Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Why We Do It – Reflections on Opening Night”

After our recent concert opening The Arts at Trinity series in Wilmington (DE), my quartet mates and I shared an exchange of messages from several concert-goers that was especially gratifying. It highlighted for me, rather dramatically, and certainly very movingly, “why we do it”.

Why do we do it? Why do we play string quartets??  Well - for the music, for the art, for the process , of course!

But …let me tell you what happened this time.

Larry’s message was from a father who is seeking the best spot for his daughter, a high-school cellist, to attend college as a music major.   The father was relating how special it was for his daughter to be there, to talk with Larry afterwards, and to hear “the wonderful music Serafin String Quartet provided”. The gentleman said he drove almost 100 miles to get there will do it again in April (when SSQ will return to close Trinity’s season). “Every mile was worth driving,” the man wrote. How heartwarming for us to connect with this caring and attentive father, and how exciting that we were able to deliver an experience for his daughter, and for him, that they both want to repeat!!

Tim received a message from an adult amateur violinist who plays in the Community Orchestra. Hearing us play the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet triggered a touching reminiscence of her dear, life-long pianist friend, now in elder years and experiencing dementia. Today, her pianist friend can only poke a few notes out here and there, but at the time she “played a pretty mean piano!”  This listener was spirited back 25 years, recalling how she and her friend, with some devoted others, read through the Dohnanyi from time to time,  Hearing the quintet flooded this listener with memories of reading through the piece with this friend and their happy satisfaction at exploring this wonderful work together. “I treasure those times,” she wrote, “they were some of the most valuable times of my life. It’s what I call feeding the soul.” How gratifying for us to be a conduit for this listener to recall and reconnect with “what matters”.

I also received a message – mine from one of my nearest and dearest friends, who described herself as an “unsophisticated” listener, new to classical music. She shared with us her amazing experience of finding a thrilling and profound connection to her emotions while listening to the Mozart, Beethoven and Dohnanyi – each one evoking in her a different landscape of feelings, images and ideas. It was one of the most “tuned-in” expressions of the connecting to the content of the music that I have heard – and prompted me to assure her that, far from “unsophisticated”, she actually is tapped in to the real essence of the music - and completely “getting it” at the most important level –  listening with a sophisticated heart!! For more than 30 years she believed she did not, would not, or could not appreciate classical music.  How thrilling for us to be part of her discovery of the varied, deep, and expansive world of classical music and the riches it delivers to the attentive listener!!

These messages spanned 3 generations – and each was dramatic, heartfelt and enthusiastic – reinforcing my confidence in the greatness of the artworks of chamber music that we are so privileged to perform. And, more importantly - it reinforced to me their inherent accessibility and ability to touch any receptive heart!   This, I must say, is why we do it!!

-Kate Ransom  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Musical Welcome

Last fall, I made a big life change: moving from Canada to the US indefinitely to join the faculty of the University of Delaware.  Luckily, the first people I got to know in my new home were the Serafin String Quartet.  Before I was a member, before even beginning to teach at the University of Delaware, my first experience here was preparing for a concert with them when former violist Molly Carr had a conflict.  I was immediately drawn into their special world of music-making.  Apparently, I was also on trial for the job, and I can assure everyone that if you are going to audition for anything, it's best to be unconscious of the fact.  Much more pleasant! 

I want to talk a little about the rehearsal process I dove into last August, as I feel that's at the heart of what makes this group so wonderful.  Quartet playing is about communication: you are all trying to craft a powerful message to the audience, and as anyone who watched the recent presidential debates can attest, there are thousands of tiny details that affect the impact and the presentation of this message. The way four different people with vastly different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents arrive at a unified concept is fascinating. Firstly, there are the raw materials.  Everyone has their own unique way of hearing the piece they are playing together.  How they hear their own line, but also how they hear the group’s message can be very different at times.  What's amazing is that before any words are even spoken, with sensitive listening, quartet musicians respond to what the others are playing, and thus communicate their intentions.  Like good friends or family members who bring out the best in you, quartet mates challenge your ideas.  I’m an idealist, believing that though the best product comes from experimentation with many ideas, we can still arrive at a consensus.  The curiosity and openness of this group, but moreover  the dedication to excellence when musical ideas are formed, is truly inspirational.  Right away, the Serafins felt like the best musical friends I could hope for.  

