Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quartet Dynamics - the power, and lack thereof, of 25%

Hi Everyone; Tim here.

One of the most fascinating things I have discovered in my quartet journey is how a group can take on a certain dynamic, sound, and style of its own. Being 25% of a group is an interesting percentage; large enough to have real influence but not enough to dominate. The dynamics of a quartet are very much like the dynamics of a family. The longer the group has been together the more complex those dynamics can become.   I often find myself adjusting my sound or style to match what I feel the quartet style is. On the other hand, there are many things I have learned in quartet playing that has influenced other areas of my musical preparation. This is especially true when I am conducting an orchestra. I try and encourage the orchestra to think as a large ensemble, which includes having a good knowledge of the score, knowing which parts are dominate at any given time, and what to listen for to have passages be exactly together.

A couple years ago we had the pleasure of performing the Gade octet with the Vega Quartet based in Atlanta. What was particularly interesting to me was to see how another quartet worked and interacted with each other. It was almost like two entities coming together instead of eight.

I think another good analogy of quartet playing as a group would be individualism vs. nationalism. While every individual is different, we all come from specific cultures that have molded who we are. Germany, as a whole, brings up a very different image than Italy, even though the two countries are quite close geographically. In the same way, the Budapest String Quartet

is going to sound very different than the Tokyo String Quartet.
And both went through major developments and changes during their existence. I personally enjoy hearing the differences more than the similarities. One of the major drawbacks of widespread recordings is that it is too easy to imitate someone else and not produce something that is our own. Perhaps that will be the subject of my next blog post….

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