Kontras Quartet

Kontras means contrasts in the Afrikaans language - fitting for a string ensemble whose colorful repertoire spans centuries, genres, and continents. Admired for their "superlative artistry" (CVNC Arts Journal), the Kontras Quartet has established an international following for their vibrant and nuanced performances. The "superb Chicago-based ensemble" (Gramophone Magazine) has been described as "a tightly crafted and beautiful instrument" (CVNC Arts Journal) and has been lauded for their "crisp precision" (Palm Beach Daily News) and "enjoyable musical personality" (Fanfare Magazine). 

Kontras Quartet (KQ) has a rich history of interdisciplinary collaboration, often collaborating with dancers, visual artists, and musicians of other genres. They tour frequently with nationally-acclaimed bluegrass trio the Kruger Brothers, and have performed together on PBS, MerleFest, IBMA, and the Late Show with David Letterman. KQ recently released their first two commercial albums: their first commissioned work, Lucid Dreamer, with the Kruger Brothers, on Double Time Records; and Origins, an album comprised of new and lesser-known works from the quartet members' home countries, including the world premiere recording of Dan Visconti's Ramshackle Songs, on MSR Records.

The current quartet members are Jean Hatmaker (cello), Francois Henkins (violin), Dmitri Pogorelov (violin), Ben Weber (viola). 

Hatmaker is a founding member of the Kontras Quartet, with whom she has performed in chamber series all across the East and Midwest, as well as live performances on NBC and public radio. She is a passionate teacher, holding faculty positions at Lake Forest College and Elmhurst College, where she also founded the Elmhurst College Cello Choir. With Kontras Quartet, she is in-residence at Western Michigan University as a chamber ensemble coach and performance lecturer. Hatmaker has an extensive background of orchestral playing, having been principal cellist of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Western Piedmont Symphony, and other regional orchestras throughout the Midwest. She received both a Bachelor (with High Distinction) and Master of Music degrees in Cello Performance from Indiana University, in the studios of Helga Winold and Janos Starker. She plays on a French cello made by Marc Laberte ca. 1922, and uses a Grünke bow. She has been a board member of the Chicago Cello Society since 2014, and currently serves as President. She is also an amateur ballerina, and has studied and performed at Indiana University, the NewArt School of Ballet, and the Joffrey Academy of Chicago. Combining her passions for music and dance, Hatmaker has arranged and performed original ballet productions of The Nutcracker and Alice In Wonderland, collaborations between the NewArt School of Ballet and Kontras Quartet.

Henkins grew up in a highly musical family, and he 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 he continued his studies under Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Chen, Los Angeles Philharmonic associate concertmaster Nathan Cole, and Renata Artman Knific. Henkins 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, Henkins 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. Henkins has a deep love of teaching and is currently Assistant Professor of Violin at Western Michigan University.

Pogorelov is a critically acclaimed musician who won prestigious chamber music competitions in his native Russia at an early age, which led to numerous appearances in chamber music recitals and solo performances with orchestras in the USA, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, and Russia. Pogorelov has appeared in chamber music concerts with principal players of Chicago, Houston, Saint Louis, and Seattle symphonies, Cleveland and Concertgebouw orchestras, San Francisco, Chicago Lyric, and Frankfurt State Opera orchestras. As part of his interest in contemporary chamber music, he has recently recorded works by Eric Ewazen, Gunther Schuller, and Yehudi Wyner for Albany Records. A seasoned orchestral performer, Pogorelov has worked under Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Sir Mark Elder, and Esa-Pekka Salonen as concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony’s Civic Orchestra. As the Associate Concertmaster and frequent soloist with the Lancaster Festival Orchestra, Pogorelov has recently performed Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto for a crowd of 8,000 in a concert that also featured pop stars Michael Bolton and Crystal Bowersox. Pogorelov is currently a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music under the tutelage of Gerardo Ribeiro.

Weber is currently Principal Viola with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, and Assistant Principal with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. He has performed recently with Barbra Streisand, Todd Rundgren, and Howard Levy. An avid chamber musician, he plays with 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 thrilled to introduce their daughter Mara, born in October 2015.

The Kontras Quartet's recent and upcoming performances include multiple broadcasts on classical radio stations nationwide (including Performance Today and Concierto on NPR); concerts at Chicago's Symphony Center, the Farnsworth House, and the Juilliard School; television appearances on NBC and PBS; regular appearances on concert series throughout the Midwest and Southeast; and sold out performances at the Telluride, IBMA and MerleFest festivals.

Kontras enjoys educational work of all kinds, and has been the Professional Quartet in Residence at Western Michigan University for two years. In addition to their concert schedule, the quartet will hold teaching residencies at Elmhurst College and Appalachian State University in 2016. They will also continue their work in the Chicago Public Schools with the support of a grant from the Boeing Company. Outside of the Chicago area, Kontras has made a significant educational impact in North Carolina, bringing more than 200 innovative and interactive outreach programs to 40,000 students.

Formed while the group's members were string principals in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Kontras Quartet began pursuing a professional career in 2009. Kontras enjoyed immediate recognition, holding their own against seasoned string quartets from around the country to win a four-year chamber music residency with the Western Piedmont Symphony in North Carolina, a full-time position established through Chamber Music America's Residency Partnership Program. The quartet has received continued training with the Vermeer Quartet and Juilliard String Quartet.

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