Ryan Meehan was 13 when he got hooked on the violin.
"I went to a concert at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina and heard a young violinist play the Sibelius Violin Concerto," he said last week. "I was so moved by the raw emotion of the music, and I could relate to this girl because she was young. I thought it would be really cool to stand up there and be able to give this kind of power and feeling to an audience."
Meehan, 23, who was raised in St. Petersburg, is now a top-level violinist himself, a member of the Calidore String Quartet, four young musicians who are studying at the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles.
This week, Meehan and his colleagues in the quartet — Jeffrey Myers, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; and Estelle Choi, cello — are in his hometown for a three-day residency underwritten by the Mahaffey Foundation's Class Acts Community Arts Program and the city of St. Petersburg. Their schedule includes master classes at schools, such as Perkins Elementary and John Hopkins Middle, both of which Meehan attended. Tonight the group gives a concert of quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Bartok at the Palladium Theater.
Formed in 2010, the Calidore — the name combines California and dore (French for "golden") — has won prestigious prizes, including third place at last year's ARD International String Quartet Competition in Munich, Germany.
"It was a grueling program of about nine works that were performed over four rounds," Meehan said. "The competition lasted about three weeks. It was kind of like the Olympics, and we were the only North American ensemble in the finals. The European audience is so hooked on the string quartet that a packed house would sit for five hours listening to all the groups play through their music each round, totally attentive."
When Meehan was in middle school, he began taking lessons from Amy Schwartz Moretti, then concertmaster of the Florida Orchestra. "That really got me interested in playing the violin because it was the first time I had a world-class player standing right in front of me demonstrating the music," he said. "Hearing that level of playing is what inspired me to really want to take violin seriously."
Several years later, as a freshman in high school, Meehan moved to Chicago to study with eminent husband-wife violin instructors Almita and Roland Vamos. "That was the beginning of formal training for me," he said. "That changed everything. This was violin all day every day. So it was a very different story."
His parents, Cindi Samaha and Patrick Meehan, both lawyers, moved with him, though they kept the family home in the Allendale neighborhood, where they returned after Ryan and his sister, Cristina, finished school in Chicago. "I'm really indebted to my parents and sister," he said. "We had no idea what we were getting into when my mom had me enrolled in the violin program at my elementary school."
Meehan is the Calidore's second violin. In the new movie A Late Quartet, which dissects the relationships among members of a string quartet, the second violin, portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, nurses a resentment against the first violin for getting all the good music to play.
"It never crosses my mind (to want to play first violin)," said Meehan, who hasn't seen the movie. "It's a very versatile position, which is what I enjoy about it. Sometimes you have the melody out of nowhere. Sometimes you're the rhythmic element. Sometimes I'm playing a duet with the viola or the cello or the first violin. I really love playing second violin."
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.