Avalon String Quartet

Biography

Described by the Chicago Tribune as “an ensemble that invites you-ears, mind, and spirit- into its music”, the Avalon String Quartet has established itself as one of the country’s leading chamber music ensembles.

The Avalon have performed in many major venues including Alice Tully Hall, 92nd St Y, Carnegie Hall, and Merkin Hall in New York; the Library of Congress and National Gallery of Art in Washington DC; Wigmore Hall in London and Herculessaal in Munich. Other performances include appearances at the Caramoor Music Festival, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, NPR’s St Paul Sunday, Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Bargemusic, Dame Myra Hess Series and the Ravinia Festival. The quartet captured the top prize at the ARD Competition in Munich (2000) as well as the First Prize at Concert Artists Guild Competition in New York (1999).

The Avalon is quartet-in-residence at the Northern Illinois University School of Music, a position formerly held by the distinguished Vermeer Quartet. As a part of their residency, they perform annual concert series in Chicago and DeKalb, and the quartet members teach individual studios and coach chamber music at the school. Additional teaching activities have included the Interlochen Advanced Quartet Program, Madeline Island Music Camp, Icicle Creek Chamber Music Institute and the Britten-Pears School in England.  The Avalon regularly performs programs for underserved communities in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

In 2010 the quartet released a CD of contemporary American works on the Albany label to much critical acclaim. The Avalon Quartet’s debut CD, Dawn to Dusk, including the Ravel and the Janacek Second Quartets, was honored with the 2002 Chamber Music America/WQXR Record Award for best chamber music recording.

The Quartet’s live performances and conversation are frequently featured on Chicago’s WFMT-FM, including a recent nationally syndicated live broadcast of Exploring Music with Bill MacGlaughlin. They have also been heard on New York’s WQXR-FM and WNYC-FM, National Public Radio’s Performance Today, Canada’s CBC, Australia’s ABC, the ARD of Germany and France Musique.


Blaise Magniere, ViolinViolin1

French violinist Blaise Magniere is a highly acclaimed chamber musician, active both in the U.S and abroad. He has collaborated with artists such as Gilbert Kalish, Peter Wiley, the Juilliard Quartet and members of the Emerson String Quartet.  Blaise Magniere studied with Mauricio Fuks at McGill University in Canada before arriving in the US to join Donald Weilerstein’s studio at the Cleveland Institute of Music. As an assistant to the Juilliard String Quartet, he coached chamber music at the Juilliard School. He holds the Richard O. Ryan endowed chair in violin at the Northern Illinois University School of Music.


Marie Wang, ViolinViolin2

Canadian violinist Marie Wang received a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from McGill University, studying with Mauricio Fuks, and an M.M. from Northern Illinois University, where she studied with Mathias Tacke and Shmuel Ashkenasi.  She holds an Artist Diploma from the Juilliard School and also was a student of Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music.


Anthony Devroye, ViolaViola

Anthony Devroye enjoys a varied and active career as chamber, orchestral and solo violist and teacher.  As a chamber musician he has performed at the Ravinia, Norfolk and Angel Fire festivals, and internationally at the Verbier Festival (Switzerland), Rencontres Musicales d’Enghien (Belgium), and in Gothenborg, Sweden.  Mr. Devroye holds a B.A. from Columbia University, where he pursued concurrent viola studies at the Juilliard School.  He received a Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music.  His viola teachers have included Michael Tree, Roberto Diaz, Toby Appel and Heidi Castleman.


Cheng-Hou Lee, CelloCello

Cellist Cheng-Hou Lee, a native of Taiwan, received a B.M. and M.M. from the Juilliard School under Harvey Shapiro and an M.M. in chamber music from Rice University, where he was a founding member of the award-winning Gotham Quartet and studied with Paul Katz.  He won the Chi-Mei Foundation Award for Outstanding Talents, the Tuesday Musical Club Competition in Houston and twice the National Cello Competition in Taiwan.  His recital performances have been broadcast on WQXR-New York and WFMT-Chicago.

Discography

In 2010 the Avalon released a CD of contemporary American works on the Albany label to much critical acclaim. The Avalon Quartet’s debut CD, Dawn to Dusk, including the Ravel and the Janacek Second Quartets, was honored with the 2002 Chamber Music America/WQXR Record Award for best chamber music recording.


Avalon String Quartet

Avalon String Quartet Plays Biggs, Wickman, Gryc & Macbride

O Sapientia/Steal Away | Hayes Biggs

Namaste | Ethan Wickman

String Quartet | Stephen Gryc

A Muse | David Macbride

Release Date: 2010

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Avalon String Quartet

Live in Concert, July 2006

Mozart: String Quartet in D Major, K.499

Bartok: String Quartet No.4


Avalon String Quartet

Live Performances of Beethoven, Prokofiev

Dawn to Dusk

Dawn to Dusk

Release Date: 2000

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Reviews

For a full list of reviews on Avalon String Quartet, please click HERE.


Chicago Classical Review

“Known for Classical elegance and pure, refined tone, the Avalon Quartet isn’t the first ensemble would think of as a natural fit for Bartok’s punchy, acidic style. Still the Avalon members (violinists Blaise Magniere and Marie Wang, violist Anthony Devroye and cellist Chen-Hou Lee) conveyed the dark, searching expression of the canonic opening bars effectively, segueing into the growing impassioned pages with ardor and concentrated playing. At times one wanted greater bite and intensity from the leader Magniere, whose aristocratic style sometimes seemed too soft-focus for this music. Cellist Lee’s blend of tonal refinement and aggressive edge found the most idiomatic interpretive ground. The performance took on greater assurance and cohesion as it continued, the complex rhythmic impetus and stamping accents gaining in cumulative intensity with a whirlwind coda. A fine launch to an important series, and one in which the Avalon players will likely find even stronger footing as their Bartok cycle unfolds.” 

