Karla Donehew-Perez, violin
Jessie Montgomery, violin
Paul Laraia, viola
Karlos Rodriguez, cello
Communication and the delivery of ideas is at the heart of why we make music. Whether investigating the human condition, culture, or history through music, we choose our projects and create our programs to be about something. We defy genre and break down the walls of tradition, reimagining and redefining the classical music experience…
We are the Catalyst.
Hailed by the New York Times at their Carnegie Hall debut as “invariably energetic and finely burnished…playing with earthy vigor,” the Grammy Award-winning Catalyst Quartet is comprised of top Laureates and alumni of the internationally acclaimed Sphinx Competition. Known for “rhythmic energy, polyphonic clarity and tight ensemble-playing,” the ensemble has toured throughout the United States and abroad, including sold-out performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, at Chicago’s Harris Theater, Miami’s New World Center and Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall in New York. They have been guest soloists with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and the Orquesta Filharmonica de Bogota, and will appear in the coming season with the New Haven Symphony.
Catalyst Quartet has given concert residencies at the University of Michigan, University of Washington, Rice University, Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts, Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Pennsylvania State University. International residencies where they perform and teach master classes have included the University of South Africa, England’s In Harmony Project, and the Teatro de Bellas Artes in Cali, Colombia. Their residency in Havana, Cuba for the Cuban American Youth Orchestra in January 2019, was the first by an American string quartet since the revolution.
Catalyst Quartet has been invited as guest artist at important music festivals, including the Virginia Arts Festival, Maverick Concerts, Mainly Mozart in San Diego, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Sitka Music Festival, Juneau Jazz and Classics, Strings Music Festival, the Vail International Dance Festival, and the Grand Canyon Music Festival where they appear annually. They opened the Festival del Sole in Napa, California with Joshua Bell in 2014 and participated that year in England’s Aldeburgh Music Foundation String Quartet Residency with two performances in Jubilee Hall. Recent seasons have brought international engagements in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Puerto Rico, and expanded tours throughout the United States. The ensemble’s New York City presence has included at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, City Center, at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, for Schneider Concerts at The New School, and their own series: CQ@Howl launched in 2018. Following six concerts with jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the subsequent recording won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Their recordings span the scope of their interests and artistry. Their debut album The Bach/Gould Project - features its own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations paired with Glenn Gould’s String Quartet Op. 1. Catalyst Quartet can also be heard on Strum, the solo debut of CQ violinist, composer Jessie Montgomery, Bandaneon y cuerdas, tango inspired music for string quartet and Bandaneon by JP Jofre, and Dreams and Daggers, their 2 CD Grammy winning album with Cecile McLorin Salvant. Catalyst has performed on numerous television and radio broadcasts for Detroit Public Television, American Public Media’s Performance Today, and Chicago, Houston, Seattle and Vermont local stations. The ensemble has been featured in The Strad, Strings Magazine, and BachTRack.com.
Founded by the Sphinx Organization, the Catalyst Quartet combines a serious commitment to diversity and education with a passion for contemporary works. In 2016 the Quartet completed their sixth national tour as principal players and featured ensemble with the Sphinx Virtuosi. Catalyst Quartet members serve as principal faculty at the Sphinx Performance Academy at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Curtis Institute of Music.
The Catalyst Quartet is a Sphinx ensemble and proudly endorses Pirastro strings. www.pirastro.com
Additional information with links to audio and video performances can be found on the homepage:www.catalystquartet.com
Karla Donehew-Perez, Violin, was born in Puerto Rico and began playing the violin at age three. At twelve, Karla moved with her family to California where she continued her studies with Anne Crowden, director and founder of The Crowden School. Karla completed her Bachelors and Masters degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying performance with violin teachers Paul Kantor, David Cerone, and William Preucil. She was a member of the WO-MEN String Quartet at CIM, which received several awards and performed for the Kennedy Center and the Cleveland Chamber Music Society. Karla has collaborated in chamber music with Frederica von Stade, Gary Karr, and members of the Guarneri, Juilliard and Takacs Quartets, among others. She has performed as a soloist with the Berkeley Symphony, Sacramento Philharmonic, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Oakland East Bay Symphony, Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, Sphinx Chamber Orchestra and the New World Symphony. She has been guest concertmaster at the Tucson Symphony and spent two years as a fellow at the New World Symphony, often as concertmaster or principal second violin. Karla performs on a violin made in 2013 by renowned German luthier Stefan Peter Grenier, supported in part by a Sphinx MPower Artist Grant, and a fine violin bow by Victor Fetique on generous loan from the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation.