I can’t resist taking a second here as I introduce myself to say a word about the viola.  Canadians are notoriously poor self-promoters, likewise violists, but I think I can get away with it in this, my first blog-post.  For me, the middle voices are the heart, the inner warmth of chamber music.  Of course we have our solo moments and, like all instruments in a string quartet, have to play many roles at different times.  But the essential role in much of the classical repertoire we play is a contrapuntal inner voice, representing the tenor or alto voice.  In the works of great composers (e.g.  Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, all on the menu this delicious season!) the inner voices add an amazing dimension.  They are often the parts lending subtle harmonic colour to a melody, or providing some rhythmic undercurrent that transforms the meaning of the piece’s main line.  In the case of Beethoven’s Harp Quartet, which we will perform October 20th at Trinity Episcopal Church, the viola provides a harrowing counterpart  to the first violin’s serene opening melody in the second movement.   When I am an audience member and I catch myself emotionally disengaged, I take a moment and listen to the workings of the inner voices.  Usually in moments I am a weepy puddle.  In fact this technique is not recommended on dates, or any moments where you would prefer to look respectable post-concert.  However, if you are seeking an intense, overwhelming classical music experience, the inner voices are where it’s at!

Until next time,
Esme Allen-Creighton

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Next Season: Beethoven to Beethoven, and everything in between

So, while it might seem that we simply left our blog on the vine to die, we are very much here, and excited to announce repertoire for our 2012-13 season! Here goes:

We begin with a couple of exciting collage concerts, one for a second annual Beethoven & Brewskies event at the Twin Lakes Brewery in Greenville, Delaware (a private affair - sorry), where we'll give a sampler of works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (and as I type this on my iPhone, it keeps getting mis-typed as "Beerthoven", which I suppose is appropriate!).

If "Beerthoven" existed, he'd look like this.

On Saturday, September 22, we take our String Quartet Time Machine to the Kennett Flash in Kennett Square, PA, giving a dash through history from Haydn to Higdon (with Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Dvořák, Ravel and Martinů in between). The Flash is a very fun, hip venue, and we're delighted to make our debut there.

This will mark our second season providing bookend concerts for the Arts at Trinity series in Wilmington, with some exciting repertoire and guests. October 20, 2012 (Saturday) will offer a delightful early work of Mozart (the D Major Divertimento), a middle-Beethoven classic (the "Harp" Quartet) and very youthful Dohnanyi (the Op. 1 Piano Quintet - with the fantastic pianist Victor Asuncion). We finish the Trinity season on April 20, 2013, with Puccini's gorgeous Crysanthemi, Mozart's g minor Piano Quartet (with our friend & colleague, the wonderful Julie Nishimura) and the thrilling a minor string quartet of Robert Schumann.

In March, we've got some very exciting university-related activities.  At the end of the month, we will be at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, for a residency.  We will be working with students, giving workshops, and presenting a performance including Haydn's "Sunrise" Quartet and the monumental Beethoven Op. 132 a minor Quartet, on March 23, 2013 (time and exact location TBA).

Earlier in March, we will present our annual concert celebrating our ongoing residency at the University of Delaware. We are delighted and honored to be Quartet-in-Residence again at UD's Department of Music, where we will continue to work with students in chamber music and give on-campus concerts and "informances".  Our formal UD concert will be in the lovely Gore Recital Hall on Sunday, March 10, 2013, at 3:00 PM, featuring the Beethoven Op. 132 and the hauntingly beautiful Il Tramonto of Respighi, with the wonderful soprano Noël Archambeault, who serves on the UD voice faculty.

