It’s back to school time for the four members or the Kiri Quartet. Before they resume their studies at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, though, Emma Meinrenken, Matthew Christakos, Jasmine Mengija Lin and Lynn Sue-A-Quan will make their debut as an ensemble for Music Niagara’s At Home Series on Labour Day.
For Meinrenken, it’s been a busy summer with Music Niagara. The 21-year-old violinist, who has been affiliated with the non-profit organization for more than a decade, kicked off the At Home Series back in July with a selection of some of her favourite solo violin pieces recorded at her Toronto home.
Last month she taped a concert with members of the Toronto Symphony at Pondview Estates Winery, to debut on the Music Niagara website Sept. 13. And for the last two weeks of August, she was a key instructor in the Music Niagara Virtual Performance Academy.
In fact, all four members of the quartet, who were brought together by Meinrenken for this concert, recently wrapped up their stint on the other side of the teacher-student relationship. Quan for one knows her future will involve teaching music, as well as performing, so having a chance to mentor others this summer was important to the violist.
“I believe in the idea of teaching the next generation,” she says, “and studying how music impacts a community. I think some of the most important work is seeing how music impacts the younger generation. I want to do some more work there.”
Cellist Christakos, at 20 the youngest of the Kiri Quartet, says his first crack at teaching has been enlightening. “It was interesting to try and put musical ideas that I implement myself in my head, and how I feel about music, into words so others can understand them.”
Christakos had two students from Mexico he was teaching remotely. “To watch them listen to what I said, and actually change what they do in accordance to not just the words I said, but to how I feel and think about music, was really inspiring.”
Of course, the members of the quartet have had ample experience themselves learning remotely since the pandemic, and border issues have forced the students home from their studies in university. When Ontario finally moved into stage three of its reopening plan, it was a relief to Meinrenken to have the opportunity to once again collaborate in person with other musicians.
“As soon as it was announced that the schools would be cancelled for the rest of the semester,” the Toronto resident laments, “and that there was going to be nothing for the summer, I personally got very scared. For music, and me as a musician, performing in chamber music is an integral part of keeping my passion for music alive, and I was really going to miss being able to share that with other people. It gets really lonely just playing and practising by yourself.”
When the Music Niagara opportunity arose, she immediately reached out to Christakos, with whom she attends the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. They then contacted the two Juilliard students, Quan and Lin, a violinist. All four had participated in the same pre-college program at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.
Christakos adds, “at first we had planned to put something together digitally, to create a virtual performance, because we thought there wouldn’t be a chance of us meeting together in person. But when things became conducive to us actually meeting and sort of forming our own social bubble, we’ve been able to play real music, which has been incredible.”
Quan adds, “we’ve all grown up together, so just knowing how much we’ve grown as musicians and as individuals, it’s really important to see that through the works of chamber music. And I’ve never actually worked with them in this context, so it’s been a very rewarding and privileged experience to have.”
The sheer joy of performing is evident on the faces of each accomplished young musician, as the Kiri Quartet takes on Mozart’s String Quartet No. 9 in C Major – Dissonance, as well as Brahms’ String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 51. The concert was recorded by the Niagara College broadcasting department under the marquee at Chateau des Charmes Winery before a small group of sponsors, who were also visibly pleased to be able to experience live music.
One of those sponsors, Marlene Masales, says the beautiful setting for the event was a bonus. “I just look forward to the music itself. This year there is such a need to keep these things (Music Niagara performances) thriving, successful and growing, to be there when we all can resume coming together to enjoy it more in person more often.”
After this weekend, the young virtuosos will be studying music under their mentors, who are in Philadelphia and New York City. Only Quan will be physically returning to school, to study under Hsin-Yun Huang, who is actually a faculty member at both Juilliard and Curtis.
“The rest of us have to stay here,” says Meinrenken. “So it is a little sad, but I have to think about health and family, and through this (pandemic) experience I have realized that I can find very valuable musical experiences at home, and I don’t need to travel to another country.”
Visit musicniagara.org Monday, Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. to see the Kiri Quartet perform compositions from Mozart and Brahms.