Cecilia String Quartet Brings A Kitchen Ceilidh To Moncton

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Taking its name from St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, Toronto’s Cecilia String Quartet is one of Canada’s fastest rising classical groups.

The quartet takes the stage in Moncton Friday night as the featured artists in the next Moncton Community Concert Association performance. The concert takes place at the First Church of the Nazarene, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The Cecilia String Quartet earned first prize at the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition, adding to similar honours earned in Osaka, Japan, in 2008 and in Bordeaux, France.

In addition to performing, the quartet members have also held teaching positions at the Austin Chamber Music Festival, San Diego State University, Montreal’s McGill University and the Indiana Summer String Academy. They also work with young musicians through educational programs presented for elementary and high school students across Canada, the United States, Italy and France.

The Cecilia String Quartet is currently the Ensemble in Residence at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, the school where the quartet was initially formed.

Violinist Sarah Nematallah tells the Times & Transcript that while she and her fellow musicians who form the quartet are successful now, it was an interesting twist of fate that brought them together.

“I was a student at the University of Toronto and had been performing as a part of a trio. In my last year at the university, I was forced to play as a part of a quartet, which just annoyed me because of the extra work it was going to bring me,” Sarah says.

“But it was evident after we sat down and performed together that there was something rather unique and special about the four of us performing together. The chemistry was there from the first notes we played together so we decided that we really wanted to make it happen.”

The daughter of an engineer and a bank employee, Sarah says that she was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to music. Although she had initially believed that her post-secondary education would take her into the world of math and physics, Sarah also knew that she craved something a little outside of the run-of-the-mill 9-to-5 kind of job.

“There were no musicians in my family at all,” she says. “My father is an engineer originally from the Middle East. He was barely exposed to classical music until the time that he came to Canada. Originally, I know my parents were a little hesitant about me trying to make a career out of music, however they were supportive of me doing something I felt so strongly about.

“Despite music being a bit of a Mount Everest climb for me, where I didn’t necessarily grow up surrounded by it, I wanted to take a chance and get into something that was really engaging as a career. In all honesty, I am more than grateful to be able to call this my career.”

Included in the program for their performance this Friday is music by composers such as Haydn and Mendelssohn, and a piece of music written especially for the Cecilia String Quartet’s tour of Atlantic Canada.

“Kitchen Ceilidh” refers to the tradition of Atlantic Canadians hosting mini-concerts in their kitchens. Written by Abigail Richardson-Schulte, the song brings together the ornamentation and melodies that are found in the Celtic music of the region filtered through a harmonic adventure into contemporary classical music.

“‘Kitchen Ceilidh’ was commissioned especially for this tour,” Sarah says. “We were speaking with Abigail, telling her of our impending tour of Atlantic Canada and having studied the fiddle as well as watching Natalie McMaster play. Abigail came up with this wonderful piece of music that fuses classical writing with the fiddle.”

Selecting the right music to suit the show is a crucial part of every Cecilia String Quartet performance. Sarah says that the group often has to take into consideration who they will be playing for and change their selections accordingly.

“It is absolutely necessary to have more than one program ready to go,” she says. “We always try to go for a collection of music that is well rounded and nice, that has some contrast but ultimately shows what is great about a string quartet.

“Our program starts with Haydn who is known as the father of the string quartet. We are performing ‘String Quartet Opus 20, No. 4 in D Major,’ which I feel is one of the best pieces that he ever wrote. In addition to a selection by Webern and the ‘Kitchen Ceilidh’, we close our performance with a selection from Mendelssohn.

“Because of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I believe that a lot of people have the impression that Mendelssohn’s work is light and airy. The piece that we will be performing this Friday night, ‘String Quartet Op. 44, No. 2 in E Minor,’ is very dramatic. It is a dark and stormy piece and a great way to end the program.”

Article published in the October 17, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript

What: Moncton Community Concert Association presents Cecilia String Quartet
When: Friday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: First Church of the Nazarene, 
 21 Fieldcrest Dr., Moncton
Tickets: $18 for adults, $5 for students. Tickets may be reserved by calling 852-4491 or by emailing trysummer@rogers.com