QUARTET SALONNIÈRES "QUARANTEAM"
Retreat No. 1 ~ by Aniela Eddy
Over the past six months, human beings from all walks of life and from all corners of the world have shared in the mutual experience of a pandemic. This experience has not only transformed the world, but it has called for each one of us to respond accordingly, tread carefully, and be mindful of one another. For the performing arts, the pandemic has challenged artists to reach beyond their areas of comfort and tradition in search of finding new meaningful ways of sharing their art form with the world. When speaking with fellow musicians, it is evident that we are all eagerly awaiting the moment when it is once again possible to welcome audiences back into concert halls and to engage in the joy of music making without the barrier of social distance. But until that is possible, now is a time for discovery as we explore new ways of sharing music with others in an attempt to keep the spark of music healthy and alive.
For Quartet Salonnières, the silver lining is that the pandemic has gifted us with the necessary time and space to connect with each other over the course of two separate quaranteam rehearsal retreats. The idea of a rehearsal retreat was born after receiving the news that our summer plans of attending the Carmel Bach Festival Academy were cancelled. Although we were sorry to hear that the festival was cancelled, we were determined to find alternate ways of rehearsing intensively together and to use this time to establish ourselves more firmly as a quartet. And thus, the plans of a “quaranteam rehearsal retreat” started to manifest. In July, we traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan where Cullen, our cellist, grew up and has been residing since the start of the pandemic. Through her connections in Kalamazoo, she was able to find an incredible family that offered to host us in their home while they were away. I think we can all agree that the highlight of their beautiful and spacious sun-filled home was probably the large outdoor swimming pool. Many a rehearsal break took place in that pool over the course of those hot summer days.
Throughout the two weeks of our July quaranteam, our daily schedule incorporated a steady routine. The early mornings began with an exercise regime in the form of running and online yoga with Taya, our dear friend and fellow Juilliard HP colleague who graduated in the spring. Rehearsals, promptly at 10AM, often began with rehearsing our repertoire at a slow tempo in an attempt to find a blended and sonorous quartet sound. Since our primary focus is to perform music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras, we have the luxury of performing on gut strings. These strings allow for a special warmth of tone and the possibility of a wide and varied array of colors through the practice of a controlled bow technique. From the very early stages of the formation of Quartet Salonnières, we quickly came to the agreement that all three violinists of the group would take turns playing the parts of the first and second violin as well as viola. We feel that this unique aspect allows for a greater sense of freedom while challenging us to continuously adapt and listen to each other in new ways. Even though Cullen O’Neil, cellist of Quartet Salonnières, does not change instruments or parts within the group, she feels that her role towards each individual varies greatly but that her role towards a specific part remains steadfast.
Over the course of our first quaranteam rehearsal retreat, we spent our time focusing on three string quartets: Boccherini String Quartet Op. 8, No. 1 in D Major (G 165), Haydn “Sunrise” String Quartet in B-Flat Major Op. 76, No. 4 and Mozart “Dissonance” String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K 465. Since the Historical Performance Program at Juilliard offered coachings and studio classes throughout the summer, we were fortunate to be able to play for a few classes and received guidance from Doug Balliet, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Phoebe Carrai, Sarah Cunningham, Robert Mealy and Cynthia Roberts. Additionally, Edwin Huizinga, director of the Carmel Bach Festival Academy, organized a special coaching for us with Peter Hanson of the Eroica String Quartet.
Near the end of the July retreat, we performed two outdoor concerts for a small, socially-distanced audience. It was a special moment for us as it was the first time performing a live concert in many months. Our audience, all of whom were regular concertgoers prior to the pandemic, expressed a similar sentiment since this too was their first live concert experience in months. Our final days of quaranteaming were spent recording at a beautiful church in downtown Kalamazoo.
Towards the end of July, our recordings were aired on two different online concert series, Musicivic Musicast based in Ambler, P.A., and Instrumental Measures, a concert series curated by Knox United Church in Vancouver, Canada. Natalie Kress, violinist/violist of Quartet Salonnières, learned the ins and outs of recording, producing, editing and directing sound and video at the very start of the pandemic. She worked overtime in our recording sessions at the church and we could not have done this without her expertise.
A special thank you to the Harik Family, Barry Ross, First Congregational Church and the Coty O'Neil Family for all of your support throughout our first retreat!