Friday, September 4, 2020

inside the quartet

So this week is the virtual and online Banff Centre International String Quartet Festival, which is what they hold on years in between their celebrated triennial competition, which I've attended twice.

But however good the performances are, what's most intriguing me are some pre-recorded interviews with quartet members from the 2013 competition, which say things that I haven't heard before about the musical relationship among members of a quartet.
Back when we first started the quartet, Joel and Bryan used to switch first and second violin. And Bryan made the decision that he wanted to play second violin. For multiple reasons. One reason was he thought Joel just wasn't a good second violinist. Which is a funny thing, but they're completely different roles, they're completely different strengths that you need to do each role. And Joel, on the other hand, loved when Bryan was second violin, because Bryan has that solidity, that groundedness; he knows when to project when he needs to. So, in the end, it was Bryan's decision, but that's how we ended up with the formation that we've now used for years. - Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola, Dover Quartet

A lot of audience members often ask, is it the first violinist that leads the quartet, is it the first violinist that sort of cues everything. But really, at least in our quartet it's sort of the opposite. I think that in many ways I just kind of float on top of the rest of the players and I sort of let them lead me and show me how to play and what to play. - Sarah McElravy, first violin, Linden Quartet

Well, I think a violist should really love, support the others from inside. The role of the violist is usually not in the facade. You don't really see, you often don't hear exactly what he's doing inside the quartet. But yeah, it's supporting the others from inside. It's an internal part. - Avishai Chameides, viola, Noga Quartet
But this all makes sense to me. Because when I hear a really good quartet playing (the Dover, which I've reviewed twice, certainly qualifies, and the others were also competitors in this top competition), the musicians are audibly responding to the nuances in each other's playing, letting those features lead their own performance, building a structure out of their interactions. They really are supporting each other, as the Noga violist feels his job is, as the Linden first violinist expects from her colleagues, as the second violinist of the Dover provides to the first.

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