The Polaris String Quartet, composed of four string players from a variety of backgrounds, performed their spring semester concert on April 5. An audience of community members, Music Appreciation students and instrumental music enthusiasts gathered in the Organ Recital Hall of the University Center for the Arts to hear the quartet’s prepared repertoire: two pieces in four movements each by Franz Schubert and Maurice Ravel.
Margaret Miller, coordinator of the Graduate String Quartet program at the UCA, says that the performance was the last time the quartet would perform as a group.
“The special thing about chamber music is that there’s no conductor,” she said. “This group has learned to know their parts inside and out as well as their neighbor’s parts. They all work very well together.”
Chealsea Bernhardt, a member of the Polaris String Quartet, agrees that learning to work well with three other musicians has been a challenge that allowed her to grow.
“The whole experience is about broadening your horizons with different cultures and musical styles,” she says, “It actually helps you develop a lot of social skills and you learn to communicate both verbally and non-verbally.”
The members of the string quartet would use both musical cues and subtle body language to stay in sync throughout the performance, both mentally and musically. Slight head nods and key phrases at the beginning and end of movements kept the music at a consistent tempo, dynamic and timbre.
Miller says that the differing types of music in each piece also posed a challenge for the quartet.
“They had to learn to play with more angst for Schubert, and add more color to the music for French styles,” she says.
The first piece, “String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, D. 804, ‘Rosamunde'” by Franz Schubert, began in a minor key with intensity and a heightened tempo. It faded into an operatic style for the second movement and returned to another melancholy, slow minor key for the third movement. The fourth and final movement introduced a new theme with an articulated, major melody propelled forward by the musicians plucking the strings of their instruments for a happier-sounding timbre.
The second piece, “String Quartet in F major” by Maurice Ravel, quickly revealed itself as an engaging piece with multiple themes and enormous dynamic contrast. The second and third movements introduced vastly differing styles. The fourth movement concluded the concert with a chaotic yet resolving collection of melodies passed between instruments.
The Polaris String Quartet started rehearsals in January, and the process was difficult due to the member’s diverse lifestyles.
“Finding time to rehearse that worked with everyone’s schedules was definitely a challenge,” Bernhardt said.
Victoria Ferguson, a cellist in the quartet, says that finding time for rehearsals and individual practice posed difficulties for her as a musician.
“I’m not a music major,” she said. “I work full time and I’m also a graduate student, so finding time to be in the quartet was a big shock. It was like trying to be a student, a musician, and be in the real world all at the same time.”
Paola Zamario, another member of the quartet, agrees that balancing the ensemble with her outside life was the biggest challenge of preparing for the performance.
“I’m a student and I’m still learning how to play with four different minds as one idea, but we’re also still expected to play like professionals,” she said.
However, all three members of the quartet agree that the experience of playing in a group helped them grow as musicians and as people.
“In order to play well together, you have to get to know each other both musically and personally,” Ferguson said.
“Getting to share what we’ve spent the past couple months working on by ourselves has been the best part of the experience,” Bernhardt says, “We’ve spent hours every week preparing it and we finally got to share it with an audience.”
The Graduate String Quartet Program ended their 2016-2017 year with a strong performance and meaningful relationships within the ensemble.
Collegian reporter Mckenzie Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mkenziemoore172.