For loyal Takács Quartet audiences, violist Geraldine Walther has been a staple on the Grusin stage for some time. Walther has played with the quartet for 15 years, replacing Roger Tapping when he retired in 2005. Tapping replaced founding violist Gabor Ormai in 1995. Now, with new pursuits on the horizon and a grandchild on the way, Walther will retire at the end of the academic year.
“I've been working all my life since I was 25. I was in the Baltimore Symphony and then I was in the Pittsburgh Symphony and then I was principal violist in the San Francisco Symphony for 29 years,” Walther says.
Throughout those early chapters of her career as a orchestral performer, a love of scholarship was brewing under the surface.
“I've always been interested in learning. When I was in San Francisco, I tried to learn a new concerto every year. And they finally had to say, ‘No, you can't play that because nobody knows that composer, they won't be interested.’ But I played a lot of wild stuff for many years!”
When the opportunity to audition for the Takács and serve as faculty for the CU College of Music arose, it was the best of both worlds for Walther. She knew she was unlikely to get the chance to audition for a world-class string quartet again. Plus, she had a love of chamber music she was ready to put to the test.
Of course, it was kismet for everyone involved, and Walther joined ranks with Edward Dusinberre, András Fejér and Károly Schranz, knowing she had big shoes to fill.
“Roger Tapping brought his special qualities to the group. When he left, I was very aware of trying to live up to how well he played and everything he brought musically and personally to the mix. But I am myself, and I couldn't be him. I had to be myself.”
Of course, “herself” was exactly what the quartet ordered. She quickly made her mark.
“I think each new player is confronted with that challenge: how to blend in but also be themselves and contribute in their own unique way. That's one thing we can all count on is change, isn't it? When you have a new player join, it changes what you're doing little by little. You’re not aware of the changes day to day, but over time the quartet develops a different sound.”
While it all might sound like quite the natural evolution, finding her footing with the group early on led to many sleepless nights, confesses Walther. Moving from a symphony position meant she was learning the majority of the chamber repertoire for the first time. The learning curve was steep, but she was determined to do well.
“That first year, it was quite difficult: all the traveling and getting along in an intense way with three wonderful musicians. I learned, of course, to relate to three other people instead of a hundred other people. And to talk, to be willing to change very fine details in a big way.”
Eventually, Walther found her place, making the quartet what we all know and love it as today. But, she says, that natural evolution has to continue.
“It's going to be a very exciting time for the quartet and going forward. But it's changing. It's not the same quartet it was with Károly or Roger or me. It's going to be a different quartet, and that's good. We should all embrace that change and enjoy it.”
Fifteen years on, the Takács Quartet and the College of Music have become a beloved home for Walther, which makes retirement a bit of a sad goodbye for everyone.
“We feel extremely grateful to have been able to share our musical lives with Geri since 2005, benefitting from her wonderful sound and vibrant musicianship in concerts and numerous recordings,” say the continuing members of the Takács, speaking as a collective.
But with the bitter comes the sweet. Walther leaves behind a sense of gratitude for her colleagues and for Boulder audiences, too.
“Being in a string quartet—being in a top string quartet—is a bucket list dream. My best memories have been making the music: playing with the other College of Music faculty, playing with the quartet, experiencing the support and love of the audience and how important music is to audiences here.
“My fellow players in the quartet—András, Ed, Harumi, and Károly before Harumi—love living here. They love the connection with this caring audience and this involved community of people for whom music is important. It's not like that everywhere.
“It's a very, very special place, Boulder. And it's an intimate relationship that we all have with the audience here. It’s been a good run.”