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Freya String Quartet focuses on contemporary compositions

"We feel very passionate about working with young composers and with new music."



The members of Freya String Quartet have always seen a lot of things to value in Pittsburgh's chamber-music community. 

"We're all big fans of Pittsburgh — all of us are transplants, and have made our homes here in the past seven years," says Jason Hohn. "But we [felt] a need for Pittsburgh to have its own string quartet."

And in 2009, the four players — Hohn (viola), Jason Neukom (violin), Ashley Buckley (violin) and  Katya Janpoladyan (cello) — decided to take matters into their own hands, creating a string quartet devoted first and foremost to Pittsburgh. (Hohn, Neukom and Buckley all studied at Carnegie Mellon University; Hohn and Neukom grew up together in North Dakota.)

The quartet, which begins its 2013-14 season with performances on Fri., Oct. 11, and Sun., Oct. 13 at First United Methodist Church in Shadyside, focuses largely on contemporary composers, performing some commissioned work.

"We feel very passionate about working with young composers and with new music," Hohn says. "We love the challenge of being able to have a close collaboration with living composers, and to work closely with them to realize their vision — to really be able to pick their brain and find out exactly what they want to do."

To that end, Freya was the quartet in residency at the Charlotte New Music Festival this past year, working with young composers on new works. And the first program of the group's new season, "Fresh Voices," features works by young composers: Hong-Da Chin, Matthew Peterson, Elizabeth Kowalski, Chung Eun Kim and Zachary Albrecht.

The rest of Freya's new season stretches through the winter, with performances at various venues. The second program, at Bricolage Theater, will feature works by Richard Neukom and Sean Neukom, commissioned for the quartet. The third, at Wood Street Galleries, will be amplified string-quartet music, including Steve Reich's legendary "Different Trains." The quartet is using rotating venues, Hohn explains, partly to showcase the city's performance spaces, and partly to fit the room to the music being performed.

Beyond being a performing group — and the members all perform with other orchestras and chamber groups — Freya has an educational element. The members all teach performance, and Freya collaborates with composer Sean Neukom under the umbrella of Symbiotic Collusion, a group that provides educational services and seeks to find sustainable ways to fund arts groups. (For example, Symbiotic Collusion organizes musicians, including the members of Freya, to provide music for events.) Freya is also recording an album, Snapshots, to be released next spring.

First and foremost, though, Freya is about bringing chamber music to Pittsburgh using a native string quartet — something the city had been missing for some time. 

"We worked with the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society," says Hohn. "And the groups that they bring in are all world-class, but we feel strongly that to have a quartet that lives and works and is embedded in the community is a real asset."

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