Friday, June 17, 2005

Four Seasons with the SLSQ

One of the highlights of the Spoleto Festival for me was getting to rehearse and perform with flutist Paula Robison, lutenist Frederic Hand, pianist Jeremy Denk, and the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. They were all guest artists in Spoleto's Dock St. chamber music series, and Paula brought an arrangement of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons with herself playing the solo violin part on the flute.

It was an interesting substitution - great for those bird calls in Spring, somewhat less successful at summoning up the fury of a Summer storm, though Paula plays with more character and imagination than just about any instrumentalist I am aware of. In rehearsal she loved to tell long and extravagantly acted stories about fox hunting or lonely shepherds, and would often get carried away by a narrative and start singing and dancing around.

The other members of the group were just as lively and interesting. The first violinist of the St. Lawrence, Geoff, always seemed to have a thoughtful observation to make about the way the music worked, and an extra nuance to add to the interpretation. Chris, the cellist, always had a funny aside and impressed me with his characterful ways of phrasing a bass line. The violist, Lesley, often would bring things back to the topic when the discussion got a little flighty or tangential, and the second violinist Barry had some great suggestions for articulations.

trying to look like I belong: Barry, Chris, Jeremy Denk, me, Geoff Posted by Hello

I was impressed by how light and amusing they kept rehearsals, never getting bogged down in problematic passages. I imagine that being a chamber musician demands so much interpersonal skill, managing everyone's egos while trying to contribute everything possible to the musical product, that a healthy sense of humor is an absolute requirement of the job.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons wasn't a favorite piece of mine - after hearing it so often in elevators and department stores, it's hard to get really excited about performing it live. Playing it with these musicians, though, brought everything to life and made all the gestures seem spontaneous and thrilling again, from the thunderstorms of Spring to the cracking ice in Winter. It inspired me to try to bring a chamber musician's engagement, conviction, and energy to all of my playing.

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