The first thing I did when I heard the Akropolis Reed Quintet was coming to town was type their name into Google. At the recommendation of my chamber music coach, Professor Will Fedkenheuer, I browsed the Akropolis website, joined their email newsletter, and followed links to updated youtube, twitter, and instagram profiles. Their online presence was interesting, aesthetically compelling, and frankly unusual as a relatively recently founded classical music ensemble. As someone who has chosen a professional path in the classical music industry, but also has a keen interest in business and entrepreneurship, I found myself wondering how Akropolis navigated the complexities of both worlds seemingly exceptionally. I wondered how, with a commitment to masterful musicianship, they were able to settle on an elegant organizational structure and unified mission, with funny instagram posts to boot.
Needless to say, I was excited to see the Akropolis Reed Quintet perform in person and also address these very questions in career talks. I attended the informal recital and question and answer session on Wednesday, March 1, but wish I had been able to attend more. In the presentation, the quintet introduced themselves, performed about 45 minutes of music that didn’t overlap with their Friday concert, and then entertained student questions for another 45 minutes. Because their other talks were specifically tailored to discuss careers and competitions in classical music, the quintet encouraged us to ask questions more focused on musical performance itself. At first I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear them talk more specifically about how they operate as an organization, but as I walked out of the recital studio I was so grateful that it was the talk focused on musicianship that I attended.
It seems that the heartbeat of the Akropolis Reed Quintet is a commitment to musicianship. In every piece they played and question they answered the sincere desire to play well as individuals and as an ensemble was clear. Each instrumentalist in the quintet is keenly interested in trying to find the depth and range of their own instrument. The instrumentation of the reed quintet wasn’t established until the 1970s, so Akropolis is on a journey with their instrumentation to explore the musical possibilities of the ensemble. And because the instrumentation is new and compositions are scarce, Akropolis has made genuine, close relationships with contemporary composers for whom they are committed to performing well. In saxophonist Matt Landry’s own words, commitment to exceptional musicianship is part of the DNA of the Akropolis Reed Quintet.
From the way they breathe to the way they field questions to the way they blend a chord to the way they negotiate a ritard, it is obvious that time has been put into playing their instruments, the music, and as an ensemble with intentionally masterful musicianship. But what I find most interesting is that the members of Akropolis are so unified on this intentionality. The very fact that this reed quintet speaks in terms of an ensemble DNA points to a beautiful, unifying force that I think is rare in ensembles, especially young ones. Musicianship is, of course, essential to excellent chamber music, but it seems that the unified commitment is what spawns each member’s commitment to the organization of Akropolis, their brand consistency, their programming, and their work in education and outreach.
In my time at UT I’ve been lucky enough to attend the career lectures of eighth blackbird, Fifth House Ensemble, Alicia Lawyer of ROCO, and Dana Fonteneau. In each of their presentations the two primary themes struck me time and time again. First, the path of a professional musician is not obvious or easy, and will require unexpected amounts of independence, collaboration, grit, and ingenuity. And second, the energy and authentic desire to travel down this difficult path will come from a sincere understanding of oneself. I feel that in the Akropolis performances and presentations I saw that self awareness in action. Though they were the youngest ensemble with the least polished presentation materials I’ve seen visit UT, I felt I could relate most closely to them and their work to become the eighth blackbird and the kronos quartet of this generation.
So how does Akropolis’ unified commitment to musicianship influence my career and performance practices? It reminds me to return to the question of why I’m doing what I’m doing. And as I walk into every lesson with my teachers and every lesson with my students I’m reminded to aim to operate from a mutual understanding that masterful musicianship is important and worth pursuing– together. I’m reminded to actually talk about purpose with my colleagues, with my students, and with the parents of my students. And as I scan my calendar, my course schedule, my friends, my feeds, my bookshelf, and my goals, I can reflect. Are my actions, my commitments, my understanding of my colleagues, and my understanding of myself unified? Because it seems that when they are, the journey to excellence truly is possible.