Azmari says goodbye

A mini-poster is hardly enough room to capture the significance of the Azmari String Quartet’s departure. Yet one such poster exists on the outside of the quartet’s door in Fine Arts 320.

It’s in this room, which keeps a low profile along a bleach white corridor of the Fine Arts building, that melodic sounds of string instruments seep through the cracks of the door.
The door is ajar and reveals Rebecca Merblum giving one of her students a cello lesson. When the music stops, the apprentice exits with a smile on her face. This is what Merblum will miss the most about her time at Northern Kentucky University.

‘The relationships we’ve built with students is the most rewarding experience we have had here,’ Merblum says outside of her office, which has just been occupied by her sister, Christina, who is giving a student a violin lesson.

The soft-spoken musician freely speaks in terms of ‘we,’ which is very telling of the quartet. Their trust goes beyond their dependency on everyone hitting the right notes in performances, but also in the ability for each one of them to speak for the group at any given time.

Cellist Merblum, violist Hugo Bollschweiler, violinist Julie Fischer and the aforementioned violinist Christina Merblum, have helped build a string program at NKU since’ 2004.

‘The department is growing a lot,’ Merblum says. ‘They have really raised collective standards.

‘And I think we have created a standard in terms of quality,’ says Merblum. ‘I think we have given an overall sense of what fine playing is, what it constitutes and the work involved in it.’

The quartet has spent five years at NKU showing students how to master their instruments and have led by example – they perform constantly.

It would take an Olympic-size chalkboard to tally the number of performances they have done over their tenure at NKU. Merblum says’ it’s anywhere from 75 to 100 a year. Multiply that by about five years and you get the idea – they perform a lot.

The multiple performances and the diligent work at building up the string program is how you can measure their success here.

‘One of our biggest accomplishments is creating a program we’re proud of,’ Merblum says. ‘And giving students the most educational and performance background possible.’
Merblum also cites the Azmari’s loyal following and support they have recieved as contributors to the quartet’s success.

The group was nearly cut from the music department in 2006.The grant that funded their stay had exhausted and the College of Arts and Sciences was unable to continue picking up the tab. But then a group of donors emptied their wallets and helped keep the quartet at NKU.

This time the Azmari really is leaving; their contract is not being renewed because the music department as Merblum states, ‘ is restructuring the program.’ Merblum doesn’t talk about reasons why the restructuring doesn’t include Azmari. She instead focuses on the NKU community.

‘It’s a very culturally vibrant community,’ Merblum says. ‘They are very knowledgeable and well-steeped in the history of chamber music.’

The quartet still has a few performances left in the area, but none more important to the Norse community than the one on April 15 in Greaves Concert Hall.

‘It’s going to be very audience friendly, very palatable’ says Merblum.

Merblum pauses and produces a smile that you could say represents not only her excitement about the concert but that of her fellow Azmari members as well. In this moment of spoken silence, you can hear Merblum’s sister still jamming away with her student on the violin. Merblum seems to be listening intently to her sister’s lesson and then nods and says, ‘It’s going to be a rousing send-off.’