09 May 2019


Masterclasses are a fascinating process. It's an excellent place to hone your awareness, as players or as listeners. This one was a mature (15 years) string quartet guiding a newer quartet (5 years). Of course, the new quartet sounds great when you first hear them, but they just get better as they take on the suggestions from the others. A good pair of ears, they say, and here four pairs. The masterclassees were the Penny Quartet (Melbourne); the masterclassers were Quattor Voce (France). The music performed and deconstructed was Prokofiev Quartet no.1 mvt.1. It's amusing that the first four bars take so long for consideration, but it's not surprising. Any bars are indicative of a group's performance. After that, they moved somewhat more quickly through various passages and styles of playing. So what issues? Clarity of voices in transitions; character and bite; where and how to bow: near the bridge or over the fingerboard, digging in or long bows; dirt and politeness; dynamics (always!); phrasing and excitement and even ecstasy and "clownlike" (for this piece); displaying canon passages; spelling cello lines; rhythms and ambiguities; tension; flexible tonalities; active listening and "grounded rhythms" and communal pulse (I was amused that they suggested foot tapping, virtually as in jazz, to inculcate and share rhythms: foot tapping is usually a classical no-no); using metronomes on and off beat; chords (very interesting how they analysed a series of vertical chords for better intonation); articulation and passing lines; binary and tertiary approaches (essentially playing with polyrhythmic interpretations - another common contemporary jazz technique). Of course, these refer to a specific time and place and performers and piece, but it's indicative of the deep listening that's a component of masterclassing. And it's good for the audience, too. It certainly sharpens the listeners ear. Intriguing.

Penny Quartet received a masterclass from Quator Voce. Penny Quartet are Amy Brookman, Madeleine Jevons (violins), Anthony Chataway (viola) and Jack Ward (cello). Quator Voce are Sarah Dayan, Cécile Roubin (violins), Guillaume Becker (viola) and Lydia Shelley (cello).

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