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Bear quartet
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Quartet made of Utah high schoolers is winning national awards

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of high schoolers has formed a quartet in Utah is winning national awards for their classical music.

It’s a level of talent that is turning a lot of heads.

Four teenagers make up the Bear Quartet. It stands for their first names: Benson, Ellen, Abby and Rachel. On the cello is Benson Marshall, a junior from Lehi. Ellen Hayashi, a sophomore from Murray, and Rachel Call, a junior from Provo, play the violin. Abby Smith, a junior in Herriman, changed to viola only recently, but now has become so adept at it, she has won a rare scholarship to the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Rachel Call won another one of the prestigious spots.

They each have been playing for several years on their own and in other groups but met each other at the Gifted Music School in Salt Lake City and once they started playing together, they started racking up competition wins and national awards.

“They are like heroes. If a high school football team got a national championship, it would be front page news,” said GMS artistic director Eugene Watanabe.

They practice anywhere from 3 to 7 hours a day, individually and as a group, with more practice time before auditions and competitions.

“Some days you don’t reach your goal, but other days you think, I’m going to do as much time as I have,” said Benson.

Abby says judging is so subjective, it always seems a surprise to them when they win.

“It depends on the judges’ moods, their preference, the other players. Winning competitions is great, but it’s also not defining for us,” she said. “It could go either way, anywhere you go.”

Ellen says they somehow started a tradition of watching horror movies after competitions.

“It’s the equivalent of watching what has just happened for 2 to 3 hours on the stage,” she joked.

Rachel said that her coach told her to work on visualization during certain songs she plays…and one of them, String Quartet #2, The First Movement by Alberto Ginastera, reminds her of the soundtrack to a horror movie.

Once Rachel and Abby go to college, the Bear Quartet will break up. Ellen and Benson will play with new groups as they plan their future.

“For the music world, you have to plan so far ahead. You need that life of working to get there,” said Ellen.

Watanabe wants to make one point clear.

“These kids are amazing. They are role models,” he said. “It’s not just about creating great musicians, the true goal is to have good kids. These are good kids.”