In a relatively rare good turn for culture, the Hickory Daily Record has made a substantial announcement about the string quartet based there, its upcoming concert, and its pending return to Chicago. All this is noteworthy, and on several counts – and particularly in comparison with other parts of the state, where most arts organizations are increasingly hard-pressed to get any significant recognition in the dailies. Yes, Hickory is smaller than cities to its south and east. But remember that this is a town with both class and culture – its own orchestra, a superior chorus, a distinguished little art museum, and a vibrant theatre community. They don’t have too much art or too many choices, so the citizens there rally behind the art that’s there, resulting in good attendance and lengthy patron lists in published programs.

The chamber ensemble the paper discusses is the Kontras Quartet, which has been resident with the Western Piedmont Symphony for the last several years, following in the footsteps (as it were) of other quartets. It makes sense for an orchestra to have a standing relationship with a string quartet, which can go into the community to “front” its sponsoring organization at considerably lower cost than orchestral work would require – and the members of which can (and in this case actually do) serve as principals of the larger group’s string sections during the symphony’s regular season. Makes sense all around.

They’ve liked the Kontras up there in Catawba County (in the so-called Unifour Region), and one senses they’d like to have them stick around. As is so often the case, funding is the issue. And as is also often the case, awareness fuels the equation. The article quotes the first violinist as saying “a lot of people in Hickory don’t know about the Western Piedmont Symphony.” So maybe one should wonder why not, after the long service of the orchestra itself and the tenure of this quartet, in particular. That’s a rhetorical question – or maybe not….

The quartet won’t sit idle, the article notes: “The next year appears to be just as big for the quartet. They’re in the middle of a residency with the Ars Viva Orchestra. Soon, they will begin a residency at Western Michigan University. The quartet is readying a studio effort called Origins. They’re fundraising on Kickstarter for [that] record, which will feature selections from members’ native countries.” So they’ll land on their feet.

But meanwhile, Hickory looses a chamber ensemble. Here’s hoping it can find the funding to engage another one – soon.

Readers may hear the Kontras’ last Hickory concert on April 12. For details, click here.


The orchestra has provided the following additional information about this program:

  • The March 29 orchestral concert “was the last performance by the Kontras Quartet as the resident string quartet for the Western Piedmont Symphony. Started in 1999, with a three-year Chamber Music America grant, the string quartet residency has provided musical excellence and leadership for the orchestra, rug concerts for preschoolers, silver serenades for seniors, free community day concerts and 70 Chamber Classics to over 100,000 people in the Greater Hickory region.
  • “The residency cost is $120,000 per year.
  • “The Hickory Metro String Quartet Residency has served as a model for professional string quartets residencies across the country and has been a springboard for professional string quartet development and success.”

This is the orchestra’s 50th year and the 15th of this resident quartet program. The WPS will host a Battle of the Bows competition for three or four prospective string quartets. We thought you should know, for it’s a program worth supporting.

For more information, contact Executive Director Reggie Helton at