Saturday, March 15, 2014 Interview With Violinist & Composer Jessie Montgomery of Catalyst Quartet

Jessie Montgomery is also a founding member of PUBLIQuartet and a core member of Providence String Quartet. (Monterey County Weekly)

Monterey County Weekly posted an interview March 14, 2014 with Jessie Montgomery, a violinist in the Catalyst Quartet:

Weekly: How did you get involved in the Sphinx Organization? 
Jessie Montgomery: Sphinx Organization started out as a competition for black and Latino string players. All of us at one point participated. Through it, all of us became longtime affiliates. They formed Catalyst Quartet from this pool. So we all competed against each other.

What was the process of becoming a member of the quartet?
It's an unusual way, an unorthodox model. [The quartet] was formed by the Sphinx Organization, by laureates, we were all top prize winners. But it's open-ended, like a marriage without a prenup [laughs]. I've been a member since 2012. The quartet was formed in 2010. Paul, the violist, joined us [last] September. We're all pretty happy. It's a good time right now.

Regarding the Sphinx mission of increasing diversity in classical music, how do you support that mission?  
We are pretty dedicated to that, as our name suggests. We program things in a way that features a diverse background of composers. I'm African-American, young…youngish. There's [George Walker], Samuel Barber. We also play a piece by Osvaldo Golijov, of Argentine and Jewish descent, a piece based on a Jewish prayer called "Tenebrae" and it's one of the most gorgeous things on the program. These represent a whole bunch of faces of American voices. The music has to stand out, primary, the quality of the music. But we look as far as we can to represent a niche program in particular. Audiences are surprised to have had that experience.

How did you come to like and listen to and eventually play classical music?   
All of us have a different story, but I think in general, for me, I grew up in New York City and went to community music school. I went to a typical after school music program called Third Street Music School Settlement, like others in the group. We all grew up in major cities. I guess I did it so much and loved it so much that I decided I wanted to do it forever. Like anything you're passionate about, if you start young enough, the decision becomes very clear. Around 15 I went for it.

Have you encountered stereotypical reactions, being young and black and listening to classical music? 
I didn't really experience it too much. In New York City it's very diverse, [so was my] music school, socio-economically and racially. At Juilliard I was one of five other string players of color out of about 800 music students. It was unusual. That was alarming. I try not to worry about it too much. Everyone was there to work. Realizing how few people of color are represented in classical music, is [an indication] of socio-economic differences of the patrons, who are listening, their family's ability to provide music lessons for their kids. We've been very fortunate. We've visited a lot of schools and we see these things are changing little by little, very little by little. 

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