By Khaleel Herbert
To be taken seriously as a professional violinist, you need dedication, hutzpah and most importantly…a fondness for the violin. Harumi Rhodes, a native from Englewood, New Jersey, has all of these traits and more. Anne Midgette called Rhodes “an expressive violinist” in a 2005 New York Times article and Rhodes hasn’t lost a beat yet.
Music has always been included in Rhodes’ life. Her father, Samuel, was a violist and her mother, Hiroko, was a violinist. Her older sister, now working at Carnegie Hall, played the piano. Rhodes was a singer until she turned 7. She begged her parents for a violin. Hoping their daughter wasn’t pressured to be a musician because they were musicians, her parents were skeptical.
But with a genuine love, much practice and many gigs, Rhodes became a regular performer with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Musicians from Marlboro. She has commissioned and premiered new works as an artist and member of the Boston Chamber Music Society, East Coast Chamber Orchestra and Music from Copland House. She also served as Head of Strings and Chamber Music at Syracuse University and as Assistant Violin Faculty at the Juilliard School in New York. In 2015, Rhodes joined the Violin Faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder to teach creative thinkers who want to give hope to the future of music.
Earlier this year, one of the founding members of CU Boulder’s Grammy-winning Takács Quartet, Károly Schranz, stepped down from the second violin. The other founding members of this group that spans over 40 years of music included Gábor Takács Nagy, Gábor Ormai and András Fejér. Current members of the quartet are Edward Dusinberre on first violin, Geraldine Walther on Viola and András Fejér on cello. The quartet invited Rhodes to fill Schranz’s shoes. Playing as a guest in summer 2016, Rhodes was honored and agreed to join.
The quartet is set for a US tour this month with concerts in New York City, New Jersey, Chicago and Alabama. They head to Europe for several concerts in the United Kingdom and Germany in November.
What do you like most about playing the violin?
I love performing and I also love the hard work. Nothing is more luxurious to me than rolling up my sleeves and digging deep into a piece of music. I love practicing long hours by myself. I also love rehearsing with my colleagues. In the end, I get to share all of this discovery with audiences worldwide.
What Inspired you to play the violin?
As a very small child, I was always singing. Everywhere I went I would make up a song to match my thoughts or activities. But as I grew a bit older, I also started to become shy about my voice. It was around this time, at the age of 7, when I begged my parents for the violin.
They were skeptical. They didn’t want me to feel pressured into music since they were both musicians, but I was completely in love with the violin. To me, it seemed like the perfect companion. It had a suitable range, a snug fit and it seemed to be just as beautiful, if not more, as the voice I had in my mind and heart.
Did your mother teach you how to play violin or did you learn from someone else?
As a violinist herself, my mother was cautious about my enthusiasm for the violin at first. Rightfully so, she questioned me. “Maybe there is another instrument you might like even better? Or at least just as much?” Of course, that made me want to play the violin even more. In the end, my parents agreed that my love for the violin was genuine and shouldn’t be squelched.
My first violin teacher was Shirley Givens. She was the most loving and creative person I have ever met. I studied with her from my very first note until college.
Do you remember the first time you played violin for an audience?
I don’t remember the first I played for an audience, but I do remember the first time I played the violin at a public event that was very meaningful to me. My own Bat Mitzvah when I was 12 years old. I was an extremely awkward 12-year-old and this was a hugely eventful moment in my life–a true rite of passage.
I was very nervous, but in the end, I think it was a pivotal moment in my development as a young woman and as a budding musician.
Why did you want to become a member of the Takács Quartet?
How much time do you have? With all seriousness, I could go on for a while: the music itself, all the repertoire, my colleagues, the lifestyle, the personalities, the travel, the teaching, the commissioning, the music. Did I mention the music?
How did you feel when you were chosen as the second violin for the quartet?
My heart was full. The invitation was a dream come true for me. At the same time, it wasn’t merely dreamy. I felt a new sense of identity, purpose and responsibility. Ed, Geri and András asked me if I would like to have some time to think over the invitation before making a decision.
I told them that I didn’t need any time.
I had already played several concerts with them as a guest two summers ago. I knew immediately that I was ready to sign up for this incredible adventure.
Any memorable shows you’ve played in or out of the US with the quartet?
This summer alone we played two European tours in May and August with concerts in England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Scotland and Austria. In the past few months, we also played in the US at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California; the Ravinia Festival in Illinois; and the Beethoven Festival in Minnesota.
When you toured in Europe with the quartet, was that the first time you ever played in Europe?
I’ve traveled to Europe several times in my past, both as a tourist and also as a working musician. Still, this summer felt quite different. Entering these countries with a new identity and with three other close colleagues by my side feels quite special.
What do you like most about playing with the quartet?
I love the repertoire, but honestly, it is more than that. If Ed, Geri and András asked me to play a particular piece that I hadn’t particularly identified with in my past, I would say yes with my whole heart because I trust the vision of the group.
I also feel enough inward conviction to know that I can help shape that vision into the future. I love that commitment, that trust, all the responsibility and the possibility of growing together.
For more information on Harumi Rhodes and the Takács Quartet, including upcoming performances, visit: http://www.takacsquartet.com/index.php?lang=en