Jessie Montgomery, Violin, is a New York native violinist, composer and music educator who composes and performs in her own film, theater and concert music, and is a regular performer in New York’s classical and new music scenes. An avid chamber musician and collaborator, Jessie was a founding member of PUBLIQuartet, an ensemble of composers and arrangers, which features their own music and other New York composers. She was a core member and resident composer of the Providence String Quartet from 2004-2009, quartet in residence of Community MusicWorks. She performs regularly with Yo-Yo Ma's Silkroad Ensemble, and has appeared with The Knights, East Coast Chamber Orchestra and NOVUS New York. Jessie was first affiliated with The Sphinx Organization in 1999 as a two-time laureate in the annual competition, was Concertmaster of the 2009 national tour, faculty of the Sphinx Performance Academy, and became a member of the Catalyst Quartet in 2012. Jessie's music has been commissioned and performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Young People's Chorus of NY, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta and Sphinx Virtuosi, and her music is performed regularly by the Catalyst Quartet and PUBLIQuartet. Jessie holds a Bachelor’s Degree from The Juilliard School in Violin Performance and a Master’s Degree in Composition and Film Scoring from New York University. Primary violin teachers were Sally Thomas and Ann Setzer; composition teachers and mentors include Ira Newborn, Joan Tower, Derek Bermel, and Laura Kaminsky www.jessiemontgomery.com
Paul Laraia, Viola, is regarded for his extraordinary grasp of phrasing, character and color. He has performed across the United States, Canada and in Korea, and has been featured on Detroit Public Television and National Public Radio. The New Jersey native first studied viola with Brynina Socolofsky, disciple of viola pedagogue Leonard Mogill. He continued studies on scholarship through Temple University’s Center for Talented Youth and the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, and entered the New England Conservatory of Music on full scholarship in 2007 to study with Kim Kashkashian. From 2007-2009 Paul was a member of the Bela String Quartet, silver medalists in the 2007 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Paul performed the Bartok and the Walton Viola Concertos with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall as a winner of the 2010 and 2011 Sphinx Competitions. Praised for his “long lines” and “caramelly yet airy” tone, Paul has since made solo debuts with the Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Nashville Symphony Orchestras and has appeared in recital at the 40th International Viola Congress. Paul recently recorded his debut album of Bach, Reger, Hindemith and Henze for the White Pine label. Like all members of the Catalyst Quartet, Paul believes it is crucial to bring classical music to new audiences and actively engages in outreach performance. The Bela Quartet brought music to inner city schools, hospitals and nursing homes, and Paul has offered free master classes to youth music programs.
Karlos Rodriguez, Cello, made his orchestral debut to great acclaim at the age of thirteen, and has since been an avid soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. The winner of several competitions and prizes, including the State cello prize (FL), the Irene Muir performance prize, the Richard Lowelberg cello award and a William Randolph Hearst scholarship. Karlos has appeared at important New York musical venues including Carnegie Hall (Isaac Stern Auditorium), Merkin Concert Hall, Lincoln Center (Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall), and Radio City Music Hall, and at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. Karlos has worked with many distinguished artists including the Beaux Arts Trio, the American, Cavani, Cleveland, Emerson, Guarneri, Juilliard, Miami, Orion, Tokyo and Vermeer String Quartets, and with the cellists Janos Starker, Lynn Harrell and Steven Isserlis. His teachers have included Richard Aaron, Peter Wiley and David Soyer. Karlos’s love of modern dance paired with live music has led to collaborations with the Thomas/Ortiz Dance Company, Freefall, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and dancer Chita Rivera. He attended and was a guest artist at the ENCORE School for Strings, the Sarasota, Aspen, and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festivals, and the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestra Chamber Music Societies. Karlos has worked on various Broadway musicals and pop albums, most recently with Shakira and Marc Anthony. Of Cuban descent, he teaches on the faculty at Summertrios and the Sphinx Performance Academy, and is the former Principal Cellist of the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra in Miami.
CATALYST QUARTET RECORDING REVIEWS:
“It has been a great many years since a new arrangement of a work of J.S. Bach has been so rewarding for us. This reviewer is entranced by the Aria which opens and closes the Goldberg Variations - music of consequence, fugal riches, and often darkly sumptuous beauty. The Goldberg Variations, as interpreted by the Catalyst Quartet, draws us to the Bach/Gould Project CD when we are ready to hear a great recording. We congratulate the members of the Catalyst on their debut release.”
