Peter Sirotin, artistic director of Market Square Concerts, remembers growing up in the Soviet Union and discovering the challenge of being a young, aspiring professional musician.
While his violin-playing days began in his childhood, as it does for many musicians, the reach for that gold ring would demand quite a stretch.
“Russia had a much more rigorous pre-college professional music training,” Sirotin said. “The mastery of craft was always prioritized over artistic originality. You had to earn the right to introduce new ideas by mastering tradition.”
There, the path to a performance career was mainly through winning competitions. Here, he said, there are awards that offer professional performance opportunities for young musicians.
Which is why Market Square Concerts is one of eight presenting organizations nationwide, including Carnegie Hall and others in Michigan, Texas and elsewhere, which bestow the Cleveland Quartet Award on a promising young string quartet biannually.
This month, Market Square Concerts will celebrate the 20th anniversary of this award with a program featuring two former winners, the Jasper String Quartet and the Jupiter String Quartet, which have gone on to develop major international recognition. Both of these groups have garnered prestigious awards, commissioned new works, and expanded their teaching careers through residences at various universities.
“All of the past winners of the Cleveland Quartet Award have blossomed into a major presence on international stages and some have won Grammy awards,” Sirotin said.
The award is not only a way to honor and promote a rising young string quartet, but it also assures the quality and legacy of chamber music so that young performers may continue to perfect their art for the enjoyment of current and future audiences.
Notably, the January concert features a sort of “youth” theme in its musical choices. One piece, the String Octet, was composed by Mendelssohn when he was 16 years old. Another, Mozart’s D Minor String Quartet, was inspired by the birth of his first child.
“You could definitely say that it is consistent with the youthful theme because Mendelssohn created one of the most exciting and intricate works in chamber music using eight instruments to expand expressive range to orchestral richness and brilliance at the age of 16,” Sirotin said. “Mozart’s music in general has a youthful energy even though it is often deeply insightful and wise. The D Minor String Quartet was written while his wife was in labor with their first son in the next room. This piece combines emotional intensity and depth with classical elegance and poise—a true masterpiece of the classical era.”
The Jasper and Jupiter quartets will also join forces to perform Debussy’s groundbreaking String Quartet in G Minor, which represents, Sirotin said, “a young composer’s rebellion against the constraints of generally accepted rules of composition in his day. The piece is widely considered to be a watershed moment in the history of chamber music.”
If you’re not familiar with chamber music, this Market Square performance is the perfect way to experience a program of classical, romantic and modernist styles. The performance will introduce audiences to up-and-coming talent and have them experience a variety of moods. The music is intimate, like having a conversation with a few close friends, Sirotin said.
Sirotin knows what he’s talking about when it comes to chamber music. He recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his own chamber ensemble, the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, which has performed more than 500 concerts and recorded 15 CDs.
He remembers his trio’s start when every performance offered a learning opportunity that proved invaluable. The Cleveland Quartet Award and the Market Square Concert featuring the Jasper and Jupiter string quartets does just that by giving them and future chamber music quartets the chance to grab that gold ring.
The Market Square Concert featuring past Cleveland Quartet winners, the Jasper String Quartet and the Jupiter String Quartet, takes place Sunday, Jan. 21, at 4 p.m. at Market Square Presbyterian Church, 20 S. 2nd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.marketsquareconcerts.org.