After winning the state chamber music competition last month, Georgia Southern University’s Magnolia String Quartet will represent Georgia at the Music Teachers National Association regional competitions in January.
But first, the Statesboro public will have a chance to hear the quartet perform the works they are polishing in constant practice for the regionals. The quartet will perform Haydn’s Opus 76, No. 1 and Debussy’s Quartet in C Minor, Op. 10, in a free recital Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Carter Recital Hall at the Foy Fine Arts Building.
Formed just this summer with special scholarships for the four student musicians, the Magnolia Quartet is the flagship of the GSU Music Department’s new strings program. To strengthen the program, the university brought in violinist Larisa Elisha and cellist Steven Elisha — together known internationally as the Elaris Duo — in new posts as directors of Upper Strings Studies and Lower Strings Studies, respectively.
Three of the four members of the Magnolia String Quartet were students of the Elishas in their previous academic home, Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. The scholarships and the students’ desire to continue studying with the Elishas drew them to Georgia Southern.
But the new quartet only came together with the start of classes on Aug. 27. Under Larisa Elisha’s coaching, they were able to prepare the Haydn and Debussy quartets, which she notes are sophisticated, technically challenging pieces, in time to win the MTNA State Chamber Music Competition on Nov. 2 in Columbus.
“It was very intensive work for all of us, to prepare it in such a short time,” Elisha said, “because if you have a group already together and you have repertoire built from previous years, you can easily take some of this repertoire and go and compete, but we had only a couple of months.”
Four “very talented, dedicated and hard working young musicians” rose to the challenge, she added.
“All of these qualities are crucial for making music a profession and they have it,” Elisha said. “I enjoy very much working with them and leading them to success.”
The Magnolia String Quartet comprises Megan Poppe, violin; Shannon Coffman, violin; Alicia Perez, viola and Samuel Cho, cello.
Poppe, 20, hails from Manhattan, Kansas, where she took up the violin at age 5. She studied with Elisha two years at Washburn and comes to Georgia Southern as a junior.
Coffman, 25, is from Topeka. She started studying violin at age 9 and first came under Elisha’s tutelage as a senior in high school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music performance at Washburn, she has come to GSU as graduate student.
Perez, the quartet member without a previous Kansas connection, comes to Georgia Southern from Richmond Hill. Born in El Salvador, she has lived in the United States since she was 7 and will soon be 23. She studied violin from age 13 but took up the viola at 22, while a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University. A painter as well as a musician, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from AASU and is pursuing a master’s in fine arts at Georgia Southern.
Cho, 27, on the low-strings end of the quartet with the cello, is in his sixth year studying with Steven Elisha, but has also played with a quartet at Washburn under Larisa Elisha’s coaching. That quartet won top state and regional honors and became one of seven finalists at the MTNA National Competition in 2009, when the event was held in Atlanta.
Born in San Francisco, Cho grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. He played drums, guitar and bass with a rock band as a teenager before trying the cello at 17.
In addition to studying for their university classes and rehearsing as a quartet, each of these musicians takes private lessons as a soloist with one or the other of the Elishas twice a week. As a quartet, they have been practicing together five or six hours each week but said they expect to nearly double that in preparation for the regionals.
Elisha, originally from Baku, Azerbaijan, has worked with quartets and other chamber groups throughout her teaching career, both in Europe and America. She instructed the Fetter String Quartet, Washburn’s honors quartet, for 12 years.
A second quartet, called the Aquila String Quartet, and a piano trio have also formed at Georgia Southern since the Elishas arrived.
In the MTNA competitions, she notes, the Magnolia Quartet is judged not only against other string quartets, but against other kinds of chamber music groups, from saxophone quartets to piano quintets to mixed ensembles.
The regional competition, officially the MTNA Southern Division Competitions, will be held at Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., Jan. 13-16.
Unlike competition judges, who usually ask chamber groups to play only a couple of movements from each prepared work, Tuesday’s local audience will hear both works in their entirety. These still add up to a little less than an hour.