Cavani String Quartet Presses the Refresh Button

Si-Yan Darren Li, Annie Fullard, Eric Wong & Mari Sato [credit: Robert Muller]
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Rather than retire from the stage one of Cleveland's premiere classical groups has reconfigured with a brand new lineup. 

Cavani Quartet has been Northeast Ohio's iconic all-female chamber group, in residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music, for more than thirty years.

Cavani String Quartet 1989: Erika Eckert, Annie Fullard, Merry Peckham & Susan Waterbury  [courtesy: Cavani String Quartet]

"In the first decade was the original four members, Annie [Fullard], Merry [Peckham], Susan [Waterbury], Erika [Eckert].  And after 10 years Erica decided to really focus on her teaching and Kirsten joined the quartet, and two years after that we were so lucky to have Mari join the ensemble," said Cavani co-founder and first violinist Annie Fullard.

Since 1995, Cavani included Fullard, second violinist Mari Sato, violist Kirsten Docter and cellist and co-founder, Merry Peckham.

Annie Fullard, Mari Sato, Merry Peckham & Kirsten Docter [credit: Andi Wolfe]

"It was my life's work for 32-plus years.  For me it was like a family, and I still feel that way about my Cavani sisters, all of them.  I definitely think it was a big part of who I am as a musician and as an artist and a person and an educator actually.  So it was very important to me," Peckham said.

As a member of a string quartet for 20 years, Kirsten Docter said it was both fulfilling and challenging.

Merry Peckham, Mari Sato, Kirsten Docter & Annie Fullard [credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco]

"Sometimes being in a quartet is like a marriage without the benefits and two or three other people instead of just one other.  So for sure there are times that are rough.  If we had disgreements we'd try to keep it about the music, try to keep it unpersonal," Docter said.

For Peckham, any challenges they faced, they faced together.

"As difficult as the process is the outcome is always worth it because it's great art," Peckham said.

In 2016, two members of Cavani decided it was time for a change.

Kirsten Docter is now associate professor of viola at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

"This opportunity at Oberlin came up. It wasn't something I was actively seeking.  I'm a proud graduate of Oberlin.  I had been doing some chamber music coaching there. I had done a couple semesters as sabbatical replacement.  It just seemed like a great move," Docter said.

Merry Peckham meanwhile had contemplated retiring from Cavani as well.

"I had started doing things outside of the quartet that I found very rewarding and that I wanted to pursue even more," Peckham said.

Peckham is now chair of chamber music at the New England Conservatory.

Fullard and Sato decided to add some younger talent to its ranks but finding replacements took some time.  In doing so they changed not just the sound of the quartet but the look as well.

Stepping in on viola is Eric Wong, a CIM grad and Cavani’s first male player.

"With Eric joining us we had this commonality with CIM, and he also happened to study the viola with Kirsten.  Her last concert was Eric's first," Mari Sato said.

Last year cellist Si-Yan Darren Li (another male player) became the final piece of the new Cavani Quartet to fall into place.

Annie Fullard, Si-Yan Darren Li, Mari Sato & Eric Wong [credit: Robert Muller]

"I feel like it's pressing the refresh button and having an extended family now, of having the wonderful work that we did in the quartet with Merry and Kirsten particularly because that was really two-thirds of our career," Fullard said.

Sato adds there's a "fifth" Cavani who's been working in the background since the start, CIM's longtime dean of Chamber Music Studies.

"Peter Salaff has been a constant through all of it from the very beginning days of Cavani and then with each transition and all of us working with him in some capacities," Sato said.

All that said, Fullard is excited for the group's future.

"I think transitions are exciting, they stretch you and they change you and I think that's all good.  You learn a lot.  I think life is short so why not make it an adventure?" Fullard said.

Cavani String Quartet's previously scheduled performance on January 31st at the Cleveland Institute of Music has been postponed to a date to be detmerined.







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