Braving the Stave

Upbeats: Season 4, Episode 5 (Less can be more)

January 27, 2024 Arts Active Season 4 Episode 5
Upbeats: Season 4, Episode 5 (Less can be more)
Braving the Stave
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Braving the Stave
Upbeats: Season 4, Episode 5 (Less can be more)
Jan 27, 2024 Season 4 Episode 5
Arts Active

This month Jon and Haz take a step back from the orchestral stage and look at the more intimate world of chamber music, picking out their favourites and sharing how working in a chamber group can be so fulfilling. And those times when it doesn't work out so well...

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#classicalmusic #stdavidshall #neuadddewisant #drjonathanjames #bravingthestave #musicconversations #funfacts #guestspeakers #cardiff

Show Notes Transcript

This month Jon and Haz take a step back from the orchestral stage and look at the more intimate world of chamber music, picking out their favourites and sharing how working in a chamber group can be so fulfilling. And those times when it doesn't work out so well...

Support the Show.

Twitter @artsactive
Instagram artsactivecardiff
Facebook artsactive

#classicalmusic #stdavidshall #neuadddewisant #drjonathanjames #bravingthestave #musicconversations #funfacts #guestspeakers #cardiff

JJ: Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd, and to you Haz, how are you?

Haz: Very well, thank you. How are you JJ?

JJ: Is it too late to say happy New Year, do you think??

Haz: Absolutely not. I think you can keep saying it until you start saying Merry Christmas.

JJ: Really? 

Haz: Yeah.

JJ: That's quite extreme. I was thinking maybe a February cutoff or something.

Haz: Maybe that's more sensible. 

JJ: It's lovely to have you back here because you were ill with shingles I hear. 

Haz: Gross, isn't it? 

JJ: Well, I mean, you tell me. I've never been there.

Haz: I mean, it's not the sexiest of the viruses to have, but I had it. So, taking one for the team, for the both of us there. 

JJ: Well done. 

Haz: Did my bit, quaranteened, which was fantastic as well pre-Christmas because you need to have a bit of alone time. I mean rash or no! So yeah.

JJ: So you had some enforced time to yourself?

Haz: I really did,

JJ: Peaceful.

Haz: and really appreciated it, although I did love your solo podcast, so thank you for sharing. 

JJ: Well, thank you very much.

Haz: But nice to be back. Yay!

JJ: It's great to have you back. We are talking about Chamber music this time because we don't often get the chance to really dive into that whole world because, you know, prior to this one, we've been talking about the big spectacular orchestral concerts at Saint David's Hall (which I can't talk about without feeling slightly sad about what's currently happening).

Haz: It is sad. But we can look to the future and just enjoy music in the meantime, and then it'll be back with a bang, won’t it.

JJ: Absolutely. Let's talk about chamber music then, which I'm going to make the equivalent of, you know, when you see a big orchestral concert, it’s a bit like going to the Hippodrome and seeing a show - compared to watching an Ibsen play - something a little bit more intense, intimate involving cerebral…I mean I'm stereotyping it, but do you agree?

Haz: I agree. It's bigger isn't always better, so you can go see a whole orchestra play Scheherazade and you're like, wow, that was so loud and so amazing and so moving but you can get that same feeling with the smaller, you know, smaller venues and smaller, you know, fewer players. And you can have the same intensity from that.

JJ: Yes, and talking of intensity, I think the moments when I've had the most emotional fulfilment as a musician…

Haz: Careful. 

JJ: Careful, careful! Yes, perhaps I can't generalise this way, but I would say, you know, playing in a chamber ensemble, either on the piano or in my former life on the violin, have been really up there, how about for you?

Haz: Yeah, I would agree because you share that, sort of, intimate moment with three or four other people rather than 60 people surrounding you. You can't catch eyes with everyone and say, ‘hey, that was good wan’ it?!’ but you can when there's a couple of people in the room and it feels like sometimes, you're sharing more with an audience when there's only a few of you. Contributing to that big sound that you're making, I feel.

JJ: I think Goethe’s quote - the German writer from the Enlightenment - he said that a ‘string quartet was like four rational people conversing’.

Haz: Yes! I like that. I saw that on Facebook the other day. So yeah, that's stupid. But I mean, my sources are far lower brow than yours.

JJ: No! But I think he was definitely, sort of, picking up on the zeitgeist of Beethoven, really delving into this new aesthetic and new exploration of what you can create out of just four lines and we'll come to Beethoven later in the piece. Could I do a quick ‘explainer?’ I'm going to take that word from the Rest Is Politics podcast. Have you ever come across that?

Haz: Oh, I have heard of it before. I need to listen to it properly.

JJ: So, Rory Stewart, one of the interlocutors, does this amazing ‘explainer' on really complex issues and somehow he manages to sort of just distil it down to, you know, a couple of sentences. I'm not going to do as well as he does, but here we go with the history of chamber music. Are you ready?

Haz: Oh my gosh, how long have you got?! OK, let's go.

JJ: Belt yourselves in. 

Haz: Yeah!

JJ: So OK. 

Haz: Lock the doors!

