In retrospect, Mary Artmann's role in the Veronika String Quartet seems almost predestined, though her expectations weren't that high when she traveled to an audition in Pueblo 2 years ago.
A cellist for New York's Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra who taught for six summers at Estes Park's Rocky Ridge Music Center, Artmann hadn't even heard of Pueblo before seeing an online ad. But while she had a strong penchant for the rhythmically varied approaches of Medieval and modern music, Artmann also loved late 18th-century string quartets.
Plus, even before meeting with the group, there was something else, something more personal, that sparked her interest.
"It was also just the name, the Veronika String Quartet," explains Artmann. "I had a twin sister who committed suicide 24 years ago, and her name was Veronica."
Artmann's sister had been a violinist.
"I thought, 'Oh, I guess I have to go.' They [the rest of the quartet] don't know about it," she adds. "I'd kept that tragedy from them."
Upon arrival, Artmann was taken with the group's level of musicianship.
"I did not expect that at all," she says. "I kind of think people who live here still don't expect it. They don't realize there's this quartet that's a real thing to contend with. Maybe it's like, 'Well, if they're in Pueblo, they must not be that good.'"
The group, which has received raves from London to Jerusalem, was founded in 1989, when violinists Veronika Afanassieva and Karine Garibova were studying in Moscow. A decade later, they became artists-in-residence at the University of Southern Colorado (now CSU-Pueblo), where they were joined by violist Ekaterina Dobrotvorskaia.
Artmann, the quartet's token American, laughs at having been complimented on how fluent her English is.
"The president of the university," she adds, "just sent somebody an e-mail, which he cc'd us on, describing us as a mostly Russian quartet."
This weekend's program features works by Mozart, Schubert and Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Artmann says Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A Major, which will feature clarinetist Daniel Silver, still makes her cry.
"He's really just been touched, that composer," she says, laughing at a compliment that may seem unnecessary. "It's like, 'Of course, he's great.' But when you really hear and feel that greatness, it's just incredible. I try to imagine the world sometimes without Mozart; it would be amazing, like a black hole or something."
Smetana's String Quartet in E Minor is "very romantic and intense, but also very accessible and tuneful." The final movement includes an extended high pitch in the 1st violin part the same pitch the composer heard at the onset of deafness.
"There's no doubt that, when we're rehearsing, this is the most important thing to all of us," says Artmann. "When we're in that room, it's like being on a knife edge."