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Video: Thunder helped us say farewell to Silver Birch String Quartet

After 12 years and more than 400 shows, classical quartet is putting down their bows

Over the past 12 years, Sudbury's Silver Birch String Quartet has presented more than 400 concerts across the country, and released two albums. But with two of its members moving away this month, the quartet is disbanding.

If you'd like to catch the group's last performance, you can do so tonight starting at 7 p.m. at The Brewer Lofts Cathedral (that's in the old Northern Breweries building off of Lorne Street). 

Tickets, which cost $25 each, are available by RSVP only. Admission to “This is (not) an Art Show” also features art installations by Henry and Jeremy, and includes some “delicious offerings” from Stack Brewing. Email

The Silver Birch String Quartet was formed in 2004 after the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra expanded its slate of full-time musicians to include two violinists, a violist and a cellist.

Because those are the instruments needed to form a string quartet, the musicians decided to put together their own group.

Violinist Christian Robinson and cellist Alexandra Lee have belonged to the group for its entire history, while violinist Geoff McCausland joined its current incarnation nine years ago and violist Jane Russell seven years ago.

But Robinson has a new job with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, and he's leaving for Saskatchewan next week. 

Russell's husband has a new job as an administrator with the Banff Centre for the Arts, so she's relocating along with him, also next week. 

The violist said she doesn't have any career plans yet, but is looking forward to being closer to her family, most of whom live in Calgary and Vancouver.

While the quartet began playing together as young men and women, life has changed for them all, as it has a funny way of doing. Lee now has two young children, while Robinson has one, and Russell was recently married.

The members of Silver Birch are very much like siblings — they tease McCausland about the time his pants ripped before he went on stage, as well as when his chair broke, causing an injury to a sensitive area of his anatomy.

The group's disbandment holds some sadness for its members, but also the promise of new beginnings.

“The quartet has sort of shaped me over the last 12 years,” said Lee.

“It's been the source of some of the most satisfying artistic experiences I've ever had, and it's also been something I invested a lot of my creative energy into. 

“It's a huge part of who I am right now, and thanks to these guys. They shaped me. I hoped I shaped them.”

The musicians have been involved in many interesting projects. 

Inspired by Russell's 13-year-old nephew Calvin, who has autism, the quartet put on a sensory friendly concert this past spring for those with developmental disabilities.

They were also the string quartet in residence at Laurentian University, using music as a teaching tool.

Their first album, “Silverbirch,” was a collaboration with Montreal-based jazz pianist John Roney, for which they received a 2010 Juno nomination and two Félix Awards in the province of Quebec.

Their second album, “L'Errance,” released two years ago, was a recording of the chamber music of Sudbury composer Robert Lemay.

Although the group is disbanding, they hope to get together now and then for special projects.

Robinson said he wants to thank Sudbury for embracing the quartet.

“Thank you to this city for taking a chance and supporting your own string quartet, in a city that didn't have that tradition here before,” he said.

“I'm proud we did that here. It shows this music is still relevant and vital and worth listening to.”

As a goodbye to the quartet, filmed the group performing Thursday as thunder boomed in the sky. They were great sports, as the skies were about to open up with a thunderstorm as the cameras rolled. Click above to give it a listen.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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