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

No comments:

Post a Comment