More than the sum of its parts: Northern Third Piano Quartet finds a Vermont niche

The Northern Third Piano Quartet – from left, Elizabeth Reid, John Dunlop, Sofia Hirsch and Alison Cerutti – will perform for the fifth year in a row at Brandon Music June 16. (Photo by Jordan Douglas)

Chamber music is where it’s at for classical musicians — much more personal than playing in an orchestra, and often more stimulating than performing solo. “When we rehearse and perform, I always feel that we achieve a depth of musical understanding of the works, and most importantly that we are always more than ‘the sum of parts,'” explains Elizabeth Reid, violist of the Northern Third Piano Quartet. “Our audiences seem to agree with it.” “I appreciate having musical ideas other than my own to react to – not that it doesn't sometimes get contentious in rehearsal!” adds Alison Cerutti, pianist of the ensemble, with a laugh. The Northern Third Piano Quartet returns to Brandon Music for the fifth consecutive year, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16. Cerutti, Reid, violinist Sofia Hirsch and cellist John Dunlop, all Vermont professional musicians, will perform music of Schubert, Fauré, Shostakovich and Arvo Pärt. Although the piano quartet — piano, violin, viola and cello — is not as common or popular as the string quartet or piano trio, it holds an important place in the chamber music repertoire. “There are many fine works for this combination, including ones of Brahms, Beethoven, Martinu and Fauré, among others,” Reid said. “As a violist, I love to play with piano and strings, and the piano quartet and quintet repertoire is held in my highest regards. The tone colors created with these instruments are astounding.” The major work on the June 16 program is Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15, a pinnacle of late 19th century French Romanticism. “(This piano quartet) is among my favorite pieces,” Reid said. “Its emotional timbre has always resonated with me, and my favorite movement is the slow third movement.” Also on the program is an early one-movement string trio by Franz Schubert and “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt for cello and piano. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano is also included. “I am revisiting two pieces in this program,” Cerutti said, “the Shostakovich, which is a great piece and inspired me to learn (Beethoven’s) ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, and the Fauré, which I have performed with Liz, but not Sofia and John. “I am looking forward to reaching a new level with each of these works,” Cerutti said. “The Shostakovich is a very sad and moving piece completed just days before he died, and will end the first half very quietly. But the Fauré will hopefully be uplifting and sparkly.” Working this intimately is always a challenge, but the four are friends as well as colleagues. “I trust everyone in the group,” Cerutti said. “Even if at first I don't agree with someone's musical ideas, I respect everyone musically and I know that we all have a unified goal of creating the most musically sensitive interpretation of each piece we do. We also choose pieces which we all love.” “I hold the greatest respect for my colleagues, (although) we come from different backgrounds and have varying musical ideas,” Reid said. Reid, who lives in Northfield, is a native of Toronto and studied viola performance at Western University and the Glenn Gould School in Canada. Now an American citizen, she is principal violist of the Middlebury Opera Orchestra, and plays regularly with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Burlington Chamber Orchestra, and the chamber ensemble Arioso, among many. Hirsch, of Middlebury, began violin studies at age 4 in Waterloo, Ontario, but played for many years in the Vermont Youth Orchestra. She is a member of the VSO, and also performs with the New York Chamber Soloists Orchestra and Handel Society of Hanover and Boston. A native of Burlington living in Richmond, Dunlop is longtime principal cellist of the VSO, and has been principal with the BCO, Opera North and the Green Mountain Opera Festival. An Oberlin Conservatory graduate, he has been soloist with both the VSO and BCO, and is a founding member of the Stellaria Trio and the TURNmusic contemporary ensemble. Cerutti, who returned to her native Northfield, is a student of Sylvia Parker and the late Louis Moyse. A graduate of Oberlin and the Hartt School of Music, she has performed solo recitals and with many Vermont chamber ensembles, and performed as a soloist with the Vermont Philharmonic and Burlington Civic Orchestra. “The Northern Third is very special,” Cerutti said, “in the combination of skills required, plus the trust in each other.” Brandon Music Brandon Music presents the Northern Third Piano Quartet – pianist Alison Cerutti, violinist Sofia Hirsch, violist Elizabeth Reid and cellist John Dunlop – at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at 62 Country Club Road in Brandon, performing music of Schubert, Fauré, Shostakovich and Arvo Pärt. Tickets are $20; call 802-247-4295 or go online to

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