Tonight, (May 8th) we play a concert at Park Avenue here in New York City that will feature String Quartet No. 4 by Peteris Vasks. This was one of the very first quartet works I played with the Afiara, and it was a treat to meet the composer — an ox of a man who has one of the most gentle hearts. Peteris is a composer whose personality, passion, and beliefs are written so deeply into his music that I felt I had met him before actually having met him.
We studied the piece back in 2006 shortly after the Afiara formed. We reached out to David Harrington, Artistic Director of the Kronos Quartet, who, at the time, we didn’t know personally. We know he commissioned Vasks’ String Quartet No. 4 and knew he would be a helpful guide in learning the work. Little did we know David would become one of our greatest supporters and mentors. David came to hear one of the first Afiara concerts and from there on, my colleagues and I have been deeply blessed from this friendship. Through the Vasks, we were introduced to the Kronos Quartet, so having it introduce us to the composer himself seems fitting to me now.
Hearing Peteris’ intensity for the piece spill forth as we played the 4th Quartet for him in our dress rehearsal, I realize that the picture David painted of the piece and of the composer was perfect. But hearing Peteris’ specific advice tailored to our choices and interpretation was like seeing the story in vivid colours. Every moment is one of lapel-grabbing intensity; there is never a sound that is complacent or matter-of-fact.
At dinner with the generous and enabling Artistic Director Paul Vasile, I couldn’t help but notice the humility and kindness of Peteris. Despite the slight barrier in language, Peteris spoke strongly as an advocate for new music, young composers, and the need for international understanding. Anytime the conversation drifted towards the numerous (near weekly) performances of his vast works in Europe, or working with esteemed artists like Gidon Kremer, David Geringas, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, he would become uncomfortable with the praise and search for a way to speak about others.
The performance is tonight and we look forward to sharing this music with a new audience.
The following is from a guest post Adrian did for the Banff Centre
The Banff Centre has been a fixture in our calendar nearly every year since the Afiara Quartet’s formation. Every time we arrive to work and study the scores for the coming concert season, we are bowled over by the beauty of our surroundings, the support at the Centre, and the international brilliance of its faculty. What I especially love about the program is how much I learn while I’m here, how much I grow, and how much I’m challenged. And I’m not talking just musically.
On Sunday, an official day off, Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet and I went for a run. In the matutinal splendour, I quickly realized that, though I may look like I’m under 30, I run like I’m 107. Geoff runs like a barely-20-year-old Olympian. Geoff was talking the whole time, telling me that you could gauge a good running heart rate on whether you run out of breath at the end of a sentence. Meanwhile, I was gasping for air after every word – which, as long as I stayed within interjections like “yes” and “no”, was arguably still a sentence. That’s how I consoled myself, anyway.
Geoff jogged virtually in one place to keep up with my blistering pace, and jumped up to grab tree branches in order to keep his heart rate up while I moved my arms in such a way that it had some semblance of running. He asked me whether I was a smoker.
“No,” I said, as I was suddenly a man of few words.
At the end of the run, I collapsed, sprawled out on my back, feeling like a fish out of water. Geoff told me I did a great job, then proceeded to swim 20 laps in the pool, play a pick-up basketball game and some ball hockey, and then read Haydn Quartets all night with participants. You’d think I’m making this up, but I’m not.
But that’s the beauty of the Chamber Music Program. You chase your heroes for life, but the ride is so exhilarating, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
We just came back from one of our visits to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Initiated last year, we engage the school’s college and preparatory programs by teaching masterclasses and coaching chamber ensembles. We also speak with their career development classes and play concerts, sometimes with selected students in collaborations, most recently, in performances of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet and Respighi’s Il Tramonto with voice.
