A group of musicians such as the 9- to 19-year-old students who make up this year's Siskiyou Violins comes along only once in a lifetime.

A group of musicians such as the 9- to 19-year-old students who make up this year's Siskiyou Violins comes along only once in a lifetime.

And according to people who saw them perform March 21 at New York's Carnegie Hall during the New York International Music Festival, the local group stole the show.

"Having been in music for virtually all my life as a player, teacher, adjudicator and conductor, I have heard thousands of performances by ensembles of all types," said Dr. Lawrence Sutherland, artistic director for World Projects, which invited the Ashland-based group to perform at the festival.

"The Siskiyou Violins is one of those groups whose virtuosity and musicianship rank them as one of the astounding ensembles in my memory," he said.

The ensemble earned a gold medal after its first performance at Carnegie, during a World Projects-sponsored festival in 2005, scoring in the high 80s out of 100, said Siskiyou Violins instructor Faina Podolnaya of Ashland, which was a "big deal."

This year, competing against five other ensembles in the high school category, the group received scores of 97, 99 and 100.

"We could not have done better," Podolnaya said.

As far as anybody attending knew, a score of 100 had never been given out at the festival before the Siskiyou Violins' 30-minute performance in front of the mostly packed hall, Podolnaya said.

"It was unbelievable," she said. "To be good here is one thing, but to be acclaimed so highly in New York, it's a little bit different."

The group performed 10 pieces at Carnegie Hall, Podolnaya said, finishing one song and breaking into another before the audience's ovation was finished.

"We only had half an hour," said Podolnaya. "So we had to keep going."

In Sutherland's words, "the incredible sensitivity of the playing — manifested by rubato, delineation of phrases, and shaping of the musical line with a wonderful blending of dynamics and linear motion," was the first reason for the group's success, he said.

"Then, the technical proficiency — intonation, blend, balance and control of the instrument — is so solid that we can focus entirely on the music," said Sutherland, who is also emeritus professor of music at California State University at Fresno.

The group made such an impression that World Projects President Deborah Gibbs offered to arrange five concerts in prominent venues across Europe for the ensemble, said Podolnaya.

That trip would cost the ensemble about $4,000 per student, which the group has two years to raise, she said.

The Europe trip is something the group is considering, said Roy Sutton, president of the violin ensemble's board of directors, pending sufficient funds.

The ensemble was urged by judges and audience members at the festival to record its work, said Podolnaya. It would take a considerable amount of funding to do it right, but it's on the list of things to do, she added.

Leading up to New York, the group performed a series of about 10 concerts to raise money for the trip, said Sutton.

"I think they had reached their peak by the time of the performance in New York," he said. "We were all shocked to see the scores."

Traci Thompson, of Jacksonville, whose 14-year-old daughter, Drew Thompson, plays in the ensemble, was a chaperone on the trip to New York.

"For our small community to have that kind of musical talent is just extraordinary," she said. "It's thanks to Faina. This group feels like a family; she is more than a teacher, she's more like a family member to all of us."

Three students who performed with the ensemble in New York were from Georgia, and they learned the group's music over the Internet from Podolnaya, she said. Another remote learner joined the group from Portland.

Most of her students are from cities in the Rogue Valley, said Podolnaya, but some drive to Ashland from Yreka, Calif., and farther out.

Podolnaya immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1999, obtaining her U.S. citizenship two years ago. She speaks broken English and is known for being strict, disciplined and caring.

"And the kids love her," said Thompson.

This year's gold medal from Carnegie Hall is the ensemble's third gold since its 2005 performance at the New York Orchestra Festival. It received its second after a 2008 performance at Disney Hall, in the International Youth Music Festival, in Los Angeles, Calif., also sponsored by World Projects.

That's where Sutherland first heard the "magic," he said.

Podolnaya gave credit to her students, but said support from the entire community, and the ensemble's board of directors, is critical to their success.

Among others, philanthropist James Collier of Medford provided a substantial contribution to get this year's New York trip off the ground, she said.

To keep tabs on upcoming performances, or to make a contribution to the violin ensemble, see www.siskiyouviolins.org.

"It's something the students will never forget for the rest of their lives," Podolnaya said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.