Laniakea String Quartet

ASU music students, alumni win top honors at 2019 Hong Kong International Chamber Music Competition

By

Lynne MacDonald

Arizona State University School of Music doctoral students and alumni won all three top prizes at the renowned 2019 Hong Kong International Chamber Music Competition.

The Laniakea String Quartet won first prize with Aihua Zhang, current doctoral student in music performance, on violin; Xiaolin Li (Doctor of Musical Arts in performance ’17) on violin; Yen-Fang Chen (Doctor of Musical Arts in performance ’18) on viola; and Wesley Skinner, current doctoral student in music performance, on cello.

Second prize went to Zhang on violin; Shuang Zhu (Doctor of Musical Arts in performance ’17) on clarinet; and Zhou Jiang (Doctor of Musical Arts in performance ’18) on piano.

Jiang’s trio won third prize with Jiahua Ma (Master of Music in performance ’15)  on cello; Xiangyuan Huang (Bachelor of Music in performance ’16) on violin; and Jiang on piano.

The competition, organized by the Asia Musicians Association, has become one of the most important music competitions in Asia. Judges consist of well-known concert performers and educators from Europe, America, Singapore, Korea, Russia,  China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

The Laniakea String Quartet is an internationally performing string quartet composed of two current doctoral students and two doctoral alumni of the ASU School of Music. Individual members have performed as students and professionally in ensembles as trios, quartets, quintets and sextets, in orchestras and at festivals.

“The four of us had been working together in different genres of chamber ensembles for years, but not as the string quartet until fall 2018,” said Skinner, doctoral student and one of the quartet’s founding members. “With half of us graduated and on the search for a steady job and the other half coming to a close on our academic careers as students, we knew we had to be serious about our endeavor. We all made sacrifices, financially and occupationally, with our families, our students, our sleep and our sanity as our schedules overflowed. This became our full-time job — a delicate journey to discover other members’ tone and manipulating our own to find our sound as a string quartet.”

Skinner said all the quartet members have a connection to Asia — coming from there, wanting to work there or having a job waiting there.

“I was so overjoyed to hear that all of these talented and hard-working young artists have been honored and recognized in the competition,” said Russell Ryan, professor of practice in piano in the School of Music. “I have been so fortunate to coach Zhou and Aihua on many occasions for their upcoming recitals and have been constantly amazed, not only at their dedication, musical insights and technical prowess, but also at their pure stamina and abilities to absorb musical suggestions instantaneously. To have the opportunity of working with such passionate young musicians is certainly a highlight of my teaching commitments in the School of Music.”

Thomas Landschoot, professor in the ASU School of Music strings program and international cellist, said he has previously performed with several members of the quartet on works such as Mendelssohn’s Octet and the Schubert String Quintet, considered one of the greatest compositions in chamber music.

“In preparation for the Hong Kong competition, I worked intensively with the quartet at the Red Rock Music Festival and most particularly leading up to the competition,” Landschoot said.

Skinner said he was originally drawn to ASU by the powerful performance and teaching Landschoot demonstrated.

“His teaching has greatly impacted how detailed and how wholesome my approach to performance, musical understanding and teaching have become,” Skinner said. “He is the reason I came to ASU and he played a major role in the coaching of the Laniakea String Quartet.”

Zhou said ASU not only provided her with learning experiences through master classes, artist residency and performance opportunities, but also with financial support for auditions and performances.

“I learned so much on efficient communication skills, time management and fast learning repertoire during my six years studying at ASU,” Zhou said. “I had many opportunities to work with talented students and outstanding faculty and learned that, as a chamber musician, collaboration is most important.”