For the four classically trained musicians of the Boston String Quartet, experimentation is everything.
The quartet, composed of music director and violinist Christopher Vuk, violinist Angel Valchinov, violist Chen Lin and cellist Christina Stripling, started playing together seven years ago when the musicians met at Berklee College of Music.
Vuk describes the group as a contemporary string quartet focusing on rhythm and beat. The Boston String Quartet’s repertoire is filled with rock, jazz and world fusion. The quartet, which has recorded five albums and played in Carnegie and Symphony halls, is bringing its energy and expertise to Manchester High School West on Feb. 16 and Feb. 17.
Part of the Boston String Quartet’s mission is to expose high school kids across the country to unique approaches to stringed instrumentation. The group’s time in Manchester, as with its other school visits, will consist of a two-day residency of instrument workshops, master classes and a closing performance by the quartet and Manchester West’s music students. The quartet performs roughly 80 shows per year, 25 of which are with students.
“The real goal that we have in doing the program is to allow students to see the various possibilities that exist on their instrument,” said Vuk, who has played violin for 20 years and began his transition from a classical style to experimental during college. “They are not usually exposed to the fact that they can play jazz, rock, Latin music and more. There is a lot more they can experiment with, and a lot of the kids come back to their music with more excitement.”
When Manchester West responded to the quartet’s call to schools about the two-day residency program, the quartet reached out to choral and orchestral director Susan Wilkes.
“We saw they had a good music program there, and we wanted to support it,” Vuk said.
Wilkes, who has worked at the high school for eight years, said she had been thinking about what was missing from Manchester West’s choir and orchestra when she received information about the residency. What was missing was modern music, she said.
“It fits with our program right now,” Wilkes said. “We’re really trying to make the school more student-driven, so that we’re meeting [students’] needs. This program goes hand in hand with our philosophy.”
Wilkes said that the quartet will likely be visiting schools with more resources than her own, but her goal is for the school to “create an event that will reflect the caliber” of the quartet.
“I am really hoping that the students are open to being inspired by the talent of this group, that they will learn some new techniques for how to play, and that they will find a deeper connection to music-making that will sustain them.”
Wilkes also hopes the program will help to restore her students’ confidence in playing stringed instruments, which are often considered less cool or hip than other instruments by kids.
The bulk of the quartet’s program at Manchester West will consist of rehearsal time with the students, Vuk said. “We’ll augment that with workshops in improvisation, jazz and rock styles, and some more instrument-specific technique classes.” All 125 music students at Manchester West will get to participate.
However, it is the Friday evening performance that is the highlight of the program. Music students will play with the quartet for half of the show, and the quartet will also give a solo performance. Connecticut rock band Scarlet Fade will make a guest musical appearance. The repertoire of the show, which is open to the public, will include the quartet’s original arrangements and compositions as well as such favorites as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” Latin favorites “Oye Como Va” and “Besame Mucho,” and Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
“All of us have a classical background, and that’s very important to us,” Vuk said. “It allows us to be very versatile … [but] we wanted the group to stand apart as something unique and different from everything else out there.”