But I’ve especially enjoyed our series of rehearsal technique workshops, where we have a student group play through a movement and have them tell us what they would like to work on. Over the past few years, the Afiara has been fortunate to have a whole list of techniques we’ve found helpful, and we’ve wanted to share this spirit of discovery to find solutions for problems presented in this vast and varied repertoire. This particular visit, we had the opportunity to impart the principle that no idea should be dismissed without a fair trial: During a discussion of phrasing a particular section, one student wondered if a passage would sound good played as a line of two-bar phrases. The other three students in the quartet felt that feeling a phrase by a two-bar pulse wasn’t going to work, but should be felt in four. So they played it that way for us. Urging them to try any idea that comes up — “No matter how ridiculous” — they tried both side-by-side, which led all of us to realize that feeling the phrase in two 1) was actually not that bad, and 2) somehow illuminated the music when the group returned to the phrasing in four afterwards.
Not only did this confirm for the four of us in the Afiara that this principle of “never dismissing anyone’s idea without trying it 100%” has its immediate value, but we can also tell you that it’s saved us from many arguments! Besides, even playing something as an exercise “wrong” has a strange way of informing you why a composer may have written it the other way.
We also have enjoyed setting up “prepared reading sessions”, where students can sign-up and play within the Afiara Quartet. So, for instance, David might step out and a violist will sit-in to play Mendelssohn Op. 13. We invite the entire class to share their observations, and David might have some suggestions on what he does when he’s in that chair. We’ve found this to be a great follow-up to the rehearsal technique class as we can further demonstrate with our guest how we might work on a passage with he or she as our fourth member, with the friendly crowd of observers to chime in on our progress.
For this specific Visiting Residency, we didn’t play a concert at the RCM (though we will this coming March). Instead, we played at the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concerts in the beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Nina Draganic, the Artistic Director of the series, was terrific to work with, and she showed us around the beautiful facility after our performance. The Four Seasons is home to the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet, and a concert hall that has every seat computerized for optimum sight-lines. It was explained the seats are very comfortable and with good reason — what with some operas being the duration they are! I sat down and immediately wondered how a quartet cellist might go about acquiring a 2071-seat hall of this beauty.
We left Toronto today sending big cheers to the students at the RCM, for their openness to experiment, for their enthusiasm for music, and for sharing their talents with us. We would have gladly stayed longer in the wonderful Megacity, but we had to get back for our concert tomorrow in Connecticut for the Waveny Chamber Music Society — which we’re looking forward to!
Welcome to the Afiara blog! It looks like I’ll be adding the first post. I’m in the midst of doing laundry at the moment so it seemed like the perfect time to do some writing! We had a wonderful party of sorts today with our friends over at Colbert. They are bunch of such wonderful people and I consider us quite fortunate to have met them and to have the opportunity to work with them! Charlotte showed me a couple of amazing concert programs from their archives today, including one from a Juilliard String Quartet concert during the 1947-48 season (back when they were less than a year old) playing, among others, the 3rd quartet of William Schuman. She also had a program from a series of viola recitals given by legendary violist, Paul Doktor back in 1967. Although I have seen these kinds of things in photographs or as copies, it was quite special to actually handle the real thing. Also, because they have been in storage, the programs were in perfect condition, appearing as though they were from concerts that took place last week.
We sat there enjoying some pinot noir from Mayo Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA with a fantastic couple of cheeses and some other munchies. I find it kind of funny and remarkable how comfortable I feel around the whole gang considering that we all only met for the first time in June. I guess that’s a sign of good things to come!
One other piece of interest for the week is our minor fiasco in obtaining Brazilian visas for our upcoming trip. After being approved on September 10, we thought all was good. Despite the fact that things seemed a little less than perfectly organized at the Consulate yesterday, it should have been an indication that something was wrong when the agent we saw couldn’t find any record of us in the system. That fact was confirmed by a phone call later in the day from the Consulate saying that indeed there was no record of our visa approval. Long story short – the left hand wasn’t talking to the right and, apparently, everything is now in order. I guess we’ll know for sure when we go to the Consulate tomorrow to hopefully pick up our passports and visa. We shall see.
More later but for now, see ya!