December 3, 2021

Faculty Focus: Meet John Pickford Richards, inventive violist and MSM Contemporary Performance Program faculty

John Pickford Richards, founder of the JACK Quartet, speaks to us about teaching at MSM in Faculty Focus, our website series showcasing MSM faculty members.

An innovative and leading figure of contemporary classical music, MSM professor John Pickford Richards holds a reputation for performing new and unusual music across the globe. He was a founding member of the ensemble Alarm Will Sound before founding the JACK Quartet, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2018 and hailed by the New York Times as “our leading new-music foursome.”

What is your teaching philosophy?

I try to help students use their own inspiration and curiosity as a guide to learning. Sometimes this is focused on specific composers and pieces, and other times it’s more abstractly focused on sound and tone. But once the obsession is established, I’m here to help find solutions and strategies so that students can feel like the performers they imagine themselves being.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at MSM? 

I am most enchanted by MSM’s culture of enthusiasm and curiosity with a pretty unusual attentiveness to musical detail.

Which musicians inspire you the most?

It seems silly, but I’m consistently amazed by the superhuman abilities and intellect of the other JACK members. I’m the luckiest violist on earth.

Can you tell us about any of the notable alumni of the MSM Contemporary Performance Program (CPP)?

I especially admire the Mivos Quartet, which I believe formed during the inaugural year of the program, and also Quartet121. The access and opportunities these quartets offer to composers is deep and invaluable. And they are all great people!

What high-profile concerts coming up are featuring MSM CPP students?

This already happened, but I recently saw Alarm Will Sound perform John Luther Adams’s 10,000 Birds, which is performed outside, and I spotted CPP violinist Teagan Faran performing in a tree.

Can you tell us about your most recent project with the JACK Quartet?

JACK resumed normal traveling this fall with three European tours in less than two months. Since September, we’ve premiered seven major works, including new pieces by Chaya Czernowin and John Luther Adams. It’s been incredibly life-giving!

“I am most enchanted by MSM’s culture of enthusiasm and curiosity with a pretty unusual attentiveness to musical detail.”

Contemporary Performance Diploma Faculty: Viola