In a move that stunned local arts patrons, the Los Angeles-based Angeles String Quartet has announced it is disbanding after more than 13 years.
The decision was all the more surprising because the quartet, which first played together in 1987 but formally organized in 1988, has just released a well-received, 21-CD set of the complete Haydn string quartets.
"There has never before been a completely satisfying set of the complete Haydn string quartets," wrote Times music critic Mark Swed. "Now there is."
"It's been great, but all of a sudden there is this other thing that comes into play, like having time for family," said cellist Stephen Erdody. "It's a nice time to bow out gracefully."
Erdody and violinists Kathleen Lenski and Sara Parkins, and violist Brian Dembow will play their last Southern California concert Sunday afternoon in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
All but Parkins, who joined the group in 1998, are founding members of the ensemble.
Their final concert will take place in May at--appropriately enough--the Esterhaza Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria, where Haydn was employed for nearly 30 years.
Although the Haydn recording project brought the Angeles fame, it also lasted five long years and cost the ensemble much stress.
"We were recording 15 to 18 quartets a year, plus learning another 15 to 18 to record the following season," Erdody said. "And we still had to play our normal concerts, plus trying to earn a living too, doing studio work. We were absolutely fried."
In 1997, Lenski developed tendinitis in her right arm, which required surgery and added to the time required to complete the recordings.
Over the same time, two of the four members were starting families. Dembow and his wife, Margaret Martin, have a son, Maxim, who is 9. Erdody and his wife, Juliana, adopted a newborn four years ago.
"His name is Daniel," Erdody said. "He'll be 4 in December. There are all these other intangibles."
Like recitals and baseball games.
Said Dembow: "Maxim happens to be an amazing musician--a pianist, violinist and a composer. He's amazing at baseball too. I missed [going to] his recitals and baseball games. He's all about the stuff I completely love. To miss watching them was very painful."
Not everyone was unhappy, however.
"I would have loved to have kept going," said Parkins, who moved to L.A. from New York three years ago. "But I understand. They had been going a lot longer than me. We're in different points in our lives."
Although the ensemble had a successful run, touring nationally and internationally, and recording two CDs (with the Koch and Resort Classic labels) and one CD-ROM (with Voyager-Microsoft), there was a surprising lack of financial payoff.
"Few people know how expensive it is to do quartets," Erdody said. "If we were making a $5,000 fee--which sometimes we didn't; sometimes we made a little more and sometimes we made a lot less--we'd have the four people's airfare and the cello's airfare, which sometimes cost more than the four of us.
"Then there were all the hotel bills. We would end up maybe with each about $120. And we still had to pay for our food. It was lucky we were [still] doing [Hollywood] studio work. That helped keep this chamber music habit alive."
Lenski has decided to retire from studio work and has moved to Los Osos, near San Luis Obispo. The others will continue their Hollywood work and may pop up in other chamber music configurations too.
"I'm hoping to still play chamber music, and that can lead me to many different situations here or in New York," Parkins said. "It's an open book. My first love is chamber music and playing in quartets. I'm going to see what comes along."
"I can't imagine I'm never going to do chamber music again," Erdody said. "I'll probably try to avoid the quartet for a while. That's all I've done for 20 years, counting six with the New York String Quartet."
"I'm sure chamber music will be a part of my life," Dembow said. "I don't know if I can exist very long without it. But at least for now, I am trying to focus more on staying close to home and family."
The Angeles String Quartet plays works by Bernard Herrmann, Debussy and Haydn, Sunday, 4 p.m., Founders Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $40. (714) 556-2787.