Music for all ages

The Thalea String Quartet touches the lives of Island students and adults alike.

Thalea String Quartet, from left: Christopher Whitley, violin; Kumiko Sakamoto, violin; Alexander Cox, cello; and Lauren Spaulding, viola. —Courtesy Thalea String Quartet

“Thalea” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning, among other definitions, to flourish or to blossom, which is exactly what the Thalea String Quartet will help Island students do this week, and help adult audience members feel during the group’s free concert at the West Tisbury library on Friday, March 22, at 3:30 pm.

The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, which established the artist-in-residence program in 2017, chose Thalea for this year’s program. The group is known for its vibrancy and emotional commitment to dynamic performances that reflect the past, present, and future of the string quartet repertoire, while celebrating many musical traditions from around the world.

Thalea violinist Chris Whitley recounts the group’s origins, which began some 10 years ago at a summer music festival in Italy. “It kind of started as a fun summer project, with the founding members getting together just to play quartets for a couple of weeks. One of the challenges of forming a quartet is finding four people who are on the same page and enjoy spending time together,” he says. “We found that almost right away with the original lineup. We were playing five hours a day, and playing really hard repertoire under a lot of pressure, timewise. It was just really enjoyable, so we decided to keep the quartet going, and we’ve been going ever since.”

MVCMS board president Kim Baumhofer explains that they selected Thalea for this year’s residency because it is an awardwinning string quartet with a strong educational focus. “And they don’t play just classical music, but a wide range of diverse traditions,” she adds.

Amy Wood, all-Island strings teacher, shares how the musicians will engage with students while they are here. Members will work with the middle school ensemble, the Mosaic Group, on some Brazilian children’s traditional songs; and with the Before-School Orchestra on “Pachelbel’s Canon” by Johann Pachelbel. They will also be with the High School Ensemble playing the first movement of Edward Grieg’s “Holberg Suite,” and the After-School String Quartet, which is rehearsing Brahms’ “Hungarian String Quartet No. 5.”

“Then we have something really exciting that we didn’t have time to program last year,” Wood informs me. “They will give tutored private lessons for advanced students, supervised by one of the all-Island string teachers. We’re focusing on cello because we don’t have a professional cellist teaching regularly on the Island.”

Thalea will touch not just the young musicians but also a wider student population with three in-school performances.

The public concert at the West Tisbury library will reflect the group’s core values. “It has always been based around welcoming audiences to a wide range of experiences with our repertoire, which has always celebrated the tradition of the string quartet going back to early quartet composers like Hayden and Beethoven, while at the same time championing and committing to playing music by composers who are living,” Whitley explains.

The first piece they are performing is one of the musicians’ favorites, “Carrot Revolution,” by the young composer Gabriella Smith. “It’s like a wild ride. We like to think of it as turning on the radio and surfing between different stations. The piece begins with a little bit of static, and then over the course of about 10 minutes, we hear some bluegrass, music influenced by the 13th century medieval composer Pérotin, and a little bit of music from the Who,” shares Whitley. “This one is such a blast, and audiences have always loved that piece.”

Thalea commissioned the next work, “Something Golden,” by cellist and composer Andrew Yee of the Attacca Quartet. “It’s a very beautiful, moving, three-part quartet. Its simplicity hides a real emotional depth. It’s been really well-received,” Whitley says.

The final work, “Op. 64 No. 5,” is by Joseph Hayden, considered the founder of the classical string quartet. He was a real innovator in the genre, and this piece is from his middle-late period. “It’s charming, funny, heartwarming, beautiful. It’s got it all,” says Whitley.

He ends, sharing, “It’s going to be a really nice program offering something familiar, something less familiar, and something golden. I love it when audiences have fun, and that’s not something I take for granted going to classical music concerts, which can be profound and moving experiences. I think in the case of this concert, we want our audience to be moved; to discover something, and also want them to just have a good time.”

The Thalea String Quartet will perform for free on Friday, March 22, from 3:30 to 4:30 pm at the West Tisbury library. For more information about this event, email For more information about the Thalea String Quartet, visit