Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Blog Boy" and the Anatomy of an Emerging Ensemble

Hi everyone – this is Larry Stomberg, cellist of SSQ. I got to go first with a blog posting, with the idea that you’ll hear from each of us, one week at a time, or more often as we feel moved to post. Blogging is new to my colleagues, but I have a history of it, having been involved in a lot of blogging a few years back for a political campaign (to be left unnamed to protect the innocent, or at least me); I earned the name “Blog Boy” among those friends, and am happy to reclaim the moniker in the quartet (except that it gives Kate, Tim and Ana yet another way to make fun of me!). The quartet is actually hitting a lot of the social media tools. We’ve got a Facebook Fan Page, and so far, Tim, Kate and I have Twitter accounts – come be our followers!

Serafin Quartet has changed a lot in my years in the ensemble. I became cellist of the group in the spring of 2006, following Carrie Ellman, a delightful colleague and fine cellist. In that time, we have continued to establish ourselves as what we would call an emerging ensemble. We haven’t signed that record deal with Deutsche Grammaphon yet, but we’re not in the very earliest stages of our career as a quartet, either. I feel fortunate to be in a quartet with seasoned players who bring fantastic chamber music backgrounds and a wealth of other music and life experience. As someone who is, um, no longer in his twenties, I appreciate where we are in our lives as quartet members, having established our careers as performers, teachers and even administrators.

So far, in my four years with SSQ, we’ve enjoyed two well-received concerts at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall (and the quartet played a couple of times there before my tenure), have played in a number of nice venues around the country (though we’re always looking to get out a little more), have produced two demo recordings, and are close to the release of our first commercial disc, on Centaur Records. Along with this growth in professional activity, our artistic vision has changed and evolved, too. The more an ensemble gets to know itself/each other, the more it’s capable of, and the higher a standard it holds itself to. We get closer all the time to being able to “read each other’s minds”, working toward that goal of knowing what we want from the music and getting it in efficient, even unspoken ways. We still talk plenty, though, particularly during lunch break - that tends to be about things like local gossip, what movies we’ve seen, and what Ana thinks about how Beyoncé looked at the Grammy Awards.

The challenge of holding ourselves to this ever-higher standard is challenging and occasionally tiring, but pretty exhilarating too. And we feel on the cusp of some big things. In addition to the Centaur disc, there’s the upcoming London debut (at St. John’s Smith Square), a still-forming tour of the southeastern U.S. in Spring 2011, and an exciting project with 2010 Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, performing and recording a number of her chamber works. There’s another big thing or two in our future, but we’ll let you know as they become official.

The biggest challenge, aside from trying to play better all the time as individuals and a quartet, is each of us balancing our other professional and personal obligations. We’ve all got our life partners to whom we need to be sensitive (and I’ve got three kids, to boot!), and each of us has other demanding work schedules. As you might know, Kate is the President and CEO of the Music School of Delaware, the major community music school in the state, Tim is a violin professor and chair of the String Area at Lehigh University, Ana is a busy freelance violist and teacher and has just finished her doctoral degree at Temple University, and I am the cello professor, string chamber music director and Graduate Coordinator in the music department at the University of Delaware. I got tired just typing all of that. With all this, we generally just meet once a week for an intensive rehearsal session, with some extra rehearsals centered around concerts, tours and recording sessions. Would we like to do more? Sure, but given our individual circumstances, we’re making it work pretty well.

So, there’s our “anatomy”. Luckily, we also happen to like each other a lot and consider ourselves good friends. We’ll see how that holds up as we revisit Bartók’s 4th Quartet and Beethoven Op. 132 for the coming season!


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