Violinist finds playing in Quartet freeing

Sana Ullah/The Beacon

By: Kathy Paz/Staff Writer

Sana Ullah/The Beacon

For the last seven years, the University has housed a group that has received critical acclaim and praise from countries around the world for their intelligence, approach, playing and style. The Amernet String Quartet, the University’s Ensemble-in-Residence, was created two decades ago by students at the Juilliard School. Since its start, the group has earned much recognition and prestige from the music community. Misha Vitenson, one of the two violinists in the Quartet, is a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

His exposure to the world of classical music came at an early age.“I started playing the violin when I was about six years old. For some reason, I remember my first lesson, the very first lesson –nothing afterwards as much,” said Vitenson. “I would practice with my mom, who is also a violinist and happens to be my father’s student; My father is a violinist, too. I was playing with my father for a while. Then, when I was 11 or 12, I started studying with other people.”

Vitenson immigrated to Israel in 1990 and continued his studies under Chaim Taub. During his time in Israel, he received multiple awards. He has received America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarships and the Braun Zingel Award, to name a few.
Vitenson’s studies eventually brought him to Florida, where he completed the first part of his higher education at a conservatory in Boca Raton and earned his bachelor’s degree. “The conservatory used to be called Harid Conservatory and then it became Lynn University. After that I got my master’s degree from Juilliard.

During my second year there, I studied with the former first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, Joel Smirnoff, who is now the president of the Cleveland Institute of Music,” said Vitenson. Vitenson joined Amernet String Quartet in 2002. He is accompanied by violinist Marcia Littley, cellist Jason Calloway and Michael Klotz, the groups’ viola player.

“I’m very happy to be a part of the Quartet. I would say it’s probably the most gratifying thing to do as far as repertoire is concerned,” described Vitenson.
Playing in a group as opposed to playing solo carries its own set of perks.

“In a quartet, you have a lot more liberty. You get to play with other people as well, so it’s not always just a quartet. Although there are many great conductors around the world, it’s kind of nice not to have a conductor,” said Vitenson. As far as playing music goes, Vitenson’s career has allowed him to explore a wide ranged repertoire. But there is a particular style that has left an impression on him more than all others.
“As far as repertoire preference, I suppose that maybe I’m inclined to be impacted by the romantic quartet repertoire. At the same time, Mozart is a great composer for a quartet. That’s one of the reasons why quartets are so unique–from any period, you have a lot of great repertoire,” said Vitenson.

This year, the Honors College at the University launched a new, upper division course that is centered around the Amernet String Quartet. It is an interactive course that combines lecture, discussion and performance. It is taught by Vitenson and his colleagues in the Quartet.
“Basically, we look at historical things from certain periods and we tie them to specific composers. We talk about certain events in the composers’ lives. We also look at the social atmosphere of these times. We’re letting the students know about all kinds of things that went on in the world and we’re doing it through the String Quartet’s repertoire,” he explained.

The String Quartet’s next performance will be on Dec. 3 as a part of the University’s New Music Ensemble at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach during Art Basel.

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