Auryn Quartet returns to community that took them in in their early musician days

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Auryn Quartett, from left to right: Violinist Matthias Lingenfelder, violinist Jens Oppermann, cellist Andreas Arndt, and violist Stewart Eaton. Photo by Manfred Esser, courtesy of Auryn Quartet

BY MARK BOYLE — When the Auryn Quartet came to Hyattsville in the late 1980s, it was to study with the renowned Guarneri Quartet at the University of Maryland. On Friday, Oct. 14, nearly three decades later, Stewart Eaton, Matthias Lingenfelder, Jens Oppermann, and Andreas Arndt returned to perform for friends and colleagues they made when they were students.

“It feels like we know the area and the people so well now,” said violist Eaton. “All four of us are very nostalgic of being in the DC area.”

Hailing from Germany and England, this string quartet has spent the past few decades touring the world and entertaining audiences with its award-winning chamber music, an ensemble collaboration of violins, cello and viola.

The team, which has not changed its members since its founding in 1981, also teaches chamber music at the Music Academy in Detmold, Germany. Deutschland is where the foursome met, as students at the Cologne University of Music before seeking a residency at UMD.

“It was fantastic,” Eaton said.

A 10-month sabbatical gave the quartet the opportunity to better their craft, Eaton said.

But the group ran into a problem once they arrived in the states: They had nowhere to live.

“They were under the impression the university would arrange housing for them,” said Gloria Felix-Thompson, president of the Hyattsville Preservation Association.

Felix-Thompson has been involved with Hyattsville arts for some time, so when Stewart Gordon, the university’s music department chair, needed help, he turned to Felix-Thompson.

For a few nights, Felix-Thompson and her family hosted four musicians at their home, one in the dining room, two in the living room, and one in her son’s bedroom.

“It was wall-to-wall bodies,” Felix-Thompson said.

Although Felix-Thompson helped the students find lodging within the community, they often ended up in her house, what she calls “headquarters.”

“One of them was always here,” Felix-Thompson said.

They ate there. They argued there. Their girlfriends called there. They also spoke in German there with Felix-Thompson, who is from Austria.

“She’s probably the chief nutcase,” Eaton said with a laugh. “It’s great, really. I mean that in the best possible sense.”

Rehearsals were generally coffee meetings “with a little playing going on,” Eaton said. The gents used to meet every day and sometimes “didn’t rehearse hardly at all.” This was often followed by a trip to the pub.

The quartet does so well together because they are friends first, Felix-Thompson said. “They’re wonderful human beings before they’re musicians,” she added.

During the quartet’s stay in Hyattsville, Felix-Thompson wanted her son Robin to attend a prestigious magnet arts school. Potential students had to stand in line until the quota was filled. There wasn’t room for every interested applicant.

Felix-Thompson and the quartet members took turns standing in line for Robin. “They stood there and partied with everyone else,” Felix-Thompson said. After a long wait, Robin got in.

“We managed to get him in there,” Felix-Thompson said. “Not every musician does that.”

Whether Felix-Thompson’s beagle Harriett was sneaking into Arndt’s coffee, or Oppermann was driving her Volkswagen Beetle “The Blue Baron” to the “VW graveyard,” there is no doubt these gentlemen got into the community, Felix Thompson said.

“They enjoy coming back here,” she said.

Some former Hyattsville residents will return to see an Auryn Quartet concert, she said. After all, the sound at an Auryn concert is “unusually beautiful,” Eaton said.

The goal is for the audience to be led through these pieces of music on a journey, Eaton said, and be left with a sense of joy or depression, depending on the piece.

The power of music is something Felix-Thompson thinks everyone should experience.

Look at what it did for a group of gentlemen, who after three decades, still genuinely like each other.

“We’re very honest with each other, but not to the extent that it’s hurtful,” Eaton said. “When somebody’s kicking off, you just tolerate it, just wait until it’s gone by, then you’ll be fine the next day.”

At this point in their lives, the members have families of their own and live separate lives. Keeping a distance helps keep their music fresh as well, Eaton said.

“The four of us just happen to get on with each other after all this time,” he said.

They respect each other, Felix-Thompson said. “If they were four bricklayers, they would still be friends for 35 years,” she said.

With the quartet’s 40th anniversary approaching, the friendship may continue, but Eaton said the performances will retire. And the next adventure?

Eaton jokes, “Maybe take up knitting.”