SINGAPORE - Korean violinist Kim Kyu-ri, 24, was in the middle of her master's degree at New York's Mannes School of Music last year when she decided to audition for a professional Singapore string quartet.
She was offered the position of second violinist. Feeling that she would regret it if she passed on the opportunity, she put her studies on hold to join the group.
"It's not often that a new string quartet comes up in Singapore," says Kim, a permanent resident here.
The Concordia Quartet, which will debut at Wild Rice’s Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre next month, consists of Kim, Singaporeans Edward Tan, 34 and Theophilus Tan, 29, as well as Matthias Oestringer, 45, who is German and also a Singapore permanent resident.
The musicians were selected during an open call by the Resound Collective, a charity that also manages and supports the chamber orchestra re:Sound. All four receive a salary from the collective, which is funded by grants, donations and ticketing.
This is the first time a full-time string quartet has emerged in Singapore since the T'ang Quartet in 1992.
"Quite often, people meet in an undergraduate or postgraduate course and then decide to form a quartet. If they meet overseas, there's every chance that the quartet might remain overseas," says Resound Collective's chairman Mervin Beng, referring to Singaporean Jonathan Ong, who is now first violinist of the Verona Quartet in the United States.
Beng, a former board member of the T'ang Quartet, adds: "For a string quartet to happen in Singapore, it takes a bit more than just luck or timing. I thought, well, if it's not going to happen by itself, why not give it a little boost?"
The quartet has been rehearsing at the Mandeville Conservatory of Music in United Square since October and aims to present two concerts a year.
It will also perform in outreach concerts and play with the re:Sound chamber orchestra.
Its debut concert in Wild Rice's intimate, 358-seat space in Funan on Feb 1 will feature works by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert.
But it will not always be traditional fare - future programmes could include music by Philip Glass and Paul McCartney.
And from Feb 7, the Concordia Quartet will also perform in Wild Rice's The Importance Of Being Earnest.
The members of the Concordia Quartet have - true to their name - been getting along harmoniously, even though they come from different backgrounds and have divergent opinions about a piece.
"The older I get," says violist Oestringer, "the more I feel it's more important to not just be a soloist, but to do something where we are all listening together."
First violinist Edward Tan chimes in: "There's a common saying among musicians: 'Even if you are right, if you are not with the soloist, you are wrong.' But in a string quartet, the music-making is always democratic. It's always a conversation, it's always four-way."
"On your own, you might only see one side of the picture," adds cellist Theophilus Tan. "I learn from Edward how to interpret music and plan, I learn how Matthias respects the integrity of the score and, from Kyu-ri, how she phrases music and thinks about transitions."
Edward Tan, who played in a string quartet when he was a student at the Eastman School of Music in the US, knows being in one has its challenges.
"In an orchestra, the conductor might say: 'Let's try this a bit faster.' Done. In a string quartet, arriving at that same conclusion could take 15 minutes of discussion. It requires a lot of flexibility and presence of mind. There's no such thing as autopilot in a string quartet."
Beng says the global market for string quartets has grown more competitive in recent decades, partly because of the greater emphasis on professional training for chamber groups.
Concordia Quartet will also be mentored by acclaimed musicians such as British violinist-conductor Pavlo Beznosiuk, who flies in this month.
The market for string quartets has grown, Beng says, because "most of them are finding interesting niches in terms of programming. It could be a very virtuosic quartet or one that has crossed over into jazz or pop".
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WHERE: Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild Rice, Funan, level 4, 107 North Bridge Road
WHEN: Feb 1, 8.15pm
ADMISSION: $28 and $38
Singapore is a particularly challenging market for classical music, not least because it does not have a large hinterland for concert tours, he says.
"You have to invest so much time in one programme and then have one or two nights of that concert. How many packed houses can a top quartet draw in a year?"
The Concordia Quartet would like to perform in a major international recital hall one day.
Says Beng: "The tricky thing about that is what you bring to the hall. What would a Singaporean quartet bring?
"Our orchestra has begun commissioning some works by local composers, and I can see this happening for the quartet, in good time. That might form the basis of programmes to bring overseas."