The Chiara Quartet, about to play their penultimate Paine Hall concert of a six-year Blodgett residency, has for all of its 14 years together looked for ways to challenge themselves and deepen their music making. The foursome’s latest commitment to one another is to play from memory. Thus there will be no music stands on stage Friday when the quartet plays Bartok’s quartets 1, 3 and 5. The final concert of the Chiara’s successful residency will feature the “even numbered” quartets of Bartok on April 11th. The award-wining quartet is not slowing down, though. Their performing and recording will continue apace after their departure.
Violinist Rebecca Fischer recently answered some questions for BMInt.
You are making a splash performing the Bartok Quartets in two nights from memory. Has any other quartet ever done that?
To our knowledge, no other quartet has performed the complete cycle of Bartok Quartets from memory. The Kolisch Quartet, well-known for their playing by heart, certainly played the Bartok quartets (Bartok’s sixth quartet is dedicated to the group, and they premiered the work), but we are not aware whether they ever performed the complete Bartok cycle by heart.
Did you consider playing all-six in one concert as the Borromeo will be doing in the spring?
It is a wonderful project to perform the entire Bartok cycle in one concert, and I wish we could hear the Borromeo’s performance! We have certainly considered the idea, however since this is our first season performing the complete cycle, we will wait for a future season to perform all six quartets in one evening.
How did you decide which three to play on each night and in the order you chose?
We liked the idea of separating the “odds” and the “evens.” This programming makes sense from a chronological point of view as well, since each program follows a journey and features a range of Bartok’s string quartet writing. It is always a special experience to finish the cycle (and any concert, for that matter) with the transcendent ending of the sixth quartet
The other ensemble which I remember playing exclusively from memory was the Jacques Thibaud Trio. In that case it was because one of the players had very poor vision. Could you use Google Glass?
We have joked about using Google Glass, and it may become a reality for musicians at some point in the future. But the goal for us in playing without music is not only so that we can physically remove our stands; the goal is to truly internalize the music, and using laptops or Google Glass still involves reading music, even if it is less cumbersome than printed music. Ideally we remove our music so that we can be freer to communicate with one another, a true conversation on stage.
Will you be performing exclusively from memory in the future? Does that mean that you will do less complicated new music?
We are slowly adding memorized pieces to our repertoire, and we would like to present only memorized works on our concert programs in the future. Because of the time it takes to memorize works, this may not be possible for every piece. However, I would like to think that any music we love (complicated new music or not) will have a place in our memorized repertoire.
How many concerts have you given this way? What does it do to nerves?
Since playing by heart is still a relatively new experience for us, we are still learning how an entire concert by heart feels. Ultimately it is a liberating experience, and one that creates fewer nerves because we know the music so intimately. Playing without music in the way is a very vulnerable act, and it requires us to reach out to our colleagues more. Hopefully the result is one of more connection between members of our group. We do have a policy in our quartet that if one of us does not feel comfortable performing without music, we honor that request and take the music on stage.
I note that you are about to release a new album entitled “Brahms by Heart”. Will you have advanced copies at your Harvard recital one Friday? It was recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music—what a wonderful space—something like Sanders on steroids. Tell us about what it’s like to play there. Is it also a concert venue for you?
We are thrilled to release our new CD “Brahms By Heart” on March 25th of this year. Unfortunately we will not have advance copies of the CD on Friday, however we will be selling them in advance at our CD release concert at WQXR’s Greene Space in New York City on March 21. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall is an extraordinary space–built on the upper floor of a bank building–with gorgeous acoustics. We listened to many recordings of chamber music in various halls around the US before we decided to record in the Troy Hall. It is a sound that welcomes strings; as with Sanders, the wood of the hall encourages us to play with a more resonant, warm tone, perfect for Brahms.
I gather your concert on April 6th will be your farewell to Blodgett. Anything to say to your successors, the Parker String Quartet and to your Boston audiences?
We are so very grateful to the Harvard community and the Boston community at large for welcoming us and attending our concerts for the past six years. We are excited for the Parker Quartet (friends of ours from years back) to experience the vibrant musical and intellectual life of the Harvard campus. We will miss our engagement with the students, faculty and audiences at Harvard, but we will be back to perform for Boston audiences in the future.
Friday, March 7th at 8:00 pm
John Knowles Paine Concert Hall BLODGETT CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES
The Chiara Quartet
Rebecca Fischer, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, violin; Jonah Sirota, viola; Gregory Beaver, cello
Bartok String Quartets nos. 1, 3, 5
This event is free, but tickets are required.
Chiara tickets are available at Harvard Box Office beginning two weeks before the concert date.
Free parking at Broadway garage.