Musical Friends

Pamela, Norman and Ann examining the Brahms Double Concerto scoreOur next two concerts, June 24th and 25th, are entitled Musical Friends and feature Ann Elliott-Goldschmid and Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, the leader/first violinist and cellist of the Lafayette String Quartet. Don’t expect tea and crumpets from these friends: they are playing Brahms’ Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, and it is a wild ride.

The Lafayette String Quartet has been together for 25 years. High Notes asked our two soloists whether the Quartet is anything like a family.

Ann Elliott-Goldschmid responded like this:

We are a family for sure. We have grown up together! We have had to find ways to make our working lives compatible. Like a marriage, this has taken a lot of work on the part of every individual. For the most part, however, we get along well even though we are all extremely different.

Pamela Highbaugh-Aloni had this to add:

The quartet has all the experiences, challenges and supports of a family, but one based in a mutual love for music and not necessarily lifestyle or goals outside of music. All things need to be worked on, but we had some early teachers who helped form our general approach to playing – our dear mentor Rostislav Dubinsky and also the Cleveland and Alban Berg Quartets. We share a mutual admiration for many musicians and each other, which allows us to continue exploring and finding ways to play together with the different ideas and passions each of us bring to the rehearsal.

Compatible? We’re still together after 25 years, but I’m going to say that compatibility is within a spectrum and can change with the topic and the day!

Here is Ann talking about the sound achieved by the Lafayette:

More and more, we are concentrating on the space inside the music, the inner shape of each phrase and on unifying the emotional impact of each phrase and how it leads to the next. I expect that seeing the music from the bigger picture also helps us to be unified. Of course, we’ve played together for a long time. We’re all about communication and being as expressive as possible.

Ann talked about her own part in the Brahms, which High Notes suggested was challenging:
The Brahms is very challenging. It is more difficult for me than a lot of Brahms’ chamber music repertoire, but it is not unlike the middle and late Beethoven quartets in its virtuosic demands for the violin (he sure loves his arpeggios!). In terms of rhythm and actual ear-training it is quite straightforward, unlike more challenging modern chamber works that we often perform, like Elliott Carter or Murray Schafer. Those literally take hours and hours of painstaking detailed work to put together because of their complexities. This work, though it is often awkwardly written, has recognizable, immediately identifiable pitches and intervals and is generally in one time signature throughout each movement. (There are a couple of changes, but they are very simple ones!)

The challenging part about this piece is the pass-offs, but because we have played together for so long, we really did not find them very challenging at all — one of the many beautiful payoffs of years of working together!

Playing with an orchestra, you have a smaller range of dynamics than playing chamber music. We all can play extremely softly in the quartet and often challenge ourselves to do that. Because we are only four, our fortes do not compare to that of an orchestra so we have to dig down for the contrasts in the lower ranges.

Even so, in the larger chamber works, the sextets of Brahms or the Octet of Mendelssohn, for example, I have to play in a soloistic way most of the time in order for my voice to be heard. Everyone’s part is important and even if they are playing very delicately there are still a lot of them and they’re all playing different parts!

In the Brahms concerto, each individual in the orchestra is often called upon to play very quietly, even more quietly than a quartet player would in a pianissimo section Ian McDougall (a friend and trombone-playing colleague of mine, who has recently “retired” from UVic) refers to this as “suckin instead a blowin” – I love that expression and know exactly what he means! When I’m sitting in an orchestra accompanying a soloist, I sometimes don’t even play my instrument, I just look like I’m playing and the orchestra is still overpowering the soloist. So I have learned that you really do have to project out when you are playing a solo part with an orchestra.

But, because the Brahms is so well written, we don’t have to belt out as much as we would if it were, say, the Tchaikovsky concerto or the Sibelius or, for Pam, the Dvorak or Saint-Saens. This work allows the soloists to be in dialogue with the orchestra. It’s wonderfully written that way!

Pam says:

I concur with all that Ann has said and would add that the piece is well written for the instruments, likely because Brahms worked with two marvelous players, Joachim and Haussman. The combination of playing as a soloist and also together with another soloist is in some ways more challenging than playing a solo concerto, but sharing a like-minded performance with another musician is very rewarding and worth all the extra work needed to find a consensus that works for both players. The piece is one of the greatest works written in this era and I am looking forward to playing it with Ann and the Sooke Philharmonic.

The two other orchestral works on the program are also very exciting: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.

Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak, of course, are also musical friends – whether old or new to you, come and enjoy their company at 8:00 pm on Friday, June 24th at E.M.C.S., in Sooke, and at 8:00 pm on Saturday, June 25th, at Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria.
Norman Nelson, as always, will be holding the reins.

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