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String quartets coached by former student

This year’s Quartet Project consists of 20 students and five coaches, all of whom are passionate about string chamber music. (Photo submitted)

Everyone has heard of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.

However, the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra’s Quartet Project is bringing teens together to beckon the famous composers’ music to life.

For the last three weeks, students have been meeting in groups of four to to learn about music, each other and themselves. The quartets work with a coach from the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, specifically for their group, with some coaches bringing experience as a former Quartet Project student.

The string quartet is a musical grouping used by many composers in the classical period.

“I think that since the time of Mozart and Haydn, the fathers of the string quartet, it is this ensemble more than any other that composer after composer has entrusted their most profound, intimate musical thoughts,” said Warren Friesen, the co-director and coach of the Quartet Project. “We’re encountering the greatest music of our craft.”

Chamber music in a string quartet is considered to be difficult, with each person playing a singular musical idea.

“When you play chamber music you have to play your own part well,” said Jonas Benson, one of five coaches of the Quartet Project and member of the LSCO. “And you have to play with conviction, with others, really together, really in tune.”

Friesen hopes that playing chamber music will positively affect students’ futures in music.

“It teaches them, on the one hand, independence, and on the other, really, really listening to each other,” he said. “Those are the skills that will really guide and help them as they play in orchestral and chamber music.”

Bensen is not only a coach and member of the LSCO, but an alumni of the Quartet Project, which began his extensive resume.

“Jonas started with the Quartet Project eighth grade, he was very good at viola,” Friesen said. “He went on to music school and came back as a coach, and solos with the chamber orchestra.”

Bensen made connections through the Quartet Project that lasted throughout his time in Duluth.

“I got really lucky in the group I was put in, we stuck together for five or six years,” he said. “It was something that really helped me, to be playing with that same group for so long.”

His most recalled moments, however, are not from playing the chamber music.

“It’s amazing to spend time talking about what you want to get out of the music and how to play it better together,” Benson said. “That’s something you don’t ever get to do when practicing by yourself or in an orchestra rehearsal.”

As an alumni of the program, Benson is a role model to students, as well as a coach.

“It’s valuable for students to look at him and hear him play now, and say ‘Oh, he was in the Quartet Project one time, I could be them, if I work. I could play like them,’” Friesen said. “They’re role models in a way they wouldn’t be if they weren’t alum.”

Since there is no conductor, the Quartet Project is an opportunity for student leadership.

“In the schools where they have orchestras, there’s a lot of competition,” Ann Hodge, president of the LSCO Board, said. “Not everybody gets to be a leader or a section leader. I think this gives a lot of kids the opportunity to see that they can be a leader in a quartet.”

The students performed on Wednesday night for their families and Thursday night with the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra. In three weeks, the Quartet Project brought in a whole new generation of chamber music fans.