4. They met in the New York subway. They were teenage students, both carrying instruments, so he asked her where she was studying. They found that they both had the same teacher. Ivan Galamian. They have been married nearly 11 years.
Martha started as a dancer, but at 9, when her sister Lynn was paralyzed by polio, she gave it up for the violin. Switched to the viola, blazed her way through Curtis Institute, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music. She feels she could have been a painter just as easily.
Paul: "I've always admired Martha and Peter with their many talents. Mine is only music. Took the piano at 5, but I liked music in some social context. Practicing the piano or even the cello alone all the time is hard, and I enjoy being with a group. When I was 17 I played my first serious chamber music but didn't know if I could make a living at it. I've been in chamber music full time since I was 19. Did graduate quartets, a couple of international competitions."
They make up to $5,000 a performance, cut five ways including the agent. One of their travel expenses is a plane seat for the cello.
An Angeleno, Paul studied cello with Piatigorsky at the University of California. Then east to the Manhattan School.
Peter Salaff started at 9, but also kept up an interest in piano and painting. At 13, he heard his first chamber music in his native Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. Met Don at Aspen, later took off for two years with the Peace Corps in Chile.
Don: "I started at 4, and I didn't think really seriously about doing anything else, though I did consider some sort of social work or teaching. I never considered being a doctor, like my father. I could get good marks in science but wasn't much interest in it. When I was 18 people said I should go into music seriously."
He went to Juilliard, also worked with Galamian and, as head of the Cleveland Institute's violin department, it was he who helped the fledgling quartet land its residency there.
"Unlike Paul, I love to practice alone. I love to go over a phrase 100 times, try to make it as beautiful as I can possibly make it. For some reason this is exciting to me."
What would happen if someone left and they brought in a new member?
"Well, you have to learn a lot of new music fast. But the new personality just has to change a group. If the new member begins a phrase and you finish it, well you just have to do it in a way that complements what he just did. We've played the Dvorak piano quintet with six or seven different pianists now, and we change tremendously."
Either in spite of or because of this flexibility, they have developed a certain style quite apart from the music. Often they appear in slacks and turtlenecks, and when playing for students they hang around onstage during intermission to answer questions. It is one of the reasons why people say the Cleveland is bringing new energy and a new audience to the somewhat rarified world of chamber music.