Artaria String Quartet
Artaria String Quartet
For two full weeks, from June 9 to 23, more than just the bird's song will be heard in and around the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in rural Lanesboro. In its 14th straight year, the Stringwood Chamber Music Festival will bring some of the most talented high school and professional string musicians in the nation to the bluffs of southeast Minnesota.

The increasingly popular chamber music festival began as an idea in 1999 when the Artaria String Quartet performed at Eagle Bluff during the "Dinner on the Bluff" series.

Artaria violinist Ray Shows said the experience and environment were wonderful. "That was the initial interest in the area," he explained.

The following summer, the first crop of talented artists arrived to musically train within a natural setting. Over the years, Artaria has continued to lead the organization of Stringwood even though the program has changed somewhat. The original one-week experience expanded to the two-week format in 2007. Connections to professional coaching and guest artist masterclass instruction also continued to broaden. Guest artist and student performances increased and moved out to various locales, including the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro. By 2012, those 24 students had doubled and were arriving from all corners of the United States.

Most of the students' time will be spent on the campus of Eagle Bluff. "The facilities are beautiful and really enhance the beauty of the music," said Shows. "There is a perfect connection between the music and with nature."

Eagle Bluff naturalists agree with that statement. "It's really nice to be walking around and hear beautiful string music all the time," shared graduate naturalist Stephanie Davidson, who worked with Stringwood students last year.

The musicians spend several hours, both morning and afternoon, in rehearsals, lessons or masterclasses. Professional staff will both compliment and critique their playing.

Their musical education is complemented with evening programs put together by the staff at Eagle Bluff. These include the High Ropes Challenge Course, canoeing, archery and rock wall climbing. "They are so excited to be a part of the experience and they are a great group of kids to work with," shared Davidson.

Beside the adventure to be found at Eagle Bluff, the group of students and Stringwood staff take an annual bike ride from Lanesboro to Whalan where they stop at the Aroma Pie Shop.

When they aren't rehearsing or relaxing, the musicians travel to nearby performance venues. The first Young Artist Concert will be Friday, June 14, at 2 p.m. at the Commonweal Theatre. The artists will hit the road the following day and perform at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Rochester. The first weekend will conclude on June 16 with another performance at the United Methodist Church in Lanesboro at 1 p.m.

The following weekend will have the students performing at the Sons of Norway Hall in Lanesboro at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 21. A musically significant trip down to Spillville, Iowa, will occur the next day as the students will visit the home where Czech composer Antonín Dvorak lived in 1893 and composed three of his most recognizable chamber pieces. They will also perform a concert at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church at 3 p.m. The next and final day will have the students traveling to St. Paul to perform at the Sundin Music Hall on the Hamline University Campus at 1 p.m. Each Young Artist Concert is free and open to the public.

In addition to the student concerts, the Artaria String Quartet will hold two ticketed concerts at the Commonweal Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. on June 12 and 19. Both will celebrate the chamber music of Dvorak, Shostakovich and Haydn. Tickets will be $20 for general admission with reduced rates applying for those with season tickets to the Commonweal.

Artaria has been a quartet for 27 years since first forming in Boston, Mass. The Boston Globe has described their playing as "exquisitely balanced and sonorous" and the St. Paul Pioneer Press as "emotionally taut and powerful" in their Shostakovich Cycle production.

One of Artaria's teachers, Meadowmount School of Music Professor Gerardo Ribeiro, will be presenting a violin performance masterclass on June 20 at 10 a.m. at Eagle Bluff. Being able to bring his teacher into the mix means a lot to Shows, as it exemplifies the impact musical education can have on successive generations.

"Teaching is a profession and a calling," he shared. "Many senior members gave me a leg up in music and to return that is something I love."

Learning at Stringwood also brings with it an expectation to pass on the knowledge to others. "That's how music survives. We expect it from our students to teach," he explained.

Artaria will present its annual chamber music masterclass on June 13 at 3 p.m. Two other professional musicians will give masterclasses as well: cellist Käthe Jarke, who serves on the faculty of the Julliard School; and violist Masumi Per Rostad, who won a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance with the Pacifica Quartet. All masterclasses are provided free to the public. More information can be found on stringwood.com.

The students who will be attending Stringwood understand chamber music on a level that is perhaps not understood by many in the area. However, as Shows is quick to point out, that is why the young artists reach out through their concerts.

"There is a satisfaction that comes from sharing this," he stated. "We are blessed to be playing the music and the take away is the look on people's faces."

Shows and his fellow musicians in Artaria feel that they have been able to make real and lasting connections with the people of Lanesboro and Fillmore County through these Stringwood experiences.

For Shows, there is always work to be done to improve those relationships, but it sounds like Artaria and Stringwood have already played on the heartstrings of the Bluff Country