While we enjoyed the sounds of the Symphony this weekend, the Symphony Academy Honors String Quartet traveled to Chicago. Four talented student musicians competed in the Discover National Chamber Music Competition at Ravinia Festival’s Bennett Gordon Hall.

Each year, Symphony Academy faculty select four members of the Youth Symphony Orchestra to participate in the Honors String Quartet. Des Moines Symphony cellist and Symphony Academy faculty member, Mary Pshonik, coached the Honors String Quartet for a number of years and, to this day, it remains one of her favorite parts of her job.

This year, however, the four members of the Honors String Quartet stood out to Pshonik as a truly exceptional group of student musicians, stating “what they have accomplished in a matter of months is impressive.” Wanting to provide additional opportunities for these talented musicians, Pshonik searched for chamber music competitions for the students to perform in this school year.

The four student musicians in the Honors String Quartet traveled to their first competition last weekend in Chicago. The Symphony Academy students rehearsed and enjoyed a Chicago Symphony concert at Orchestra Hall on Saturday evening prior to the competition on Sunday afternoon. While the Honors String Quartet did not win the overall competition, it was evident they were well received by the judges through the enthusiastic comment “Bravo to you all! An adventurous and challenging program and you were totally up to it! Really great performance!” left on the critique sheet.

The Discover National Chamber Music Competition at Ravinia Festival’s Bennett Gordon Hall was just the first of three competitions scheduled this spring for the Honors String Quartet. The quartet will also travel to St. Paul on February 23 to compete as a finalist in the Senior Division of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Youth Chamber Music Competition. Later this spring, the quartet will travel to Kansas City for their final competition.

Each year, Music Director Joseph Giunta personally invites advanced student musicians in the Youth Symphony to participate in the Honors Ensembles Program. Throughout the years, the Honors Ensembles Program has included string quartets, woodwind quintets, brass quintets, piano trios and percussion ensembles.

Honors Ensembles student musicians receive fifteen hour-long coaching sessions with an Academy faculty member throughout one school year. Each group also has performance opportunities in our community at retirement or senior living centers, school visits and lobby performances prior to a Des Moines Symphony concert.

Through generous Annual Fund support, participation in Honors String Ensembles are at no additional tuition expense to the students or their families. The program rewards high achieving and talented student musicians with opportunities to further develop their musical studies under the guidance of skilled faculty members.