “dying out,” and the group is also committed to expanding the audience of classical music by bringing its repertoire to listeners who are unfamiliar with the genre.

The Rolston Quartet is named after Canadian violinist Thomas Rolston.

Julia Carabatsos |