- AfriClassical - Nov. 11, 2015
“The Bach/Gould Project, the debut CD by America’s Catalyst Quartet, gives us an effective and satisfying arrangement for string quartet. It took the quartet members a year and a half to produce their own transcription, and it’s a stunning achievement, with a rich, warm sound right from the opening Aria and some beautifully judged phrasing and dynamics. There is the same exuberance and sense of sheer joy that pervades Gould’s recordings. The decision to include Glenn Gould’s String Quartet Op.1 was a smart one. It is a rich, complex single-movement quartet. What may be surprising is that it is full of truly idiomatic string writing, with a great deal of contrapuntal voicing that is handled with great skill.”
- The Whole Note - September 2015
Catalyst Quartet in Concert:
“When the Catalyst Quartet appeared at Sunset Center, we heard four fabulous musicians and a fabulous program — by any standard, a great combination. Every once in a while, we hear a concert in which the polish and refinement of the musicians’ individual mastery combined with their ability to respond to each others individual artistic skills produces a concert in which there is an inevitability about the playing. Simply said, it was difficult to imagine the works they performed being played any other way. I witnessed something I had never observed before: violinist Karla Donehew Perez played first chair in the first half of the concert, and Jessie Montgomery, in the second half. Bravo! We are now adding artistic equality to gender equality. The most impressive work on the program was Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 2. It received a totally compelling performance. It contained drama, virtuosity, sensitive soul tugging sentiment and powerful dancelike elements. Right from the opening moments we were swept up in a violent, energetic world that kept us riveted throughout five movements. Dynamics were very impressive: lots of fire and fury, but in the quietest moments, we heard many shades of pianissimo that always had substance and shape. Perez produced some astonishingly pure harmonics that were dazzling. Also tremendously effective were Piazzolla’s Suite del Angel and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ String Quartet No. 1. We heard quartet playing at its very best. Responding to tumultuous applause, the Catalyst Quartet gave us one encore. This performance brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.”
Peninsula Reviews - February 24, 2019
“Who would have suspected an entire program of regional premieres? The Catalyst’s ‘tour of South America’ accounted for an entertaining discovery of unfamiliar music including, an out-and-out masterpiece, Ginastera’s Second String Quartet. The players took special delight is exploiting a boatload of sonic techniques, some called for by the music and for sheer sport: a shocking, thrilling palette of effects all justified in artistically expressive terms. The central Presto magicosizzled like the mini-fireworks of a July 4th sparkler. The impact was as equally explosive as amusing. The Catalyst four answered the call for an encore with the haunting Aria from Villa-Lobos.”
Performing Arts Monterey Bay - February 25, 2019
“The difference between the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra? No better demonstration than how each opened its 2017-18 season. The Minnesota Orchestra brought the crowd to its feet for a traditional Star-Spangled Banner. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performed a kind of abstract collage of a ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ firmly on the side of being adventurous and experimental. One offered stability while the other challenged its audience with something new and potentially controversial. Perhaps it says something about SPCO audiences that they gave composer Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Banner’ a rousing ovation. Montgomery was among the performers for ‘Banner,’ a piece for string quartet and chamber orchestra: first violinist for guest ensemble, the Catalyst Quartet. Opening the season with this work seemed to throw the gauntlet down and declare that the SPCO is all about adventure and unpredictability. I’ve liked everything I’ve heard of Montgomery’s, and this was no exception, thanks in great part to the passionate performance of both the Catalyst Quartet and the SPCO.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press - September 15, 2017
“There is a moment in Montgomery’s Banner when the energetic motion of its start comes to a halt, dissolves in a series of sliding harmonics, hand drumming on the upright bass, and lightly bowed fragments in alternation. The quartet takes over, and the whole ensemble strikes a heartbeat on the floor with their feet. This leads us on a tour of music from countries and territories surrounding the United States. In its finale, the heartbeat becomes a flutter – and, as the man next to me said, ‘Wow,’ the piece was over. As an introduction to Montgomery’s work and the Catalyst Quartet, it certainly makes one wish that the program had been a little longer with more of them in it.”
Twin Cities Arts Reader - September 19, 2017
Puerto Rican debut for Pro Arte Musicale at Sala Pablos Casals:
“It was surprising to hear the caliber of sound quality of the Catalyst’s reading of the first Villa-Lobos for this production. The suggestive titles corresponded with a delicious interpretation by the guest artists. From the subtle elegance of the ‘Cantilena,’ to a highlight with violist Paul Laraia in the third movement; the fine musicality and perfect intonation of the ‘Cançoneta;’ the expressive melody in the hands of Cuban cellist Karlos Rodriguez for the ‘Melancolia;’ to the conclusion with synchronized breathing of exquisite taste and overwhelming force in ‘Saltando como um Saci.’ They closed the program with exceptional brilliance in their own arrangement of Piazzolla’s ‘Suite del Ángel’.”
