The four women who created the Lark String Quartet in 1985 were Kay Stern & Robin Mayforth on violin, Anna Kruger on viola and Laura Sewell on cello. It was Laura’s idea: returning home to live with her parents in Minnesota after graduation, she was trying to figure out what to do with her life. “I could have started working towards orchestral auditions, but I grew up with chamber music and felt a deep love and attraction towards it.” To form a chamber group was a leap of faith, though, as it was still relatively uncommon back in 1984. Even more unusually, Laura decided to establish the group as a not-for-profit with a board before she’d even finalized the personnel. Her parents and five other couples immediately supported Laura’s vision and offered to be the group’s board. “She was amazing. We had a board before we’d even really rehearsed as a quartet” (Anna).
Laura continued making magic by finding colleagues: “My first thought was that I wanted to play with Anna; we had just spent the summer together in Aspen as condo mates. We didn’t actually play together that summer in chamber music or even orchestra, but we heard each other practicing a lot and had become friends.” Returning to NYC where Anna was living to find their future violinists, Laura and Anna tried out several violinists. “It was obvious to choose Kay and Robin – they were stand partners at the time in the Juilliard Orchestra and were used to playing together” (Anna).
At around the same time, Laura applied to Self magazine’s “Fresh Start” competition for women undertaking new beginnings in their lives. She won, and the magazine took on the whole quartet. “We had complete makeovers, new clothes, press photos, and publicity.” Self also paid for the quartet’s New York debut: “It was incredible” (Laura).
For the young women who founded Lark, the opportunity to play in a full time quartet was too good to pass up. “I never imagined a career playing quartets, but I’m so grateful I said yes. There’s nothing like the experience of playing in such an intense environment” (Kay). “I remember lying in bed during my undergrad listening to the Juilliard Quartet playing Ravel and Debussy. I couldn’t think of anything more amazing to do with my viola” (Anna).
From these first experiences, the Lark Quartet took wing, beginning a whirlwind of activity that led to its quickly becoming hailed as one of the most promising young American string quartets.
Years in Lark: 1985-1989
Favorite memory: A five-week tour of China in 1988 where we played in places where Westerners had never even been seen! Gawking and staring by the Chinese wasn’t considered rude at all. At the end of every concert Robin would announce the encore in painstakingly practiced Chinese. Invariably the audience would burst into hysterical laughter!
Quartet Highlight: We discovered our name by accident (LARK) and found it funny when audience members would ask us: “Do you realize that your names actually spell Lark?”
Where she is now: Active chamber musician and substitute cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra in the Twin Cities
Years in Lark: 1985-1998
Favorite memory: Robin’s backpack was stolen in Mexico with everything in it including her passport. This was obviously a problem when they were at the airport trying to leave the country. Fortunately they were able to use a review of the concert with Lark’s picture as an id!
Memorable quote: “I remember lying on my bed listening to a recording of the Juilliard quartet playing Ravel and Debussy. I couldn’t think of anything more amazing to do as a violist.”
Quartet Highlight: Jennifer’s violin was caught on a curtain at a concert and when she bowed, the violin was flung across the stage, cracking it across the top. She finished the concert on someone else’s violin . They then drove 6 hours out of their way to borrow a violin from a doctor/ amateur violinist.
Where she is now: Associate Principal Viola of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and New Century Chamber Orchestra
Years in Lark: 1985-1993
Memorable quote: “I loved the role of the 2nd violin – I came to honor it”
Quartet highlight: Robin always loved being the driver of the Lark owned van (vw vanigan); a “tan color van we named Brick”. Her favorite time was when everyone was sleeping.
Favorite memory: The wipers went out on the van so Eva and Anna rigged up string to the wipers and pulled them by hand.
Where she is now: Concertmaster of Symphony Silicon Valley
Years in Lark: 1985-1988
Favorite memory: Performing concerts in China in our winter coats because none of the buildings were heated and it was February!
Memorable quote: “I look back at my time in the Lark Quartet with such a grateful feeling. It was a fantastic learning experience and a magical time. There’s so much power, wealth and depth in listening and having a say as a group.”
Where she is now: Concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra
Years in Lark: 1988-1996
Where is she now: Concertmaster of the American Composers Orchestra
Years in Lark: 1993-2001
Favorite memory: In Germany a presenter overheard us laughing, a lot, during rehearsal and called us”Das Lachen Quartet” instead of Das Lärchen Quartet.
Memorable quote: “From Kitsch to Kunst” – Anna Kruger. Anna was describing a particular day in Germany. We were constantly learning new German words and applying them to our often absurd touring lifestyle.
Quartet Highlight: Playing for the princess of Denmark in a castle with Rostropovich in attendance!
Where she is now: Has been a member of the first violin section of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 2001. Recently formed the Clarion String Quartet.
