KONTRAS QUARTET explores the role of chamber music in the new millennium, at once keeping classic tradition and style alive while embracing new opportunities and fusing genres to expand the art form and include a more diverse audience. Formed in 2009, the "superb Chicago-based ensemble" (Gramophone Magazine) has become known for its vibrant and nuanced performances, “crisp precision" (Palm Beach Daily News), "superlative artistry" (CVNC Arts Journal), and unique penchant for exploring the folk roots of classical music. Kontras’s "enjoyable musical personality" (Fanfare Magazine) and welcoming, friendly approach to the recital stage have attracted audiences near and far for over a decade. Kontras means ‘contrasts’ in the Afrikaans language - fitting for a string ensemble whose colorful repertoire spans centuries, genres, and continents.
Kontras Quartet's recent engagements include international tours of South Africa and Switzerland, broadcasts on classical radio stations nationwide (including Performance Today and a 3-month residency with Chicago's WFMT 98.7 fm), performances at Chicago's Symphony Center and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and television appearances on NBC and PBS. Kontras served as Artists in Residence with San Diego’s Art of Elan from 2018-2021, commissioning and premiering multiple new works, and collaborating with numerous artists including Malashock Dance and Branford Marsalis.
Kontras Quartet has released three critically acclaimed albums with two more slated to be released in 2023. The first, Origins, on MSR classics, was commended by Gramophone Magazine for the quartet's "scrupulous shading and control". The second, Lucid Dreamer, a 2013 Chamber Music America commission, treads the line between classical music and American folk and invigorates Kontras' ongoing collaboration with the esteemed Kruger Brothers trio, as does their 2017 release, the Roan Mountain Suite. Upcoming plans for Kontras and Kruger Brothers include a fall 2023 tour of Switzerland, and an album release of their latest septet, The Moonshine Sonata, on DoubleTime Records.
All four Kontras members are passionate music educators. In addition to holding faculty positions at Elmhurst University, Kontras served as Quartet in Residence at Western Michigan University from 2014 through 2020 and held short-term teaching residencies at University of California San Diego, University of Chicago, and others. In 2016, the quartet received a grant from the Boeing Company to perform a series of outreach programs to thousands of students across the Chicagoland area.
Kontras Quartet gained early acclaim during a four-year chamber music residency with the Western Piedmont Symphony established through Chamber Music America's Residency Partnership Program. While in North Carolina, the quartet made a significant community impact in the Hickory metro area with their innovative and interactive programming, performing for over 40,000 school-age and college students in addition to their popular recital series.
Kontras Quartet’s early mentors included the Vermeer and Juilliard Quartets.
"For their debut recording, the superb Chicago-based ensemble have eschewed anything resembling the predictable.
As in everything on their inaugural disc, the Kontras players are alert to the minutest facets.
How they apply such care and personality to core repertoire will be fascinating to hear..."
- Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone
Chicago-based violinist Eleanor Bartsch enjoys a diverse and vibrant career as a chamber musician, orchestral musician, Concertmaster, soloist, educator, and entrepreneur at home in many musical styles. Bartsch joined the critically acclaimed Kontras Quartet as first violinist in 2018. She additionally serves as Associate Concertmaster of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and Concertmaster of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. Bartsch has served as Concertmaster of the Chicago Philharmonic, Joffrey Ballet Orchestra, and Chicago Opera Theater Orchestra, and is Co-Founder of Madison, Wisconsin’s Willy Street Chamber Players, an award-winning chamber ensemble with an emphasis on creating community through classical music. Bartsch is a frequent extra musician at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Bartsch began her violin studies in her hometown of St. Paul, MN. She received her Master's degree in Violin Performance with a certificate in business entrepreneurship from the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the tutelage of David Perry as a Paul Collins Distinguished Graduate Fellow. She also received an undergraduate degree from UW-Madison, during which she spent her summers at the Aspen Music Festival studying with Paul Kantor and was a tenured member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Passionate about music education, she is currently on the faculty of the Barrington Music Academy and a frequent guest clinician at learning institutions throughout the United States.
