Thirty Years of Alexander String Quartet


Kelsey Mattison ’18

The Alexander String Quartet returned, in October, once again for campus performances and their annual artist residency—a more than 30-year tradition at St. Lawrence University—inspiring the community in different ways. The San Francisco-based quartet formed in New York City in the early 1980s and is described by The Los Angeles Times as, “a group deep in its element, firm in its stride.”

The quartet’s residency at St. Lawrence includes performing for audiences and attending classes for more intimate concerts and discussions involving the music and careers in the arts. As Julia Pomainville, the University’s arts programming coordinator explains, “the musicians are experts at catering to the classroom, and their presence is valuable to both the students and the professors.

“We tell them what the classes are looking for because their skill really is making connections,” says Pomainville. “If they can touch just one life every time they visit, then it is valuable for the University to bring them.”

“It is special to be able to work in music, as well as other disciplines,” says Fred Lifsitz, the Quartet’s second violinist. Lifsitz and the others feel that they learn a lot about subjects they are not as versed in, like the work of Jane Austen or other authors, when they spend time in special topics literature classes, or the rigor of ballet when they visit the dance studio to work with students.

The members of the Alexander String Quartet, who received honorary degrees from St. Lawrence in 2000, also value coming to the North Country since it is very different from performing in more populated cities such as New York or San Francisco. “We value the discussions that takes place in our classroom performances, and we learn quite a bit from talking with students and professors,” says Lifsitz.

Visiting artists of all disciplines are a regular part of the St. Lawrence experience for all students, faculty and staff, and community members. For the residents of the Arts Annex, however, the Alexander String Quartet is an essential part of their semester, and an evening they have adopted as their own.

The Quartet has inspired students living in the Arts Annex, a campus theme house composed of residents with a shared interest in the performing arts. According to Arts Annex alumnus Luke Matys ’15 of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the residents developed a small, but significant tradition inspired by the Alexander String Quartet’s annual visits. The event is called the Fancy Party, and it has been taking place since 2011.

“Basically, we get all dressed up, go to the Quartet performance, and then have a classy cocktail party afterwards at the house with our friends,” says Annex resident Ethan Collins ’18, from Avon, New York. Abby Leathers ’19, from Rochester, Vermont, says she looks forward to the Fancy Party every year. “I love that we get to hang out like we normally do, but there is an artistic and cultural aspect added to it. It makes it feel like more than just a party.”

From left: Zakarias Grafilo, violin; Fredrick Lifsitz, violin; Paul Yarbrough, viola; Sandy Wilson, cello.