Other concerts will be popping up from time to time, and members of the quartet have interesting individual and joint projects planned, but we'll save all that for another post.  Hope to see you at our concerts this coming season!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Tweet is is

So, earlier this season, we in the quartet were trying to think of interesting ways to present ourselves at our new concert series, called "ClassicAlive!" at Wilmington, Delaware's newly refurbished Queen Theater (run by World Café Live). Kate had put together a wonderful script for our first concert in December (the title of which was "Quartet Time Machine"), but we were trying to think of yet other ways to connect with our audience in this less formal, more intimate setting than an average concert.

Earlier that year, during the Super Bowl halftime show, I had a wonderful time following many people on Twitter who were making fun of the band The Black-Eyed Peas (good band, bad halftime show - still trying to wrap my head around what the heck the box-headed dancers were all about).  For some reason, the fun of this popped into my head when we were discussing the Queen Theater concerts, as did a senior recital of one of my students at the University of Delaware, who had her audience tweet about her program.  So, I said, "Hey, I could 'live-tweet' the concert while you guys are reading the script!" To my great surprise, my colleagues thought this was a really good idea. To my greater surprise, they seemed to understand what I was talking about.

So, I was off on the concept. As a trial run for the first concert, I decided to cheat a little bit.  I mostly pre-wrote my tweets to correspond to where we were in the program, adding extra tidbits like:
While Debussy loved Ravel’s 4tet, Gabriel Fauré, for whom it was written, hated it, called it a failure. Can’t please everybody! #SSQatWCL
In addition to being a truly wonderful composer, Jennifer #Higdon is also a truly lovely person. Double win for us! #SSQatWCL
And, some commentary about my fellow Serafins:
I promise not to tweet while Kate and Molly are playing their glorious #Mozart Duo! If you see me doing it, throw some food at me. #SSQatWCL
No, Kate didn't suddenly get taller. That's Tim sitting in the 1st violin seat. They share that duty - some 4tets do, most don't. #SSQatWCL
If you're unfamiliar with the weird, wacky world of Twitter, it is a site where individuals do what is called "micro-blogging", with individual "tweets" containing no more than 140 characters. The "#" sign, called a hashtag in the Twitterverse, can draw attention to a word, or comment on a tweet (in the above tweets, the hashtag simply labeled the concert).

As this concert went on, I started to feel just a bit more confident to tweet more spontaneously, and added brilliant gems like:
Yep, Kate's socks are pretty cool, indeed. #SSQatWCL
Pure poetry, huh?

The Twitter experiment was fun for me, and was sort of an exhilarating challenge, making sure I could do this stuff on my iPhone and still get myself ready to focus and play. So, I was ready to try it again for our second concert in February, a Valentine-themed concert we were calling "Romp through Romanticism". Little did I know that the idea would draw the attention of journalist Peter Bothum of the Delaware News Journal, who featured SSQ in a huge article profiling the concert and (more so) the tweeting.  Now, with pictures of the quartet, and me with my phone onstage, were all over the paper, the stakes were raised. I needed to tweet like I'd never tweeted before.  Okay, not really, but I did feel that I should be at least as active as I was the previous time out.

Some tweets from the Romanticism concert, again clearly inspired genius in 140 characters or less:
Holy cow, that Mendelssohn movement *was* fast.  My fingers are almost too tired to tweet! #repetitivestress #justkiddingimfine #SSQatWCL
Fun fact: this Ravel quartet was debuted on Tim's birthday (March 5). But Tim's not 108 years old. #SSQatWCL
and, returning to the well:
Not related to Schumann, but Kate is wearing those fabulous socks again! #SSQatWCL
The Twitter response during this concert was amazing, with people at the concert tweeting along with me, and I even got into a couple of Twitter conversations. Luckily, I always was able to get the phone down in time to play!  All in all, I had a great time doing it.

So, if you want to come and see me tweet on Sunday, March 11 at 12:00 noon at the Queen Theater (with doors opening at 11:00 for brunch), we'd love to see you.  Even if you don't come, you can always see what we're doing during the concert by following us on Twitter: @serafin4tet (you're also welcome to follow yours truly: @larrystomberg). I'll do what I can to be entertaining and informative, and maybe just a bit silly (except after we play the Barber Adagio on that concert - I'll likely be too sad to tweet).

Cheers from the quartet's head "Twit",