The Axelrod String Quartet

The Axelrod String Quartet—Marc Destrubé and Marilyn McDonald, violins; James Dunham, viola; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello—came into being in 1998 when Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod established a generous endowment to perpetuate string quartet performances at the museum using the quartets of instruments by master luthiers Antonio Stradivari, Nicoló Amati, and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume which they had donated to the Smithsonian. But, since beginning with the time of Haydn, the string quartet has been a central formation of chamber music, a resident string quartet had already figured prominently in SCMS programming from 1982, when the Smithson String Quartet (Jaap Schröder and Marilyn McDonald, violins; Judson Griffin, viola; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello) was founded. That ensemble existed—with Jorrie Garrigue and David Cerutti replacing McDonald and Griffin late in its career—for fourteen years. It was succeeded by a somewhat ad hoc quartet called Party of Four (the immediate predecessor to the Axelrod Quartet), whose lower end was anchored by Slowik and violists Steven Dann and Douglas McNabney while a succession of players—Mayumi Seiler, Malcolm Lowe, Ian Swensen, and Catherine Manson—rotated between the violin chairs.

Central to the philosophy of each of these quartets has been the presence of gut strings, which were in regular use until at least several decades into the 20th century. This set-up, and the incorporation of other elements of the historical performance practices of a succession of periods from the High Classical through the early 20th century, has made elegance, clarity, and stylistic freshness hallmarks of SCMS quartet playing for nearly thirty years.