Award-winning violinist Aaron Boyd was recently appointed the new director of chamber music at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, following a national search. Professor Boyd took time to talk with us about his personal experience with chamber music and his involvement with the esteemed Escher String Quartet.

What do you find so appealing about chamber music?

It so happens that, in almost every case, the greatest composers wrote their greatest works for chamber ensembles. And, as opposed to playing a great symphony of Beethoven, where you are, for the most part, carrying out the vision of the conductor as part of a very large ensemble, in chamber music your voice is a unique and powerful contributor to the final interpretation. 

What brought you to SMU?

I originally came to SMU at the invitation of my predecessor, Matt Albert, and as a member of the Escher Quartet, as visiting artists to campus.


Photo by Kim Leeson

What makes SMU a great place to be a part of chamber music?

The environment and the student body are ideal for an intense and personal chamber music experience. I also think the size is just right, not too small nor too big. Most important for me is that the administration is vitally interested in making this school the most compelling chamber music experience one can find.

What is your favorite part about being in the Escher Quartet?

I have to answer this question in the past tense since I left the quartet after this most recent summer in order to give myself fully to my job as director of chamber music here at Meadows. So, my favorite aspect of touring with Escher was meeting and developing friendships with presenters and music fans across the globe, so that when you might arrive in a city very far from your own home, you could find a dear friend and a home-cooked meal. These friendships were invaluable.

SMU violin faculty

Aaron Boyd. Photo by Sophie Zhai, courtesy of Escher Quartet

What has been your favorite collaboration with the Escher Quartet?

There have been so many… but, I must say that just about any viola quintet we have played has been a very special experience; Dvorak with Larry Dutton, Mendelssohn with Daniel Phillips, and Bruckner with Eugene Drucker. The viola quintet repertoire might be my favorite corner of the chamber music literature, and those three I just mentioned are incredibly beautiful.

What has been your favorite performance or piece that you’ve done with the Escher Quartet?

I will never forget a performance of Schubert’s monumental G-Major Quartet in which, during the tremolo passage in the mighty second movement, a moment of such tension and power, I choked up with tears at the majesty of it all. It was the sense that, at that moment, I was involved in something truly great. These moments are rare in life and must be savored.

You say you consider yourself to be an advocate of new music. What do you find so intriguing and appealing about it?

Well, first of all, it’s a challenge. It’s also a blank slate; a work of art with no performance tradition on which you may depend, nor to which you are beholden, or to which you will be compared. There is also the very charming aspect of being able to call the composer on the phone and ask him a question.

What has been your favorite new piece that you’ve been part of and why?

Babbitt’s 6th String Quartet, which I have probably studied, played and performed more than any other person in the world. It was composed in 1993, and I consider it one of the most difficult, most extraordinary works ever written for four people. Playing it and studying it with the composer remains one of the highest honors of my musical life.

Check out the upcoming chamber music concerts at Meadows on the Events Calendar.