St. Petersburg Quartet

JaeHee masterclass 1-Ibante Smallwood

Jae-Hee Lee ’16 in a master class with Mr. Shukayez. (I. Smallwood ’16)

On Thursday, April 10th, Groton School’s student body was fortunate to attend a live performance by the group as the all-school lecture. They showcased pieces by prolific composers such as Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mays, Shostakovich, and Borodin.

Hailing from Russia, the St. Petersburg Quartet has had its great share of success; the Grammy-nominated, New York Times-praised group of musicians has entranced audiences within the walls of many prominent venues, including the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Los Angeles Music Guild since its founding in 1985.

Every story has a beginning, and all four of the musicians have different stories of how and why they decided to pursue careers in music. Alla Aranovskaya (first violin) was enrolled in a music school at the age of six; unfortunately, the school was unable to offer lessons for her instrument of choice, the piano. They did, however, have lesson openings for the violin. In a strange twist of fate, Aranovskaya became a violinist.

As a talented musician, a member of the Kirov Opera Orchestra and the recipient of the second prize at the All Russian Violin Competition, she and Shukayev (cello) founded the quartet in 1985, which was then called the Leningrad String Quartet.

Leonid Shukayev (cello) was interested in math and biology at a young age, but eventually decided to study music. He quickly rose up through competitions and began playing in multiple ensembles. Though his main focus is still music and teaching it, he retains interests in nature and philosophy.

Boris Vayner (viola) joined the quartet in 2005. He conducts and teaches student orchestras at the St. Petersburg International Summer Academy. Vayner also arranges music; his Bach Chaconne arrangement was broadcast live on a BBC radio station. Vayner, along with other members of the quartet, has worked regularly with the seven-year-old music prodigy Jonathan Okseniuk. A video clip of Jonathan at the age of three conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has more than eight million views. Vayner works with him on conducting, while Aranovskaya teaches him violin.

Evgeny Zvonnikov (second violin) became a member of the group in 2010. His mother was a violinist, and so he began the instrument in his youth. He has been a soloist in addition to an ensemble player, and though he mainly plays classical music, he also performs contemporary pieces.

During summers, the four run the St Petersburg International Music Academy in Wichita, Kansas. When asked about differences between American and Russian musical training, Aranovskaya cited several. In Russia, the vast majority of instrumentalists begin comparatively early—usually around the ages of four to six. They would have two private lessons a week, and invest time in music theory, music history, and other supplementary courses. Such rigorous programs would ensure technical soundness when it came time to add great expression into their playing.

On the Wednesday preceding their concert, all four players spent several hours in a master class with eight students, helping them polish their solo pieces.

“The master class taught me a new way of practicing and controlling my tone,” commented Peter Nam ’15, “they [also] helped greatly with the orchestra’s dynamic.”

Ivana Primero ’17 agreed that the class was in fact a terrific experience: “I think they really pulled the most out us  and inspired us to practice hard and well.”

During their session with the chamber orchestra, the quartet heavily emphasized listening as a musician; an ensemble must interact on stage, paying full attention to each other’s parts. They clearly demonstrated this philosophy during their own performance.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my master class session with Aranovskaya was this: performing a piece is more than stringing together notes; knowing the story behind the composition is essential. The emotions put into the performance can only be found in the performer himself, as he melds his own interpretation with that of the composer. “Remember that music is an inspirational thing,” says Aranovskaya. Whether played or written, true music depends on what is beyond the written notes.

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