A young Canadian string quartet that has become one of the most-celebrated chamber ensembles in the international music scene will be performing a newly commissioned work by Whitehorse composer Daniel Janke this month at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Janke has not heard the The Penderecki String Quartet perform his piece in full yet, but, “You get better at hearing it in your head,” he said. He did, however, get to have a privileged one-hour workshop with the PSQ in Toronto months ago.

Janke met with me over a bite to eat at the Yukon Inn, current headquarters for his new TV series, Northern Town. Though the new PSQ piece is not titled, Janke says the current String Quartet #1 will likely be replaced once he’s heard the piece performed.

The work is nine minutes long in two movements, as opposed to the more-traditional sonata form of three or four. Janke calls this “New Music”, formally composed but not so rigidly classical. After its premiere here, String Quartet #1 will be played in Toronto this April and will likely go to Italy this July as part of the PSQ’s international tour.

Among an astounding number of current projects on the go, Janke has also been commissioned by Whitehorse Concerts, composing a piece for the Persephone Singers and the Longest Night Ensemble. This new work will be performed in May, as part of WC’s bi-annual Classical Territory series (CDs available at Rose’s Music and Mac’s Fireweed Books).

How did this thriving classical music scene of the North come to be?

Michele Emslie, program coordinator of Whitehorse Concerts, recalls the legendary concert of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra back in the ’80s. At that time, there was no Yukon Arts Centre. Instead, the symphony performed in the FH Collins Secondary School gymnasium. Tickets were $25, says Eric Epstein, now the artistic director of the YAC. He also remembers smaller TSO concerts around town, in places like the No Pop Shoppe on 4th Avenue.

Since then, WC’s Classically Yours series has presented the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and other famed groups such as the multi-media Gryphon Trio, the world-renowned Tafel Musik, I Musici de Montréal, and the Toronto-based Quartetto Gelato. At their most recent concert, world-renowned and award-winning pianist Dang Thai Son received two standing ovations.

As a non-profit presenter of classical music, WC is currently funded by Canadian Heritage; the YTG’s Departments of Education, Tourism and Culture; and by local businesses, fundraisers and individual art lovers.

On Feb. 17, in Dawson City, and again on the 19th at the Yukon Arts Centre, the Penderecki String Quartet will perform String Quartet #1, Bartok 3, and Beethoven op 131. Before its show on the 19th, and as part of the Classically Yours series, the PSQ will meet with the public in the YAC Production Room at 7:00 p.m. to give a talk.

If you still need convincing, an excerpt from a review of the PSQ in the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung of Germany says, “… one of the most elevated classes of quartets, illuminated with inner joy and splendid, mild sunshine.”

Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office or the Hougen Centre Ticket Office.