– Lawrence A. Johnson, concert review “Avalon Quartet Launches Bartok Cycle in Fine Style”, Sep 16, 2013 (For full review, please click HERE)

“The Avalon String Quartet is a cohesive ensemble, yet with each member possessing distinctive qualities: first violinist Blaise Magniere’s sweet, refined tone and seamless articulation, Marie Wang’s pure timbre, violist Anthony Devroye’s elegant musicianship and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee’s fluid, beautfully burnished playing (especially as spotlighted in the F major quartet)… The tense angular opening Allegro of the Quartet in E minor, was put across with corporate thrust and forceful urgency, qualities that characterized the playing all afternoon. Technically, the playing and intonation were nearly faultless, but it was the guts and vigor of the playing that proved consistently impressive, as with the outer movements of the Quartet in C major, with the tearaway coda thrown off with an exhilarating speed and accuracy that was edge-of-the-seat thrilling.”

– Lawrence A. Johnson, concert review “Avalon Quartet Wraps Beethoven Cycle with Deep and Exhilarating”, Jun 4, 2012  (For full review, please click HERE)

“Anyone attending an Avalon String Quartet concert expects good things. Founded in 1995 and based at Northern Illinois University, Avalon is one of the Chicago area’s leading chamber ensembles, performing thoughtfully chosen repertoire with verve and precision. But the group’s concert of American music Wednesday night in Merit School of Music’s Gottlieb Hall offered something extra. A subtle programming thread ran through three of the four works, offering the pleasure of hearing gifted composers almost literally echoing the physical world around them. Augusta Read Thomas’ Fugitive Star from 2000 was inspired by the idea of a star pulling away from its galaxy’s centrifugal force. In Aqua, which is not yet finished, New York-based composer Harold Meltzer responds to the undulating surface of architect Jeanne Gang’s distinctive Chicago skyscraper of the same name. And in Steve Reich’s well-known piece for string quartet and tape, Different Trains (1988), the melodies imitated speech patterns of Holocaust survivors and a Pullman porter recalling train travel during World War II. The short, fragmented phrases talked of America luxury trains as well as Europe’s concentration camp-bound cattle cars… The zesty first movement of Aqua was a kind of music trailer, a sample that whetted our appetite for hearing more once Meltzer completes the work. The music had a sense of constant rhythmic pulse, but at any given moment violinists Blaise Magniere and Marie Wang, violist Anthony Devroye and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee swirled and danced away in syncopated riffs. Their melodies sounded spicy and unpredictable but always driven by an undercurrent of seamless flow and forward momentum. Like the surface of Gang’s apartment building, Meltzer’s Aqua was full of energy with few sharp edges… Avalon’s characteristically rich, full-bodied sound was ideal for Thomas’s luminous Fugitive Star. Devroye’s plaintive viola wandered in the opening bars, a lost soul slowing trying to find its way. In climactic moments, the quartet clashed with weighty yet singing fury. Different Trains is one of the 20th century’s finest chamber music pieces, and the Avalon fully mined its potent repetitions. Against the taped, muted rustle of speeding trains and warning whistles, Lee’s cello duplicated the sound and shape of the Pullman porter’s comments. Call and response were so tightly woven that music became speech and speech became music.”

– Wynne Delacoma, concert review “Avalon Quartet Serves up Bracing Night of American Music”, Apr 28, 2011 (For full review, please click HERE)

“Prokofiev and Arensky used traditional Russian melodies in their pieces, and the Avalon players dug into them with passion. Written in 1941, Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet uses folk tunes from the Caucasus Mountain region where the composer relocated to escape the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The Avalon expertly caught the score’s unsettling mix of jaunty high spirits and off-kilter harmonies and rhythms. In the first bars of the Adagio, Lee’s richly textured cello set out a haunted song while the other instruments hovered above it like solicitous angels. In the final movement, Magnière’s violin took center stage with an exotic melody that was both wary and firmly carved.”

– Wynne Delacoma, concert review “Avalon Quartet Digs into Mostly Russian Program at Gottlieb Hall, Feb 11, 2010  (For full review, please click HERE)


Chicago Tribune

“The violinist’s poised surges of rhapsodic lyricism, supported by the piano’s ripe chords and rippling arpeggios, blended smoothly with the teasing harmonies and lush colors provided by the string quartet. Artist-faculty quartet-in-residence at Northern Illinois University since 2007, the Avalon Quartet — Blaise Magniere and Marie Wang, violin; Anthony Devroye, viola; and Cheng Hou-Lee, cello — is an enormous boon to the thriving local chamber music scene. This is quite simply one of the most polished and dynamic young string quartets I have come across. The players pressed into the phrases of Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major (Opus 18, No. 6) with a full-throttle urgency that didn’t preclude precise intonation or acuteness of rhythm.”

– John von Rhein, concert review “Barton Pine, Avalon Wax Rhapsodic”, Sep 21, 2009 (For full review, please click HERE)

Website

Reviews

“…an ensemble that invites you-ears, mind, and spirit- into its music.”

Chicago Tribune

“It would be hard to overpraise the polished, adroit, deeply musical and sheerly gorgeous playing of the Avalon String Quartet.”

American Record Guide

“One of the most exciting young quartets in America.”

Washington Post

Audio

Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5 — Allegro
Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago
February 23, 2014

Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major
Northern Illinois University
2012

Giuseppe Verdi: String Quartet in E minor: Allegro
St. John Evangelical United Church of Christ
October 24, 2010