arts & entertainment'
Latin American string quartet plays Pro Music Detroit concert
at Max M. Fisher Music Center.
aul Bitran would like people from
around the world to know a side
of Latin America beyond beaches,
soccer and political problems.
That side is classical music, and
he presents it as part of the Cuarteto
Bitran will bring that knowledge to a
Detroit audience in a concert planned
under sponsorship of Pro Musica of
Detroit. It begins at 8:30 p.m. Friday,
March 14, at the Max M. Fisher Music
"We'd like to present this important side
on behalf of a continent where concert
music and the arts are very lively:' says
Bitran in a phone conversation from his
home in Massachusetts, distant from the
Mexican base of the other members of the
"We'll be playing four pieces. The first
half [of the concert] has three pieces writ-
ten in Latin America, and the second half
has a quartet by Claude Debussy.
"This is the type of program we like a lot
because it features Latin American music
standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one
of the famous European pieces. It gives a
chance for Latin American music to shine
and be played in the best musical contexts
of the world, where we believe it belongs.
"The Latin American works include
Four for Tango by Astor Piazzolla, Cuarteto
en Sol by Domino Lobato and Cuarteto
No. 2 by Francisco Mignone. The Debussy
piece is String Quartet Op. 10.
"The tango piece is the only piece the
Argentine composer wrote for quartet:'
Bitran explains. "The Lobato piece was
written in a romantic Mexican style.
The Mignone work is very colorful and
The Grammy-winning quartet, formed
in 1982, consists of three brothers: Saul
and Aron are on violins, and Avaro is on
cello. Javier Montiel joins the brothers on
"As a working quartet, we are a working
democracy:' says Bitran, whose American
residency is because of the work of his
wife, Iris Berent, a cognitive scientist. "We
all have opinions, both musical and busi-
ness, which are taken into account.
"I, as first violinist, am the one who
probably gives more signals, like a conduc-
tor does, during the concert.
"We spend one week every month
rehearsing in Mexico City, playing con-
certs and teaching. The rest of the time,
we're touring around the world or each
one is at home.
"This arrangement has been going
on for 20 years. Before that, we all
lived together in Mexico and then in
Pittsburgh, where we served for six years
as quartet-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon
The three brothers, whose family left
Chile for Mexico during the 1973 Chilean
coup, have played music together since
childhood at the encouragement of their
father, an amateur violist, and mother, a
pianist. They included their sister at the
"My parents never intended for us to
become professionals, but we liked it and
had great opportunities," Bitran says. "Our
dream was to remain doing chamber
music as opposed to playing in orchestras
because of what we liked so much as kids:'
The brothers studied at a Mexican
conservatory. Afterward, Saul Bitran,
who speaks Hebrew, decided to further
his schooling in Tel Aviv, where he met
his wife. His brothers went to the United
The quartet was formed with a class-
mate from the Mexican conservatory.
"The first years, we worked more in
Mexico but started traveling from the
beginning:' Bitran says. "We did concerts
in the U.S and Europe. We believed there
was no way we could make a career with-
out being exposed to the best quartets in
the world and the best concert series.
"We took any travel invitation we got
even if it was poorly paid, but it all paid
off. We have never stopped traveling and
bringing this wealth of Latin American
music for quartets to places around the
Saul Bitran, 52, is the youngest in the
group. The quartet's concert appearances
have taken them from the Kennedy Center
in Washington, D.C., to La Scala in Milan.
"It's a good feeling working with my
brothers:' he says. "We don't take that into
account when we're playing. We have a
very professional relationship when we are
working and a warm family relationship
"We have an intuitive way of separat-
ing them. Living apart has been helpful
because we have independent lives and
interests. Then, when we do get together
as a quartet or family, we get along very
All of our children are into music, more
or less seriously. My son, Amir, 20, is study-
ing composition and piano. My daughter,
Alma, 14, is a very serious pianist:'
Bitran, who also plays with a piano trio
near his home, teaches at the College of
the Holy Cross in Worcester. Mass.
"Judaism is very important in our lives,"
he says. "We belong to a local temple and
try to have Shabbat dinners. My wife's fam-
ily is in Israel, and we go there every year:'
When the quartet toured Israel in 2000,
they included a piece by an Israeli compos-
er. Their repertoire includes the music of
Jewish Latin American composers as well.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano will assist Pro
Musica with its educational outreach work
by performing and teaching students in a
special program to be held 10 a.m.-noon
Friday, March 14, at Detroit Cristo Rey
"We have recorded more than 50 CDC
says Bitran, whose quartet commissioned
a piece, Bay of Pigs, by composer Michael
Daugherty (the University of Michigan
faculty member has called the quartet "one
of the best in the world").
"A month ago, we finished a new CD
that will come out this year:' says Bitran.
"Before that, we recorded a CD, Brasileiro,
which won the Latin Grammy as Best
Classical Recording. It features music by
Francisco Mignone, whose piece we will
play in Detroit:'
The Cuarteto Latinoamericano will
perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March
14, at the Max M. Fisher Music
Center in Detroit. Afterglow follows
the concert. $25-$45; $10 students.
(313) 576-5111 (313-882-7775 for
March 6 • 2014