El Nuevo Dia –-April 4, 2017
“Catalyst Quartet was in stunning form, with elegiac sound, and great flexibility due to listening intently to each other. The energy was almost unbearable, in a good way! The sum total of all Sphinx Organization activities is much more important than any one concert given: may their efforts not only thrive but increase."
New York Times, October 11, 2016
Premiere of Puhutawi at the Grand Canyon Music Festival:
“A new brand of music is floating across the airwaves of northern Arizona and it sounds good. The new genre fuses traditional Hopi music with contemporary classical. A five-year endeavor birthed the concert-length composition Puhutawi, which pays homage to the Grand Canyon and helps kick-off celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Hopi composer Trevor Reed wrote with the east coast string quartets Catalyst and Ethel in mind: musicians who were not necessarily Native but who were interested in getting outside the box. Puhutawi goes deeper than just blending cultures and ideas. It's about the sound itself. Tenakhongva and The Catalyst Quartet performed.”
Navajo-Hopi Observer - September 6, 2016
“The Catalyst Quartet offered a dynamic performance of Joan Tower’s lyrical, melancholic ‘In Memory,’ inspired by events of Sept. 11, 2011.”
- The New York Times – Oct. 16, 2015
Catalyst Quartet Gets Down and Dirty at Kohl Mansion
“Catalyst Quartet members passed for country fiddlers and even a Brazilian samba band in a recital of folk-based string quartet works. The most compelling pieces were contemporary takes on non-Western folk traditions. Stirred by his encounters with violence during a trip to Israel, Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov drew on Middle Eastern musical traditions for Tenebrae. In one particularly chilling passage, violist Paul Laraia emulated a traditional lament, while first violinist Karla Donehew-Perez provided an echo effect at the end of each phrase, playing an obsessive melodic figure as she shifted her bowing from the bridge upward toward the fingerboard. The resulting, eerie tone color sounded like it had been produced in an electronic studio rather than by an acoustic violin.”
- SF Classical Voice – Nov. 18, 2015
The Catalyst Quartet opened the Modlin Center season in Richmond VA:
“The Catalyst takes a rather old-school approach to its music-making, phrasing without excessive edginess, producing a generally mellow sonority with a big, rich bass, reminiscent of great quartets of the past such as the Guarneri and Budapest. Bartók Quartet No. 3 is a showcase of spiky harmonic language that characterizes the master’s mature music. The performance didn’t underplay those qualities – cellist Rodriguez slid quite effectively, and violinist Donehew-Perez produced rarified, spider-webby figures faultlessly. The ensemble gave a comparably romantic sheen to Beethoven. String tone was robust and rounded with no shortage of vibrato, tempos were moderately paced, in the finale a hint of Haydnesque effervescence and volatility. The group’s sound and the music’s style were best reconciled in Brahms, a songful outpouring of high-romantic tone and phrasing that the four musicians audibly relished. The first violin paced a sweetly lyrical andante, and the closing movement’s set of variations found the ensemble in its most plushly sonorous collective voice.”
- Richmond Times-Dispatch - Sept. 9, 2015
Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane WA:
“The Catalyst Quartet playing was a continual source of pleasure. Careful to keep within the bounds of string playing appropriate to 18th-century music, they nonetheless succeeded in revealing the wealth of wit and pathos that lies in nearly every measure of Bach’s great work. All four players employed light pressure on the string and used vibrato as Bach would have expected: as an occasional ornament, rather than a constant means of tone production. The result was a sweet, airy sound, capable of many shades of expression. In the Gould String Quartet, the group’s sound darkened considerably, in keeping with the stylistic language of the work. Early in his career, Gould was deeply involved in the music of the Second Viennese School of composers.. These are the influences most noticeable in his String Quartet, and account for its dominant tone of brooding, super-heated emotion. Catalyst responded by digging into their strings more deeply and producing tone colors that would have been out of place in the Bach.”
- Spokesman Review – March 4, 2015
“Catalyst Quartet was excellent in Marcus Goddard’s atmospheric ‘Allaqi’ for string quartet.”
- Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times –October 30, 2014
“Goddard’s Allaqi, performed by the Catalyst Quartet stood out. I was moved and enthralled by the quartet’s performance, seeing the notes lifted high into the room, painting this grand picture.”
