McGill University’s Katarina Quartet take home top prizes from the Saint Paul Quartet Competition, now they’re Juilliard bound!

Image by Lou Anne Gouin Plourde.
Published: 4 June 2024

The Katarina String Quartet, consisting of violinists Jeanel Liang and Jérôme Chiasson, violist Celia Morin, and cellist Maya Enstad, have become forces to be reckoned with. Since winning McGill's 2022-2023 Chamber Music Competition, we have seen the young quartet participate in internationally renowned training programs, such as International Musicians Seminar (IMS) Prussia Cove and the McGill International String Quartet Academy (MISQA), as well as compete in international chamber music competitions in North America. This year, the quartet was awarded the First Prize and the BIPOC Prize at the Saint Paul String Quartet Competition. The Canadian quartet was also just announced as the Juilliard School’s next Graduate Resident Quartet! (You can read the Juilliard press release here.

Amidst the exciting changes going on for the quartet, we had a chance to ask the Katarina Quartet a few questions about the competition, the quartet’s working relationship, and what they’re up to next. Notably, the members of the quartet concluded the Q&A with a heartfelt message reflecting on their time at the Schulich School of Music stating:

The four of us met at McGill doing individual degrees and searching for a deeper experience with string quartet playing. When we first met with Professor André Roy in the summer of 2022, he rolled up his sleeves and helped us begin building a true quartet sound from scratch. Since then, André has spent countless hours with us, going over every detail and answering every “how do you string quartet” question we have. We cannot thank him enough for what he has done for us and will cherish our coachings with him always. We would also like to thank our quartet peers — the Stelios, Horatio and Lyra quartets — for their camaraderie and inspiring music making during our time at Schulich.

The Schulich School of Music wishes the Katarina String Quartet the best in their exciting new endeavors! It was a privilege to see this budding quartet blossom into such talented musicians during their time at the school! 

How was preparing for the competition as a quartet?

Surprisingly, the trickiest part of our preparation for the competition included a 20-hour one-way drive; we had to figure out how best to time it and how to recover quickly, not to mention how to survive in a car with each other for two days straight. In the end, the travel time gave us the opportunity to bond, rest, plan our rehearsals, and even do some score study and mental practice. After we arrived in St. Paul, we had one full day before the competition to thoroughly rehearse and practice, which was a luxury that allowed us to feel as prepared as possible. We also learned the first movement of Billy Childs’ “Awakening” quartet as part of the competition. The task of digesting a new piece quickly enough to trust each other onstage was exhilarating; the piece is full of fast passages which are constantly passed around the quartet, with a tempo marking that read “As Fast As Possible.” We fell out of sync during the dress rehearsal just before the performance, which was terrifying, but it gave us electricity and focus during the actual thing. It’s an edge-of-your-seat kind of experience for both the listener and the performers! 

What are some of the ways you build positive routines in your music-making?

We often experience the temptation to rehearse obsessively until we feel “ready,” but of course that feeling rarely arrives. Our most effective antidote thus far has been creating a schedule that everyone feels will allow them enough time for rest and personal work, and sticking to it even if it feels like it’s not enough. When we feel we need more rehearsal time, we do our best to adjust our rehearsal approach instead. We are always working on clear, respectful communication and learning how to be trusting and flexible with each other so we can attend to each other's personal needs. We also get in a good laugh and/or cry at least three times a week and enjoy playing a fierce round of euchre during rehearsal breaks. 

What are you looking forward to most? 

We are very excited about taking part in the Dover Quartet Workshop at the Curtis Institute from May 29th to June 8th, where we will receive coachings and masterclasses with the Dover Quartet. Following the workshop, we’ll be closing off our time in Canada with a summer concert series in Montreal and Quebec City from June 8th to 14th. We'll spend the rest of the summer apart, working on our own individual musical projects before meeting again in August to start our residency at Juilliard.  

Katarina String Quartet
Jeanel Liang, violin (MMus‘22, GDP‘23, ADip‘24) 
Jérôme Chiasson, violin (BMus‘23, GDP ‘24) 
Celia Morin, viola (BMus‘22, GAD‘24) 
Maya Enstad, cello (MMus‘23) 

Keep up with the Katarina String Quartet! Follow their Instagram @katarinastringquartet and subscribe to their YouTube Channel

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