After a whirlwind two weeks at the Charlotte New MusicFestival (CNMF), the Beo String Quartet is now in the air and headed to Minot, North Dakota for Dakota Chamber Music! Although the onboard entertainment is very tempting (Delta Studio!), I'd like to take a few moments instead to share some details about our activities at the festival...
First off, rehearsals!
Having lived with the music written by participants and faculty for several weeks, meeting the composers and playing their pieces to them for the first time was exciting. For me, it was also a little nervewracking. When a composer shows a deep emotional connection to their music, and they care so much for the sound and shape of their piece, I can't help but want to do my best! Being able to speak with the composers in person was not only great for getting answers to questions that had really puzzled us, but it also brought us into contact with some really compelling ways to shape the music, many of which we simply hadn't thought of on our own.
CNMF sponsored a string quartet composition competition, and out of ninety (90!)+ submissions from across the country, Beo selected Andrew List's piece Time Cycles. Andrew (pictured with Beo, above) is faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston. We were grateful for his fair and demanding rehearsals with the quartet, and we were also impressed by his commitment to teaching, often sitting down with student composers to see what they were doing and to offer advice on technical and musical problems. Congratulations, Andrew!
In the same way the composers showed us new perspectives on the music they had written, Beo had the opportunity to give a two-hour talk on new music from the performer's perspective, focusing on expressive markings (tempo, slurs, dynamics, articulations, extended techniques) and how they change the sound of the string quartet. We took a short musical example and, without changing any of the notes, played it five very different ways depending on the markings we saw. I was surprised at how drastically different each version sounded! There were lots of questions from the participants and discussion about the clearest ways for a composer to communicate on the page with a performer. After all, most composers will never meet the performers playing their piece, so the written markings are what musicians rely on to communicate.
These are views of the technical setup for Charles Nichols' piece At the Boundary. For this piece, Charles takes in some of our instruments' sound through acoustic pickups and plays it out again through the speakers during the performance with different effects such as distortion, delays, phasers, etc. We rigged up a metronome click in our ears to keep us on track. I didn't want any doubt whether I was playing with Sandro or "Sandro's echo" by mistake!
And of course, despite the intensity of the rehearsal and concert schedule, it's necessary to make time for fun. After all, if we take a day to do interesting and goofy things and come back to rehearsal refreshed and rested, the music will be much better than if we had pushed ourselves too far. Charlotte offered some incredible food, a beach, and movies! We also celebrated with the composers at an open mic night and a very. long. karaoke!!!
Excited to begin working with students at Dakota Chamber Music!