Friday, October 28, 2011

The Artaria String Quartet

Written by: Amy Tobin

Here in Minnesota, we are lucky to have a vast array of very talented and amazing musicians. We've got the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, as well as many smaller groups and individual artists. In fact, on most weekends, it can be difficult to decide whose concert to go to.
Annalee Wolfe, Nancy Oliveros, Laura Sewell, and Ray Shows of the Artaria String Quartet


One of my favorite small groups, in fact some of my favorite all-around musicians, is the Artaria String Quartet. Composed of Ray Shows as first violinist, Nancy Oliveros as second violinist, Annalee Wolf as violist, and Laura Sewell as cellist, each member is an accomplished musician with an impressive performance pedigree behind them. Collectively, they have performed in many of the major symphony orchestras across America as well as in Europe (both eastern and western), and they have been recipients of such awards as the McKnight Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.


It can be an interesting occurrence, the forming of a chamber group. You have to first decide what kind of group you are going to have (quartet, trio, duo, etc.) and what instrumentation. Then, you have to find fellow members that all work well together and respect each other both as musicians and human beings. This is not usually an easy task, and when groups form, there is always an element of "the hand of the fates" present in the situation.


It is particularly for this reason that I find the Artaria String Quartet to be so invigorating and appealing. Each one of them is a dynamic personality as well as an accomplished performer. In fact, their personalities all differ quite a bit....Ray is every bit the first violinist, outgoing and always performing, in a sense. Nancy's sense of humor and incredible good-naturedness (is that a word? If not, it should be) is an absolute joy to be around. Laura is refined and pleasant in a way that makes you feel as if you have stumbled in, and been welcomed to, high tea at the palace, and Annalee is the resident Earth-mother, who's joy in being who she is and noticing the best of humanity draws the highest human qualities from all around her. In fact, all of these traits are evident in the way each of them perform, and, although the personalities are all so different, they all blend very nicely.

The result is a group of musicians who are willing not only to step to the edge of the precipice to see what is out there, but also to take the leap of faith that produces music that is heart-felt and visceral. During the next two years, in fact, they are embarking on a program that very few groups have ever undertaken. In fact, they are only the second group in the United States (the first being the Parker String Quartet) to do this. They are performing all 15 of the Shostakovich String Quartets in a series of concerts.


The Artaria String Quartet, or ASQ as they are affectionately known as in the Twin Cities, also enjoys teaching the world's next generation of musicians, as well as previous ones! They run the Artaria Chamber Music School, who's members have been participants and recipients of awards at chamber music competitions around the country, as well as the summer Stringwood chamber music camp. They have also been known to hold a winter version of that, called Winterstrings, for adult chamber musicians.

In any case, the ASQ is a string quartet that has been instrumental in making the Twin Cities a haven for the culturing of chamber music and musicians. I am looking forward to being part of the journey through the Shostakovich string quartets, and anything else they take on in the future!

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