In Kansas City, string quartets are having a resounding renaissance
Once a lacking part of Kansas City's classical music community, string quartets are filling up venues around the metro. From candlelight concerts to Carnegie Hall, learn about some of the groups that have been a part of the growing scene.
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String quartets are a staple in the world of classical music, inviting both players and audience to experience intimate, introspective music. Often, they are composed of friends, eager for more opportunities to perform together.
In Kansas City, international touring ensembles are a regular part of the Friends of Chamber Music season. UMKC Conservatory professors Benny Kim and Scott Lee are both members of the renowned Miami String Quartet. Young players can learn the art through programs like the Kansas City Young Chamber Musicians during the school year and Heartland Chamber Music Festival each summer.
But that's not all — Kansas City is experiencing a string quartet boom, with many groups choosing to make the city their home base.
Classical roots, many branches
The string quartet became standard in the mid-late 1700s, with works by Franz Joseph Hadyn and others. Here in Kansas City, there has been a string quartet presence for over 130 years, though that presence has waxed and waned over the decades.
The first professional quartet to make its home in Kansas City was the Gade Quartette, from Denmark, in 1887. The quartet was short-lived, but one member made Kansas City his home for the rest of his life. Carl Busch made a huge impact on the musical life of the budding city as a conductor, composer, teacher and multi-instrumentalist.
There were a few string quartets in the years following, like the Kansas City String Quartet Club, Francois Boucher String Quartet, and Wylie String Quartet.
In 1955, Tiberius Klausner came to Kansas City at 23 years old, to become the youngest concertmaster in the county at the helm of the Kansas City Philharmonic. He, too, would alter the music scene through his performance and teaching.
He founded the Klausner String Quartet in 1964 and the Volker Quartet in 1972, Kansas City’s quartet-in-residence, which performed up until the 1990s. (Read about the 2022 tribute to Klausner on Classical KC.)
Jump ahead thirty years and those string quartet seeds have blossomed. The Kansas City area includes a handful of high quality string quartets, performing in all sorts of settings, presenting a range of repertoire and once again enriching the city.
A quartet for every style
Violinist Alex Shum founded the Brookside String Quartet in the mid-1980s with some of his colleagues from the Kansas City Symphony. “We were pretty much the only ‘society’ string quartet in town, playing weddings, receptions, and occasional house concerts,” said Shum.
The group, which now includes violinist Anne-Marie Brown, violist Kent Brauninger, and cellist Lawrence Figg, put on recitals such as the Ruel Joyce Series at Johnson County Community College.
Many symphony members relish the opportunity to perform chamber music, and the Kansas City Symphony hosts Happy Hour Concerts and the Mobile Music Box outdoor concert series.
There are string quartets featured May 6 at Johnson County Community College and May 10 in Helzberg Hall, where they’ll perform Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Musica Celestis.”
In 2018, violist Alyssa Bell Jackson brought some of her regular collaborators together as the Fountain City String Quartet. Originally founded to play weddings and events, recently the group has performed most frequently for Fever’s Candlelight Concerts. They also collaborate with a range of musicians for projects and performances, including jazz group The Project H’s latest album.
“Historically, Kansas City has had a collaborative and vibrant music scene, and FCSQ is a reflection of that,” said Bell Jackson. “Fountain City SQ brings a vibrant, fresh vibe to traditional music as well as popular music. … We love all styles of music and thrive while spending time learning new ones.”
Fountain City String Quartet includes violinists Carmen Dieker and Matthew Bennet, and cellist Ezgi Karakus.
Fever is a “global live-entertainment discovery platform,” founded in 2014. The organization hosted its first Candlelight Concert in 2019, in Madrid, Spain, and brought these shows to Kansas City in March 2022, with both traditional classical repertoire and tribute-style concerts that range from Taylor Swift to the Beatles to Coldplay.
The concerts are “aimed at democratizing access to culture by allowing people all over the world to enjoy live music candlelit performances by local musicians in various stunning locations,” said Fever’s Ashlee Wingate. Kansas City performance venues have included the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, The Blue Room, and The Gem Theater.
“We acknowledge that consumption patterns have changed over the years — particularly for younger people — and by offering a more multi-sensory, immersive experience, we are really noticing a broader and more diverse audience coming to the shows,” said Wingate.
Audiences hear music they love and grew up listening to in “a cool ambiance by candlelight,” said Bell Jackson. “The concerts meet audiences where they are.”
Shaping the scene
Opus 76 is one of the first local string quartets in years to cover every aspect of being a professional string quartet — they even have merch!
The ensemble was founded in 2018 by violinist Keith Stanfield and his wife, violist Ashley Stanfield, to be a string quartet for the community of Kansas City. The ensemble includes violinist Zsolt Eder and Daniel Ketter on cello.
When Keith had moved to Kansas City from London, he was surprised to find that there wasn’t really a concertizing string quartet, in the way he expected of an arts metropolis, so he decided to start one.
“We were…made by the city, in a sense,” Keith told Classical KC’s Brooke Knoll in 2021, “sort of thrust together by the arts life of the city and we decided to make that a bit more permanent.”
Five years later, Opus 76 has accomplished an impressive amount. They performed the entire cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven string quartets in 2020, released seven albums, served as artists-in-residence at the Midwest Trust Center, and mentored members of the Youth Symphony of Kansas City.
In March, they made their Carnegie Hall debut.
Opus 76 String Quartet performs the first movement from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet no. 15 in B flat Major.
Opus 76 has many upcoming concerts, including the 65th anniversary celebration for the Youth Symphony of Kansas City, collaborations with the Kansas City Ballet in “Bliss Point” May 12-21, and a selection of Candlelight Concerts.
One of the oldest, yet newest, string quartets in Kansas City is the Grammy Award-nominated St. Petersburg String Quartet.
They were founded in 1985 as the Leningrad String Quartet in what was then the Soviet Union, performed all over the world in recitals and festivals, competed in competitions, and had residencies at Oberlin College and Wichita State University.
The quartet relaunched in 2022 in Kansas City and the ensemble includes founding violinist Alla Aranovskaya, violist Boris Vayner, violinist Ned Kellenberger, and cellist Sascha Groschang. Aranovskaya and Groschang spoke with Classical KC about the group’s history and how it landed in Kansas City.
They perform May 12 at Pilgrim Chapel before traveling internationally for residencies in Israel and Estonia this summer.
Groschang founded the Possum Trot String Quartet in 2021. Though this group doesn’t perform as often as some of the region’s other groups, it does take a different approach to the genre. “I’d always wanted to try a string quartet project that was outside of the standard mold,” said Groschang.
The group includes violinists Adam Galblum and Colleen Dieker, and violist Alyssa Bell Jackson, all performers who are versed in a variety of styles, from jazz to folk to rock to fiddle.
They primarily play original compositions, arrangements, or improvisations.
“There’s a looseness and a curiosity that's alive and well in our group…we’re striving to create new sounds and forms and try new avenues,” said Groschang.
Kansas City’s string quartet community is growing with more eclectic and vibrant sounds.