- Splash Magazine
“The Haydn war horse (Quartet in G Major, op. 76/1) got a fresh take from these youngsters. Their energy shone in the perfect ensemble unity. An unequaled class of execution continued through the entire Brahms Quartet, op. 51/1. The concluding movement was nothing short of fantastic. A cheering, standing house echoed their appreciation.”
- Lincoln (NE) Journal Star
Catalyst Quartet played up a storm last night for Chamber Music Monterey Bay. What a way to begin a concert! Strum, written by violinist Jessie Montgomery, developed an infectious energy as it mixed rhythmic vitality with passionate lyricism. It was a piece you didn’t want to end. Tenebrae, by Golijov, has a spiritual kinship to the Adagio later in the program. Especially impressive was the gorgeous playing by cellist Rodriguez against the ostinato provided by the other players. We heard beautiful and effective playing from all the Catalyst players. The concert ended with the remarkable Brahms String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor. The energy and drama, plus its supremely effective writing for the instruments, was totally absorbing. We loved it.”
- Peninsula Reviews
“ ‘Strum’ by Jesse Montgomery is a great opener. The performers’ rhythmic energy, polyphonic clarity and tight ensemble–playing continued throughout the evening. Golijov’s ‘Tenebrae’ gave us a beautifully wrought, lucid and committed performance of this most moving composition. Each player shone, both as collaborators in a like-thinking ensemble and as lyric “soloists.” I was awed by their performance of Ginastera’s fiendishly difficult String Quartet No.2! This work makes incredible technical demands, and the Catalyst players were up to all of them, including a perfect sense of ensemble during the unison passages and complex first movement rhythms. The mysterious sounds were flawlessly produced. The concert was brought to a thrilling conclusion by the wild final movement, aptly marked furioso. We were treated to a delightful encore, the quartet’s arrangement of ‘El Coqui’. The Musica da Camera audience left smiling.”
- New York Concert Review
“Invariably energetic and finely burnished…The Catalyst Quartet played the Allegro Rustico movement from Ginastera’s Quartet No. 2 with an earthy vigor. Osvaldo Golijov’s “Tenebrae” was given an introspective reading. Ms. Montgomery switched violins for the performance of her lively “Strum,” which featured insistent plucked rhythms and elegiac melodies. She also composed the encore, “Star-burst.”
- The New York Times
“Catalyst Quartet took the stage for Osvaldo Golijov’s ‘Tenebrae’, a meditative work whose floating mists and cosmic ambiguities can, in the wrong hands, seem like music to do yoga by, but the Catalyst players turned in a serious, convincing account. The tone shifted from dark to light when the quartet launched into ‘Strum,’ a hugely enjoyable work by Jessie Montgomery. Turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life, ‘Strum’ sounded like a handful of American folk melodies tossed into a strong wind, cascading and tumbling joyfully around one another.”
- The Washington Post
“Some complain that classical music was written by dead white guys, is performed by white musicians and listened to by white senior citizens. Luckily, there are groups like the Catalyst Quartet to combat this trend. Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Strum’ quickly brought back the fun energy. Under her sure guidance, melodies emerged from between the cracks of tightly nested repeating cells and snaked in and out of the pulsing framework, occasionally taking wayward dips before retreating to allow a new theme to materialize.”
- Oberlin Review
“The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival draws a tight frame around a resident composer. Some of America's most celebrated have held the title. This year's composer, Joel Hoffman, feted with a concert of his works, featured compelling music, polished craftsmanship and percolating ideas that deserve wider circulation. Played energetically by the Catalyst Quartet, the String Quartet No. 4 (2011) packed a lot into three short, tightly argued movements. The music soared in the sweetly nostalgic finale.”
- Detroit Free Press
“Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 2 dominated the Stanford University proceedings, played by the Catalyst Quartet, first-chair players of the Sphinx Virtuosi. Scheduled to play just Ginastera's finale, in a spirit of enthusiasm they presented the whole quartet, all five movements. There was no question of the violins resting on the lower strings' laurels, with the violins giving off tight energy and sure-handedness. Through Ginastera's perpetual motion opening movement and finale, his ghostly scherzo full of special sound effects, and the two cautious, softly dissonant slow movements, the resemblance to a really good performance of a Bartók quartet was unmistakable.”
- San Francisco Classical Voice
“Four of the Sphinx Virtuosi’s principal players comprise the Catalyst Quartet, which performed two numbers. Michael Nyman’s String Quartet No. 2 (1988) combines elements of minimalism with a rock aesthetic in a virtuoso setting. The finale Furioso movement, from Argentinean Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26 (1958), certainly shows Bartók's influence, but through a South American prism. This music is ‘in your face’ seething, frantic and fabulous fun.”
- Classical Voice of N.C.