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Four friends find harmony on Shelter Island

HALSEY QUINN PHOTO The Calla Quartet at the Perlman Music Program. From left, violinists Amelia Dietrich and Michaela Wellems, cellist Karissa Zadinsky and violist Aiden Kane.
The Calla Quartet at the Perlman Music Program. From left, violinists Amelia Dietrich and Michaela Wellems, cellist Karissa Zadinsky and violist Aiden Kane.

Aiden Kane’s musical path begins with an opening line not unusual to the backstory of any successful musician: She began playing the violin at the age of three.

Sixteen years later, she’s a junior at the renowned performing arts college, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where she focuses on the viola and chamber music. Her journey to musical success, however, was not as conventional as her start.

Many child musicians, particularly those working strings, bows and keys from their toddler years, grow up with an out of balance concentration on music, treating general academics as a supplement to an implied career path. Ms. Kane, however, only began to consider music as a future occupation at the age of 15.

It was then she fell in love with both the viola and chamber music.

“I realized that I could actually do this for a living,” Ms. Kane said.

AT 16 she auditioned for the Perlman Music Program and did “The Littles Program” — the music summer school for high schoolers — for the next three years. But she didn’t remain a high schooler for long. After completing a pre-college program at Colburn, she was encouraged as a junior to audition for the college, which she did “just to practice,” but ended up getting in on the first try.

She squeezed all of junior and senior years of high school into one year and left her Maryland hometown for California.

Last Friday night, Ms. Kane found herself back at the Island’s PMP, this time with three of her college friends for the Chamber Music Program, led by cellist Merry Peckham. A part of this program is a series of master classes.

The “master” of the night was Paul Katz, the cellist of the world-renowned Cleveland Quartet. Or, in the words of Ms. Peckham, “the Zeus of chamber music.”

Ms. Kane and her college pals — violinists Amelia Dietrich and Michaela Wellems and cellist Karissa Zadinsky — call themselves the Calla Quartet. They were one of two groups to perform a “rough draft” of a piece, and then receive insight and criticism from Mr. Katz. They essentially rehearsed in front of a small audience.

With close quarters and Mr. Katz sitting in the middle of the audience, the class had an intimate atmosphere. As Mr. Katz commented, describing the music with words like, “kinetic,” “nasty” and “foggy,” it was as though the audience of 50 or so was eavesdropping on a conversation between the masters and the novices.

Despite having only picked up the difficult piece for the first time nine days ago, most of the young musicians said they were less nervous for this type of class-performance than a normal recital. Ms. Zadinsky was the most jittery, especially about anticipated criticism. “You don’t know what the instructor is going to say,” she said.

As the quartet of friends played through the Bartok Quartet No. 3, which they agreed was perhaps the hardest piece they’ve played together, they made eye contact, smiled at each other and took breaths in unison to ensure a united tempo.

They’re the “Calla” Quartet to include “Cal” for California and “LA” for their school’s city. But, fittingly, the word also happens to be the name of a single-petal flower, which they say symbolizes unity, and a togetherness of spirit was certainly apparent in their performance.

While it looks and sounds as if they’ve played together for years, it’s been just over a year. In February 2014, the four — who were already friends and roommates — got together for a last minute recital when another group dropped out. Since then, they’ve become an established quartet. In addition to four-to-six hours of daily individual practice, the girls also practice together for about two-to-three hours a day.

This summer, the Calla Quartet plans to travel throughout the U.S. and Australia for performances, classes and competitions.