Photo: Ness McCormick Photography
"To say that the playing was impressive would be an understatement. The performance was full of life, clean, crisp, and vibrant.
With tonight's performance, it is evident that the Kontras Quartet has worked hard
and has become a tightly crafted and beautiful instrument."
Having grown up in a highly musical family, violinist Francois Henkins distinguished himself at an early age by winning national chamber music and solo competitions in his native South Africa, and performing as guest soloist with the Johannesburg and Free State Symphonies. He came to the USA with a full scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Academy, and continued his studies under Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Chen, Los Angeles Philharmonic associate concertmaster Nathan Cole, and Renata Artman Knific. Francois has since traveled the world to appear at chamber music festivals such as the Musicorda Chamber Music Festival; the Stellenbosch National Chamber Music Competition, at which he was awarded a prize for his notable performance; and the Cleveland Orchestra's Kent/Blossom Music Festival, where he was awarded the Josef Gingold Award for his distinguished performance in chamber music. An experienced orchestral performer, Francois has worked under renowned conductors such as Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Sinfonietta, and the Johannesburg Philharmonic. Francois has a deep love of teaching and is currently Adjunct Professor at Elmhurst University.
"The Kontras Quartet has a distinctive and enjoyable musical personality, and this well-recorded CD [Origins]
presents them in a wonderful light. This disc is a delight all around, and is accordingly warmly recommended."
Violist Benjamin Weber is currently Principal Viola with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and has performed with many of the orchestras around the Chicago area. He has performed recently with Barbra Streisand, Todd Rundgren, and Howard Levy. An avid chamber musician, he was a founding member of Crossing Borders Music and has often appeared with the ACM Palomar Ensemble as a guest. As a string educator, he is on the faculty at the Merit School of Music and has led guest clinics at high schools around the Chicago area. He received a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2004 studying Violin and Viola with Michael Hining, and in 2008 he received a Master’s degree in Viola Performance from the Eastman School of Music where he studied with John Graham and Melissa Matson. He and his wife are proud parents of their young daughter, Mara.
Known for her soulful, expressive playing style, cellist Jean Hatmaker is one of the most versatile musicians in the Chicago area with a diverse portfolio of solo and collaborative projects across a wide range of musical and interdisciplinary settings. Her engaging and intuitive demeanor has made her a sought-after collaborator, from the Bach Cantata Vespers Series at Grace Lutheran Church of River Forest, IL and various classical chamber and orchestral ensembles, to performances with contemporary and folk musicians, and dance companies all across the country such as Hubbard Street Dance and Malashock Dance Company. Recent highlights include performing as solo cellist in the onstage band of Broadway in Chicago's production of Oklahoma!, continuo cello for St. John Passion with the Apollo Chorus, and the 2021 release of her album, Modern Muses, with soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, on Navona Records.
Ms. Hatmaker is a founding member of the Chicago-based Kontras Quartet, a beloved ensemble known for its well-crafted performances, diverse programming, and accessible audience relations. Kontras Quartet has brought its message of inclusivity to concerts across the US, Europe, and Africa, and frequently performs with bluegrass trio the Kruger Brothers, with whom they have appeared at festivals including Telluride, MerleFest, and IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass, as well as the Late Show with David Letterman. Kontras Quartet has released three commercial albums: Lucid Dreamer and Roan Mountain Suite with the Kruger Brothers, on Double Time Records; and Origins, on MSR Records.
Ms. Hatmaker is on faculty at Elmhurst University and also has a private studio in her home in Oak Park; she frequently teaches as a guest clinician at schools across the country. She is a passionate advocate for mental health among teens and young adults, and holds a certification in Mental Health First Aid. Currently she serves as recording secretary on the board of directors for the Musicians Club of Women, a longstanding organization in Chicago devoted to supporting women in music. She received both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Cello Performance from Indiana University, where she studied with Helga Winold and Janos Starker, and plays a modern cello by Lawrence Wilke, using Hill and Bearden bows.
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