CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- In old-school circles, juxtaposing Michael Jackson's "Beat It," a suite from the "Harry Potter" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" with George Gershwin's Prelude No. 1 and Goleminov's "Bulgarian Folk songs" may not be heretical, but it might raise a few eyebrows.
The Boston String Quartet's penchant for classical and contemporary music fusion creates a stir, and their musicianship and sheer artistry is redefining the 21st century classical musician --- and growing a new generation of classical music aficionados.
Led by violinist Christopher Vuk, a graduate from Denver High School and the University of Northern Iowa, the critically acclaimed string ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Great Hall at the University of Northern Iowa's Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls.
"It's a cool concert," Vuk said in a recent phone interview. "We love trying different things --- it's fun for us, and we hope, for the audience, too."
Critics call Vuk an "electrifying violinist," and the nationally renowned quartet also features second violinist Angel Valchiov, violinist Chen Lin and cellist Christina Stripling. In addition, they'll be joined by the band Scarlet Fade and 100+ local high school musicians in an eclectic program, the Ethno-Urban Orchestra. Repertoire includes film music, rock, jazz and world music selections and original compositions by the quartet.
Vuk said there are two ideas at work in the quartet's widely applauded educational outreach. "Most kids in orchestra and band think classical music is their only repertoire. A violinist thinks he's only going to play Mozart and Beethoven. That's the mindset. Our mission is to show it's not true. If you don't like classical music, you can play jazz, rock and roll, whatever. It's all available, and it's perfectly plausible to do your own thing, write your own music."
Also, the quartet wants to emphasize the value of playing a musical instrument. Vuk, a new dad, thinks about his own daughter's future. "Kids are going a million different directions and it's so easy to be sucked into doing lots of things and doing them poorly. Through music, kids can learn problem solving, goal setting, commitment and do better in academic studies through learning to play an instrument."
Students write about themselves and provide references to apply for the Ethno-Urban Orchestra. Selected students receive the repertoire two weeks prior to the concert. Then there are four rigorous rehearsals and two improv sessions before the students take the stage to perform with the Boston String Quartet.
The UNI Suzuki School is hosting the program, and school music programs in a 30-40 mile radius are being targeted for participation.
Founded by Vuk in 2004, the Boston String Quartet has performed sold-out concerts around the country.
recorded five albums, including the well-received "Xibus" and the new release, "WorldSong." Their innovative concerts have included a string circus program with an acrobat, a Christmas series and this fall, they'll be working on a concert with dancers from the Boston Ballet.
The quartet also has two other sought-after programs and residencies that teach contemporary music techniques and improvisation to students around the country, the Xibus Tour and the Xibus World Orchestra. Vuk brought that program to Waverly-Shell Rock High School several years ago.
Vuk began his music studies with Janesville violin instructor Pam Johnson and participated in the Wartburg Symphony and Northern Iowa Youth Orchestra. An alumnus of UNI, the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., and Boston's Berklee College of Music, he has performed at Carnegie Hall and played for such dignitaries as First Lady Laura Bush and Queen Raina of Jordan. He has performed with artists like Gloria Estefan, Bill Cosby and Jennifer Holliday, and he is director of the contemporary school, School of Groove.
Correction added (2/20): The original version of this story incorrectly stated the concert was on Sunday. The concert is on Saturday. The change has been made in the third paragraph of the story.