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ARTICLE: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson rejoins Poland’s Apollon Musagète Quartet after scuttled 2020 tour

San Diego Union-Tribune

Beth Wood

October 2, 2022

 

Garrick Ohlsson performs all over the world, but the acclaimed San Francisco-based pianist has a special affinity for Poland.

In 1970, he became the first American to win the prestigious International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. No American has won since. The triumph launched the pianist’s successful, globe-hopping career.

In 2018, Ohlsson met the Apollon Musagète Quartet at a music festival in Warsaw. The Vienna-based string musicians are from Poland. In 2020, the quartet and pianist — who both enjoy celebrity status in the Eastern European nation — began a joint tour in Poland that was quickly scuttled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Two years later, the Apollon Musagète Quartet asked to feature Ohlsson on its U.S. tour, which stops SaturdayOct. 8 at the La Jolla Music Society’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall.

 

What does Ohlsson — who has played with such prestigious quartets as Cleveland, Emerson and Takacs – look for in a group?

“First of all, the quality of playing of the individuals and the ensemble,” said the pianist, speaking from Oklahoma City, where he was playing that night with the philharmonic.

“I also look for the musical intensity and seriousness with which they work, and then their flair in performance. I felt that Apollon Musagète crossed the footlight. It is very exciting to make music with this wonderful group.”

Established in 2006, the quartet will perform movements here from Bach’s The Art of Fugue and Schubert’s String Quartet in B-flat Major. Ohlsson will join them to play Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor.

“I love the work and it ties in with the Bach piece,” Ohlsson said. “Shostakovich was preoccupied not only with Bach and counterpoint but also included a couple of fugues. There is a fugue in the second movement which is an extremely contrapuntally written piece with enormous emotional range.

“Shostakovich goes from the gloomiest to the most boisterous vulgarities. That’s typical of him. He runs a huge gamut of emotional and musical styles.”

 

Home sweet home

For a musician who spends much of his time touring, the pandemic restrictions forced Ohlsson into an unplanned and unwanted temporary retirement.

He performed professional streamed concerts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he teaches piano. But he had no physical audience for 15 months — a first in his in 50-year-plus career.

“It wasn’t easy although now that we’re over the lockdown, there were many things to like about it,” he said. “Being home for that long, I saw that I really liked being home. That was very sweet.

“My career was down to one virtual concert a month, but streaming was a lifesaver for me. Most performing artists are adrenalin junkies. We love the extra jolt that playing concerts gives you.”

Ohlsson’s streamed concerts were filmed entirely live, never edited.

“When you go to hear the San Diego Symphony,” he explained, with a chuckle, “if they start at 8 o’clock, they don’t stop after four minutes and say: ‘That wasn’t good, let’s try it again’.”

Another positive aspect of the pandemic restrictions was being home with his husband, historic preservationist Robert Guter.

“It turned out marvelously, I’m happy to say,” Ohlsson said. “I wasn’t really worried because we have been together for so long. We just passed our 39th year together, so we’re pretty boring!”

Wood is a freelance writer.

 

La Jolla Music Society: Apollon Musagète Quartet and Garrick Ohlsson

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Baker-Baum Concert Hall, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla

Tickets: $31-$75

Phone: (858) 459-3728

Online: theconrad.org