Ulysses Quartet’s intertwining journey leads to Chautauqua’s chamber series in Lenna Hall

Just like Homer’s hero Odysseus, the members of Ulysses Quartet had a long, intertwining and meandering journey before the quartet finally formed in 2015.

Seven years later and fresh off a three-year residency at The Juilliard School, the Ulysses Quartet comes to perform in the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series at 4 p.m. Monday, July 18, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

The members of the quartet, violinists Christina Bouey and Rhiannon Banerdt, violist Colin Brookes, and cellist Grace Ho, wanted a name that was meaningful to them.

“The name is such an important thing. We wanted something that resonated with us, but also carried some weight,” Brookes said.

When the group was searching for a name, Brookes was reading Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant’s first name inspired him, since “Ulysses” is the Latin variant of “Odysseus.”

Buoey happened to be driving through Ulysses, New York, when Brookes proposed the quartet name via text.

“We were like, ‘It’s meant to be,’ ” Ho said.

The group truly was meant to be, as each of the members had overlapping interactions with one another before finally becoming a quartet. Whether it was rooming together at the Manhattan School of Music or attending summer camp together, each member’s histories are interwoven.

Buoey recruited Ho to join her and Brookes, but they needed another violinist.

“We looked for another violinist for quite a while because we wanted somebody, right off the bat, that was going to be really just as dedicated as us,” Buoey said. “It’s hard to find. And so finally we found the missing piece to our puzzle, who was as crazy as us to dedicate their life to a quartet. And that was Rhiannon.” 

For its program this afternoon, the quartet chose an array of music united by a common theme.

“One thread that connects this program in particular is exciting rhythms and the way that we build them,” Brookes said.

He shared that Joan Tower, the composer of the piece “Wild Summer,” spent some time in South America. During her time there, the music of different cultures inspired her to play with rhythm.

“ ‘Wild Summer’ — it is really wild,” Banerdt said. 

He then shared the other music Chautauquans should expect to hear: Haydn’s String Quartet in G Major, and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 5, among others.

“The Mendelssohn just has this effervescent, joyful energy almost the whole way through. The Danish String Quartet arrangement, first of all, I think I get goosebumps because it’s just so fun to play,” he said. “It’s this totally free, fun, joyous experience, and the audience always has this reaction because most of them don’t know them. And so it’s this really exciting discovery. And then Haydn, he’s the pop of the string quartet. Everything that we have kind of comes from him.”

Some of the pieces may have similar energy, but each achieves exciting rhythms through different means.

“(‘Wild Summer’) … is just non-stop unrelenting rhythm,” Buoey said. “And then, when we get to the Haydn, he actually does a lot of his rhythm in pauses and rests. And so he makes a lot of jokes throughout that piece. We’re basically showing how rhythm can be used to achieve different characters, different emotions. Sometimes it’s funny; sometimes it’s serious.”

The Ulysses Quartet is thrilled to bring this program to Chautauqua Institution for its first visit to the grounds.

“We’re all really excited about Chautauqua because it’s a famous institution. It’s been around for years,” Buoey said. “And when we get to go play at such festivals with that kind of history, it makes us feel like we’re also accomplishing something in the art world, which is a nice feeling, but first and foremost, we’re doing it for the music and to share our love for the music.”

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The author Megan Brown

Megan Brown previously managed the business office of The Chautauquan Daily, but she returns as a reporter for the 2022 season. This fall she will graduate from Houghton College with degrees in writing and communication. Outside of class, she works as the co-editor-in-chief of her college’s newspaper The Houghton STAR and consults in the writing center. Megan loves any storytelling medium, traveling and learning new crochet patterns from YouTube.