Teen musicians face off in groups of fourby Karl Gehrke, Minnesota Public Radio
On Sunday six high school string quartets are participating in the first-ever St. Paul String Quartet Competition. These events are something of a rite of passage for young musicians. They give them something to strive for and an opportunity to find out how they compare to their peers.
St. Paul, Minn. — It's a few days before the competition and Lizzie Whipple, Nora Ali, Kate Leger and Scott Ness have gathered in the basement of a church on St. Paul's Summit Hill to polish up Brahms' First String Quartet.
The four high school musicians have been playing together in a string quartet since September. They call their group the LNKS Quartet after the first letters of their names. Although they're all busy with school and other activities, they get together to rehearse at least once a week. They joke that it takes some 40 e-mail exchanges before they can arrange a time and place to play, but they agree it's worth the effort.
Violist Kate Leger says after eight months they've formed a close musical and personal partnership.
"As a quartet you have to be kind of one entity," she explains. "You have to play together and you have to do it without any outside help. I think some of our best times have come when we've just been playing around together. That's when we really discover what each other is like, how we play, and what the little tics are that we have. I think that really helps us and factors into our playing."
The members of the LNKS Quartet are students at the Artaria Chamber Music School in St. Paul, founded by the Artaria String Quartet. The school is in its fourth season and has ten student quartets.
The idea for the St. Paul String Quartet Competition came from Artaria violinist Ray Shows, who wanted a venue in which his students could compete.
"In my mind this event is like a little Olympics for string quartet players," he says. "They're going from round to round. They're being judged by different people and scored. But this competition gives them a chance to shine."
There are several chamber music competitions for high school students around the country, but Ray Shows says the St. Paul String Quartet Competition is unique because it's exclusively for strings.
In the opinion of Minnesota Orchestra violinist William Polk, the best music was written for string quartets. Polk also plays in the Minneapolis Quartet. He regrets that he didn't have any opportunities to participate in chamber music competitions when he was in high school.
"There's a big emphasis on concerto competitions and the like in high school," he says. "I don't think there's enough emphasis on developing chamber music skills, which really serve you well in life. If you learn how to work well with people then obviously that's going to help you. The quartet really is an intimate setting. At the end of the day you have to play together and you have to be unified."
There are six quartets participating in the first St. Paul String Quartet Competition. Four of them are from the Artaria School and two from the Madison-Chicago area. During Sunday's competition each quartet will have 15 minutes to play two pieces. In addition to Brahms, the LNKS Quartet will play music from the String Quartet by Claude Debussy.
Violinist Lizzie Whipple says the event has been a goal for her group.
"I think this competition is a good experience because it pushes us," she says. "We love to practice, but this makes us practice even more because we want to get better for the competition."
Her fellow violinist, Nora Ali, says that they don't necessarily want to win; they want to play well.
Cellist Scott Ness adds that the competition is a place to showcase what they've accomplished.
Whipple also says she likes to play for an audience. "I love performing and the audience loves the music too. That's why they come and that's why it's fun."
The St. Paul String Quartet Competition begins at 1:00 Sunday at Hamline University's Sundin Music Hall. Organizer Ray Shows hopes to have more entrants next year, but he wants the event to remain small enough for local groups to feel comfortable and compete successfully.
- Morning Edition, 04/28/2006, 7:55 a.m.