Argus Quartet a treat for chamber music lovers _lowres

Photo provided by the Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival -- The Argus Quartet will perform and give classes while they're in New Orleans. From left, Clara Kim, violin; Diana Wade, viola; Jason Issokson, violin; and Joann Whang, cello.

Buoyed by the success of their annual chamber music extravaganza, held every May for the past four years, the organizers of the Birdfoot Festival have gone a step further.

A new weeklong residency program opens this weekend, featuring Yale University’s Argus Quartet, in a series of concerts and special events from Nov. 8-13.

Founded in summer 2013, the quartet will stage six events, three of which are free and open to the public.

Their visit will conclude with paid-admission concerts at Café Istanbul and the Marigny Opera House.

For Birdfoot artistic director and violinist Jenna Sherry, the residency concept was “a very natural extension of the goals of the festival,” which she described as twofold.

“No. 1 is that having these residencies gives us more chances throughout the year to bring this great chamber music into the community and help more people discover how wonderful and how exciting it is.”

The second goal, Sherry said, “is to have these residencies serve as an incubator to help artists come together, share their ideas, and collaborate and regenerate in terms of ideas and creativity.”

Sherry also noted that this residency will bring in, for the first time in the organization’s history, a “pre-formed ensemble.”

During the Birdfoot Festivals held so far, ensembles were formed from among the individual musicians participating in the festivals.

The Argus Quartet will be premiering new compositions by a rising young composer and percussionist, Eric Guinivan, who is also coming in for the event.

“It’s a real honor and privilege for musicians to get to work with living composers,” Sherry said. “With so much of the music we play, that’s not possible. But with a living composer, the musicians get to have conversations with him and ask questions. So it’s really exciting for us and for the composer as well.”

Consisting of Clara Kim and Jason Issokson, on violins; Diana Wade, on viola; and Joann Whang, on cello; the Argus Quartet customarily presents a roughly equal mix of classical and more contemporary works at their concerts.

The four artists in the quartet came together in Los Angeles, having known and performed with each other on previous occasions. In the short span of their existence, they have performed nationwide and internationally in prestigious venues — including Carnegie Hall — and they have won several competitions.

Kim, who participated in the first Birdfoot Festival in 2012 and returned in May, said, “I really love the artistic vision that Jenna has. The audiences in New Orleans are very appreciative and the culture is just very invigorating for me as a musician. I’m very happy to be able to bring the quartet there.”

The major pieces they will be performing are Bela Bartok’s Fourth Quartet and Guinivan’s String Quartet No. 1, plus a number of shorter pieces, Kim said.

“The Guinivan piece is the first one we commissioned as a quartet,” Kim said. “It was actually inspired by Bartok’s Fourth Quartet, so that’s why we chose to program those two as our pillar pieces.”

Kim also noted that they asked Guinivan to write a shorter piece that they can workshop throughout the residency and premiere during one of the concerts here.

Other pieces to be performed at various times during the residency will be the last movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Viola Quintet, with Sherry joining them on violin, plus three short movements composed by Gabriela Frank from her string quintet, “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout.” Also on the schedule is Andrew Norman’s “Different Strokes” and Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music.”

Guinivan will join the quartet onstage playing percussion for “Clapping Music” during the closing concert at the Marigny Opera House on Nov. 13.