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Altius Quartet Wins First Prize at Eighth Annual Plowman International Chamber Music Event

SMU Meadows grad students awarded $2,000 prize; group expanding tours, performances

Altius Quartet, left to right: Sercan Danis, Andrew Giordano, Zachary Reaves and Andrew Krimm. Photo by Brad Sigler

Four SMU grad students say packing up their cars – squeezing instruments, sheet music and clothes into every space – and driving to Columbia, Mo., was well worth the trip. For their efforts, the four friends, also known as the Altius Quartet, brought home the first place prize in the strings and piano division at the eighth annual Plowman International Chamber Music competition held over the weekend of April 6-7, 2013.

Their strategy for the semifinal round, in which they competed against seven other ensembles, included huddling up prior to their performance. “We agreed not to think of it as a competition, but rather to treat it as a mini-concert or a short showcase of what we are capable of,” says violinist Sercan Danis.  “That mindset allowed us to put aside the stress of competition and instead channel that nervous energy through the music.” 

For the finals, they squared off against one other ensemble. As they played the last movement of Bartok's String Quartet No. 1 in the final round, there was a brief moment of synchronized silence in the midst of a loud and chaotic passage that captivated the audience.  “In that moment, we could feel the tension of the entire audience as our bows were suspended mid-air,” says violinist Andrew Giordano. “Witnessing that power of silence within music was a really cool experience.” 

For their efforts, Altius was awarded a $2,000 first prize in their division.

Judges for this year’s competition included cellist Peter Wiley, Orlando Cole Chair in Cello Studies at the Curtis Institute of Music and a faculty member of Bard College Conservatory of Music; pianist Frederic Chiu, a concert and recording artist; and Randy Gardner, professor of horn and chair of the winds and percussion department at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

The musicians are graduate students in the Division of Music at SMU Meadows School of the Arts. They include Danis, who earned a B.M. in violin performance in 2011 at Meadows and is currently pursuing a Performer’s Diploma (P.D.); Andrew Giordano, who is pursuing an M.M. in violin performance; Andrew Krimm, who is earning a P.D. in viola performance; and Zachary Reaves, who earned his B.M. in cello performance at Meadows in 2011 and is currently pursuing a P.D.  All expect to graduate in May 2013.

The Altius Quartet was formed in 2011 with the purpose of performing in Bridge the Gap events. Bridge the Gap, founded by Reaves, is an unorthodox series of chamber music performances designed to attract those who otherwise would eschew classical music. Performances are often held in non-traditional places such as city parks. In these relaxed settings, ensembles play Beethoven as well as Jimi Hendrix.

The Altius members have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the constant support and guidance received from faculty such as Professor of Cello Andres Diaz and Adjunct Professor of Violin Emanuel Borok and especially from Visiting Artist-in-Residence and Director of Chamber Music Matt Albert.  “Working with Matt has been an invaluable experience,” says member Krimm. “It may sound cliché, but without his help we would not be where we are today. In the time that we have known him, Matt has become more than just a professor; he is a close friend, and we have endless gratitude for all that he has done for us.” 

In addition to Bridge the Gap events, the quartet has performed at venues in Texas and Oklahoma and recently participated in the Western Slope Concert Series in Grand Junction, Colo. Altius has also performed for respected string quartets and classical music pedagogues, including the Miró Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, violinist Tim Ying and violist Roberto Diaz, who is also president and CEO of the Curtis Institute of Music.

Altius is scheduled to perform with Andres Diaz and Matt Albert in Caruth Auditorium on April 20. They also will appear at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary Museum and Klyde Warren Park during the Bridge the Gap Music Festival, May 2-4, where they will premiere a string quartet that was written for them by Canadian cellist Michael van der Sloot.

Also in May, they will perform in the Fischoff National Chamber Music competition at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Next year they plan to tour Colorado as part of their residency in the Western Slope Concert Series.

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