Schoolgirl quartet off to China

05:27, Sep 17 2012
Geist Westlake
IN TUNE: Lauren Bennett, Britta Balzat, Sophia Lee and Sally Kim will perform at the Shanghai Music Festival.

Four Auckland schoolgirls will swap classes for concerts this week when they travel to China to perform on the world stage.

The Westlake Girls' High School students - known collectively as Geist - will perform at the Shanghai Music Festival alongside well-known New Zealand pianist John Chen.

The quartet of Lauren Bennett (violin), Britta Balzat (violin), Sophia Lee (viola) and Sally Kim (cello) were invited to travel to China following their winning performance at the New Zealand Community Trust Chamber Music Contest in August.

It was the second year running Geist had taken top honours in the contest - the first time in its 47-year history that a group had won two years in a row.

The contest, run by Chamber Music New Zealand, is the only nationwide chamber music competition for young musicians and composers. More than 1,820 students competed this year.

The teenagers were spotted by classical music promoter, and Chen's manager, John Ballard during the national final and he jumped at the chance to take them to a bigger audience.

"From their first chord, I had an inkling Geist would be hard to beat on that night.

"While China produces many of the world's top virtuoso musicians, New Zealand clearly excels in ensemble playing, and these young musicians can proudly be held up as a model to the world."

Chamber Music New Zealand's Euan Murdoch agrees the nine-day tour is a good chance to showcase some outstanding Kiwi talent.

"The China tour is an extraordinary opportunity to profile the quality of youth chamber music in New Zealand on an international stage. Never before in the history of the contest have we had a winning ensemble picked up for an international tour while they are still at school."

Geist's first violinist Lauren Bennett, 16, says the invitation to perform in China came as a huge surprise.

"We can't really believe it yet, it's definitely overwhelming.

"We were very happy about winning the contest and we are so honoured to be invited to China. John Chen was the judge at last year's contest when we won and now we're playing on his tour - that's fantastic."

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Geist Westlake
CHARMING THE MASSES: Geist, from Westlake Girls' Highschool, play for Westlake Boys during an assembly.

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