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Friday, June 14
The Indiana Daily Student

arts music

IU string quartet wins 2nd Grammy award


One week ago, Simin Ganatra was sitting next to her husband Brandon Vamos at home like they might on any normal Sunday. Seconds later, she was giving an acceptance speech for a Grammy she’d won, speaking from her couch through her computer to the international audience streaming the 63rd Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony. 

IU’s resident string ensemble, the Pacifica Quartet, took home the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance award for its album “Contemporary Voices” on March 14. The win marked the group’s second Grammy. 

“The nomination is huge already,” Ganatra said. “To get a second Grammy in our careers is amazing.”

The ensemble joined Jacobs in 2012 as a resident quartet, meaning the four members serve on faculty and represent IU when they tour. 

Ganatra, a violinist and founding member of Pacifica, said this year’s win came as a total surprise to the group, which includes Vamos on cello, violinist Austin Hartman and violist Mark Holloway. To win a second Grammy, especially when competing against such talented ensembles at a time when chamber music is thriving, didn’t seem possible, she said. 

When the quartet won its first Grammy in 2008, the four musicians stepped off a plane following a performance in Portugal. Ganatra dressed up in a gown and they accepted the award together onstage. With the coronavirus pandemic making it unsafe for an award show audience to gather, however, Ganatra and Vamos accepted the award over Zoom. 

Even though the show was less glamorous than the last, Ganatra said this year’s Grammy meant a lot to her because of how challenging the pandemic has been for the music community.

“In a way that even made the Grammy more special because, wow, this happened in kind of a difficult year,” Ganatra said. “It really came at a good time, I feel very lucky.”

Ganatra said she first picked up the violin in kindergarten to emulate a kid she carpooled with, who was taking lessons at the time. He stopped playing at some point, but Ganatra never did — she attended Oberlin College and formed the Pacifica Quartet in 1994. After the quartet had residencies at Northwestern and University of Chicago, IU asked them to join the Jacobs faculty. 

“IU for us is like a dream school because the music school is one of the best,” Ganatra said. “Jacobs is such a wonderful, musical place to be.”

Mark Holloway joined the quartet three years ago, so this was his first Grammy award with the group. He wasn’t able to join Ganatra and Vamos on the Zoom because of social distancing, so he watched the show alone in his Jacobs studio. He couldn’t quite believe it and got goosebumps when he saw that they won, he said. 

“Contemporary Voices” includes three pieces by female, Pulitzer Prize winning composers that reflect some of the social issues and cultural events happening now, Holloway said. One piece features IU professor and alto saxophonist Otis Murphy, and “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory” by Shulamit Ran was inspired by the work of Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum, who was killed at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. 

“It has such a strong connection to what we’re going through today,” Holloway said. “This piece really resonates with me.”

Sophomore Irene Castillo studies violin performance at Jacobs and plays in a quartet coached by Holloway. She said she was excited to find out Pacifica had been nominated, but as someone familiar with their level of talent, she’s not surprised they won. She’s particularly impressed by how the group put the album together in quarantine.  

“A lot of quartets were having a really hard time meeting and making music together,” Castillo said. “It gets really lonely so it’s cool that something made during a time like this is recognized. They’re just all so nice and it’s really exciting because it’s such a big honor.”

Holloway said their students have been congratulatory and hopes Pacifica has made them proud. He said they embody the exact opposite of all the cruelty and hatred explored in some of the music on “Contemporary Voices.”

“All this cruelty and ugliness in the world that I see is not in our students,” Holloway said. “Their hearts are in the right place, they’re all trying to make the world more beautiful.”

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