A person attending a string quartet expects to see four chairs—two for the violins, one each for the viola and cello. According to the Esterhàzy Quartet, though, there is also a fifth chair. This chair, an invisible but felt presence, is called into being by the synergy of the sounds of four instruments and the efforts of four musicians whose skill, dedication, and connectedness make the music possible. The Esterhàzy Quartet, the University of Missouri’s String Quartet-In-Residence brings this “composite voice” alive in their performing and teaching on the Mizzou campus and across the globe.
Fifth-year senior Mitchell Drury stands upright with his violin resting on his shoulder. He zeroes in on a sheet of music and begins playing the notes, carefully gliding his bow across the violin’s strings. His teacher, MU violin and chamber music professor Eva Szekely, hums to her student’s rhythmic tranquility. “The note before is the one you want to emphasize. Sustain without rushing,” Szekely instructs her intrepid pupil. “That’s beautiful.” Drury plays a work by renowned nineteenth-century violinist/composer Niccolò Paganini, one of Szekely’s favorite composers.
Szekely joined MU’s faculty in 1976. What has kept her at the university, more than anything else, is the Esterhàzy Quartet, a world-class chamber string ensemble that has been in residence at MU’s School of Music for three decades. “The Esterhàzy Quartet is a big part of the reason that the School of Music at the University of Missouri is such a special place,” Szekely says, “and it’s certainly the main reason that I have been here as long as I have.”
During her tenure at MU, Szekely has taught many students and tries to personalize her lesson plans around each individual. The repertoire list for the violin is so vast, she explains, that she can only strive to cover major examples from each historical period on her syllabus.
Szekely says that as soon as she meets her students, she tries to discover their individual musical personalities and talents, so that she can build a detailed assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
Szekely guides her student Mitchell Drury as he practices. Rehearsing for his senior recital, Drury plays music by Niccolò Paganini, one of Szekely’s favorite composers.
When she was six years old, Szekely’s father gave her a violin. Though she loved to sing, she eventually realized that singing was not for her, but playing the small, stringed instrument fit perfectly. “I took to it like a fish to water,” she recalls.