Saying Goodbye to MCYO's La Vida Quartet
A love for chamber music bonds four young musicians and creates memories for a lifetime.
by Jennifer Marino Walters
La Vida quartet—a chamber music ensemble assembled in 2021 by Strathmore’s Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO) Chamber Music Program—has all the necessary ingredients to be successful. Its members—Anna Lee, Joey Hsieh, Faith Zhang, and Jessica Zhu—are close friends. They are hard workers who love their instruments, and according to MCYO Manager of Programs Dr. Jennifer Lee, their musicianship is well matched.
But violist Anna, 18, believes it’s something else that truly sets them apart. “One of our biggest strengths,” she says, “is our chemistry. We have a strong ability to match each other’s energy.”
That chemistry is also what makes it so hard for the foursome to leave each other. But with Anna, Jessica, and Faith heading to college this fall, La Vida is officially disbanding.
“I am pretty sad knowing we won’t continue,” says cellist Joey, 17, who enters his senior year at Quince Orchard High School in the fall. “But I’m very proud of our accomplishments.”
La Vida has achieved quite a bit in such a short time. In April 2023, they took first place in the Misbin Family Memorial Chamber Music Competition Senior Division in Washington, DC. That same month, they won the audience prize at the St. Paul String Quartet Competition in Minnesota. And in October 2022, they performed at Carnegie Hall in New York.
But perhaps the quartet’s proudest accomplishment was competing in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in Indiana in May 2023. Though they didn’t make it past the quarterfinals, they were very proud to have competed. Fischoff is the largest chamber music competition in the world, and one of the most respected.
“With competitors from prestigious precolleges, we couldn’t believe we had qualified for the live rounds,” says violinist Jessica, 18. “It showed us we could get remarkably far just by making the most out of every learning and performance opportunity.”
Founded in 1946 as the Montgomery County Youth Orchestra—and a resident partner at Strathmore since 2005—MCYO is highly regarded as one of the country’s most outstanding youth orchestra programs. Nourishing creative potential is a core part of Strathmore’s mission, which it achieves through MCYO and other programs such as Strathmore Artist in Residence.
All four members of La Vida were already part of MCYO when the quartet was organized by staff about two years ago. They quickly built a strong bond, rehearsing at least once a week and receiving coaching every other week, first from Dr. Lee and then from Claudia Chudacoff, concertmaster of the National Gallery Orchestra and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra.
And they had fun—lots and lots of fun. Take their tradition of posing like a portrait of composer Gustav Mahler in their dressing room, or their penchant for posting funny videos on their Instagram page.
While moving on from La Vida is tough, its members look forward to what lies ahead. Faith, 18, plans to continue playing violin at Rice University. Joey will audition for MCYO’s Philharmonic this summer and later pursue cello performance in college. And Anna and Jessica won’t be too lonely—they’ll be roommates at the University of Maryland and hope to be placed in the same chamber group.
“One of the biggest challenges we face in the classical music world is sustaining a love for music in its purest form; one that makes connections between people rather than marginalizing or dividing them,” Jessica says. “I would be happy to make a positive contribution in this area.”
Anna will double major in viola performance and marketing. She hopes to learn how to market classical music so it’s more appealing to broader audiences.
It’s clear that all four students will carry their shared quartet experience with them for the rest of their lives.
“From learning to be a team player to gaining confidence and drive, La Vida has taught me so much,” says Jessica. “But I’ll miss most the simplicity of making music with some of my best friends for the shared enjoyment of it, rather than it being viewed as a tool for competition or an obligation to fulfill.”
Adds Faith, “I will miss the other members of my quartet. They are not only excellent musicians, but excellent people. It’s the end of an amazing era for me.”
But with endings come new beginnings, both for the members of La Vida and for MCYO, which began its 2023–2024 season in August. “We’re really excited for another year of growing and creating great music,” says Lee.