The year of the quintet

Upcoming strings concerts feature unique, two-viola instrumentation


Andie Balenger/NW

VOILA, VIOLA — Barbara Rhyneer’s Chamber Ensemble students will be playing Michael Haydn’s “String Quintet in C Major,” which features two violas. Quintets are not a common happening in the world of strings, especially with two viola players.

Andie Balenger

Members of Marquette’s Superior String Alliance will be performing in the Reynolds Recital Hall on April 6, where they will be unveiling their take on a unique tune. The performance venue will echo with the sounds of Antonín Dvořák’s “String Quintet No. 3 in E flat major,” a genre and style of orchestral music that is not commonplace.

Danielle Simandl, violinist and executive director of Superior String Alliance, came across Dvořák’s piece while listening to music Spotify had recommended for her. Immediately after listening, Simandl knew she had to perform the piece.

“I was listening to Spotify, and I was like ‘Who do I want to play this piece with?’,” Simandl said. “I immediately thought of [Barbara Rhyneer].”

Rhyneer, a strings and orchestra professor at NMU, was eager to join Simandl to perform this piece. While Rhyneer is also a violinist, “String Quintet No. 3” also requires a cello and two violas — the latter being a unique instrumentation for a string piece.

After recruiting Superior String Alliance Chamber Players Ria Hodgson (violist), Eric Marta (violist) and Adam Hall (cellist), the individual musicians began to pluck away at their parts. Just three weeks out from performance night, the group finally began practicing as a whole. 

“The concert is a presentation of this quintet … so the five of us will present this genre or style of music in four movements,” Rhyneer said. “You will hear four separate pieces that are technically all one piece, and they will be in different keys, tempos and things like that.”

Superior String Alliance is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to supporting music and performance education, particularly that of the violin, viola, cello and bass. The Chamber Players are a branch of the Superior String Alliance that operates like a co-op of string players that will perform trios, quartets and — as is the case for their upcoming performance — quintets.

Music majors at NMU are often involved with Superior String Alliance and the events they host in and around Marquette. In addition to playing live music on Third Street or at the Farmer’s Market, several NMU students work at the organization’s annual Summer Music Camp, which takes place in late July at Presbytery Point Camp in Michigamme, Michigan.

The quintet being featured at Thursday’s concert is roughly 35 minutes in length, with each movement being played back-to-back without intermission. The entire event, which is free, will wrap up in under an hour. 

“This piece totally slaps. I am not kidding, it is one of the coolest chamber pieces that I have ever heard,” Simandl said. “You don’t even have to like classical music that much. You are going to come and be like ‘This is going to get stuck in my head.’”

Thursday’s performance is not the last time a quintet will be featured on stage this semester. As part of Rhyneer’s Chamber Ensemble course, NMU students will be performing Michael Haydn’s “String Quintet in C major” on Friday, April 14, at 1 p.m. during their student recital. 

“This never happens, but we have a viola quintet right now at NMU,” Rhyneer said. “I usually form groups with whoever is available or interested and we just happened to have this group with two violas, a cello and two violins, so I was like ‘Hey, let’s do a quintet.’”

Thursday’s Superior String Alliance concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be streaming online for those who cannot attend in person. More information regarding the music department and upcoming concerts can be found on the department’s website.

“I know this from teaching the Music Appreciation class that when students get their butt to a concert … they are always surprised at how much they enjoy it,” Rhyneer said. “But once they do, they go ‘Wow, this is a great venue, I am hearing live music, it’s free, the music is good, I can see the performers.’ It’s just different.”