Years in Lark: 1994-2001
Favorite memory: I remember the infamous start to an almost month-long tour of Sweden. We had just flown in and were hunkering down for what was bound to be a long and hard tour; we were picked up at the airport by our driver and started on our way when suddenly, everything went bumpity-bump-bump and we watched as our front tire sped away from us down the side of the highway!!! There we were sitting on the side of the road at a 45 degree angle. Scary — but since nothing happened, REALLY funny!
Quartet Highlight: It is of course hard to choose and enumerate favorite memories, etc…. from an experience like this one. It was a privilege to be able to work with such wonderful colleagues on such an intensive basis. I think about the Aaron Kernis Quartets and the collaborations with Giovanni Sollima and of course, Peter Schickele, as highlights, as well as selected performances of late Beethoven and our European tours.
Where she is now: Ensemble Epomeo in Vienna
Years in Lark: 2001-2008
Favorite memory: When on tour in CA, always seeking out “In and Out Burgers”, the best burgers in CA. We were devoted!And we had a memorable time exploring the amazing Big Sur Park on one of those California trips!
Quartet Highlight: Working on and performing the complete Beethoven cycle in two seasons. The intensity with how we worked brought the group close together both musically and personally, and there was an incredible sense of having climbed Mt Everest and seeing the big picture, so to speak, after each one of those programs! Truly and unforgettable experience
Where she is now: Solist and Trio Solisti
Years in Lark: 2003-present
Favorite Memory: One of my favorite memories is of recording with pianist, Jeremy Denk, composer Paul Moravec, and producer, Judith Sherman at Purchase College and shlepping my seriously heavy espresso-maker, espresso cups, etc along for the backstage! I was the barista, of course!! It was certainly appreciated. There was certainly no way I could be without exceptional espresso for two full days of recording!
Memorable quote: I find that string quartet music-making requires everything I have to offer as a musician, and that of all my experiences as a soloist or concertmaster or chamber music with piano, it remains the most musically challenging experience. This is why I love it so much!
Quartet highlight: I have two. First, spending an entire day in an exquisite apartment above MOMA in NYC with BOTH Gary Graffman and Jennifer Higdon while working towards our all Jennifer Higdon CD. Secondly, our 14-concert in 16 day Swedish tour where we played in an unbelievable gothic church on the island of Visby.
Years in Lark: 2008-2010
Where she is now: Professor of Violin at the University of Colorado Boulder
Years in Lark: 2010-present
Favorite Memory: I love that we all enjoy a good laugh… and we’ve had plenty! I will always remember my very first tour with Lark, to California. So much new repertoire to perform! My colleagues took good care of me, and I had my whole family along which, altogether, made a potentially overwhelming experience so nice!
Quartet highlight: I recall a performance in Cranbrook MI in an absolutely stunning church. Some truly inspired music making. Our house concerts in NYC, hosted by our wonderful chairman of the board, are so very special. In particular, our recent performance there of Beethoven 132, was personally satisfying on every level. It is a privilege and blessing to make music with such wonderful colleagues, for such an attentive, warmly appreciative and supportive audience!
Years in Lark: 1998-2002
How she met Lark women: Was a senior at Curtis and Ms. Tuttle recommended her when contacted by the quartet.
Quartet highlight: Traveling with Peter Schikele as he was a riot every minute. She was happily surprised that he was just as funny on a day to day basis as we was on the radio.
Memorable quote: “There’s nothing like quartet music by a great composer.”
Where she is now: Member of Mostly Mozart and All Star Orchestra
Years in Lark: 2003-present
Favorite Memory: Driving around Washington DC with Astrid and Debbie. We had been in the car for 5 hours and we lost it as we kept getting caught in the roundabouts… There was lots of hysterical laughter as Astrid made numerous illegal lane changes trying to find our hotel.
Memorable quote: The best music for a violist is the string quartet genre and I feel incredibly lucky to make a living this way.
Quartet highlight: I especially love playing concerts in a beautiful home/chamber and enjoy the intimacy this affords between the quartet and the audience. I also look back and realize that playing the Beethoven cycle was a phenomenal experience. Although it was a completely stressful experience, the insight and knowledge one gains when playing and performing a single composer so extensively is invaluable. I want to do that again!
Years in Lark: 1989-2009
How she met Lark women:
Where she is now: Juilliard String Quartet
Years in Lark: 2009-present
Favorite Memory: Drinking coffee on the kitchen floor with Basia (and eventually everyone else) at 4am in Debbie’s parents home in LA, when traveling out there with the quartet and my little guy Henry, who was 20 months old at the time, and very jet lagged.
Memorable Quote: “I want what she’s got; I want what she’s selling!” Debbie on seeing Basia’ glowing face (thanks to lighting by filmmaker Josh Aronson) in our 30th Anniversary video.
Quartet highlight: Recording Composing America with Jeremy Denk, piano and Yousif Sheronick, percussion and Judith Sherman, producer, while drinking espresso from the espresso machine, grinder and proper espresso cups that Debbie brought.