JJ: Well, the first thing we need to say is that Chamber music has been around since the beginning of music-making right, in the sense of two or three musicians making music together. But it's not a new thing, and it's certainly not a Classical Era thing of the 19th century. If we think about the Baroque era, there were the trio sonatas, I suppose, when we start getting a more formalised approach to how three lines can work together. There are four players there - there's the continuo instruments; the harpsichord or lute player, so, a sort of a harmony role, with a bass player and then two lovely treble lines that are free floating above. And then throughout the Preclassical and Classical periods, different combinations were experimented with, and then Joseph Haydn writes 68 quartets that we know of. That's about three times the amount of the other famous quartet writers of the classical era, if we think of Mozart and Beethoven. And so, for that reason alone, we can think of him as the real progenitor of the string quartet, even though other people were experimenting with combining two violins, viola and cello at the time.

Haz: He is the father of the string quartet, isn't he? He really is.

JJ: In that sense of formalising the quartet for his Eszterházy patrons, and he comes up with this four-movement form with the fast then slow movements and then either a minuet or scherzo - that was a very Haydn thing to have, a jokey movement -  and then usually a really exciting finale. So with Haydn we get this sense of four instruments working in perfect harmony together. I thought we could have a quick listen to the opening of The Bird. Now he often comes up with these names for his quartets, for the publishers and for memorability. Here we've got some chirping. 

[MUSIC: Haydn Quartet in No. 3 C, Op. 33 ("The Bird")]

JJ: And we're back there with the recap into the opening theme- lots of chirping!

Haz: It's loads of chirping and I love how the lines, sort of, blend into each other when they need to but then also peeking up like they're flying like little birds. And yeah, I can't help but listen to the viola line as is my wont, as everyone should, but it's lovely. Like, playing in a quartet you give and take quite a lot, don't you? And you have to know when your line is important and bring it out to those little chirps.

JJ: Have you ever played first violin in a Haydn string quartet?

Haz: Never been good enough for that, no.

JJ: Because, dear listeners, it is quite a challenge, isn't it? The first violin does get the lion’s share.

Haz: Yeah, you really do. But also, it's… you cut your teeth on Haydn, sort of, as a quartet. Can we work together? Because there's so many nitty-gritty bits in it that you have to say. ‘Yeah, this really needs to be in tune’ or ‘I feel like you're…’. No, no, you can't say ‘I feel like you're rushing’ but like, ‘I feel like we need to really make sure we're holding the tempo here’.

JJ: Did you hear that? Brilliant negotiation skills.

Haz: Yeah, that's what it is. It's crowd control, it's siege management. It is hostage negotiation at its finest. That is what playing in a string quartet is like, especially when you have a string quartet with a violin part as hard as that.

JJ: Let's just talk about the social impact of being in a quartet just for a moment, shall we? Because it is such an important dimension, right? You've got to get on if you're going to succeed at really exploring the depths of any quartet. You have to wrangle with each other, don't you?

Haz: You do, and the unfortunate thing is that you don't know how you're gonna work together until you work together, obviously. But it's a very strange dynamic. Because you don't know how much other people are going to irritate you until they, sort of, don't get your musical idea and you think that it should go one way and they think it should go the other way. And it's why conductors are great because they're not supposed to be metronomic the whole time. They're not just a massive metronome, that start the orchestra at the front, they're here to, sort of marry all of these different musical ideas together. Like, ‘I know you've played Mahler this way, but I think we should play it like this in this space together’. And you don't have that in chamber music. And that's one of the, well, lots of chamber music. And that's when you have to really be diplomatic. Have to be careful about what you say, in what tone you say it because you're going to travel together and a string quartet in a car with the cello. There's not a lot of space!

JJ: Many quartets have ended up just, you know, travelling in separate cars, haven’t they, for that reason.

Haz: Yep.

JJ: And just make it, you know, solely about the music…

 Haz: Yeah.

JJ: …And because the social element has long since died, sadly, and there are many quartets that have famously come a cropper on that. We needn’t list them here. But so I guess when it does work though, I mean just the camaraderie of that…

Haz: And there's nothing like it. And just looking at each other because you're facing each other almost like in battle, you've got each other in your periphery at all times. You got the first violin opposite the cello often, and then the two in a, you have violin two and viola, and you're all in this together. And it should feel like that at all times, especially if you don't have the tune. You have to give as much support as you can, and that doesn't mean… I mean you can sit there and nod while they're playing if you want. Just, yeah, being there for each other.

JJ: Being forthright yet gentle in your suggestions because you can't hide away, it's got to be a situation where all four are co-leading the music-making, hasn't it? 

Haz: Yeah.

JJ: It's not just about the first fiddle or whatever. 

Haz: That's it. Yeah.

JJ: We have to mention Beethoven, don't we, in the history of the string quartet certainly, and in chamber music generally. And I have to say that, you know, Haydn was experimenting with other wind ensembles as well as piano trios and various different combinations. So, we're just focusing on one little element here of the story. But when you get to Beethoven, he often is exploring harmonic surprise and a whole different level of dialogue between the players. Here is one of my favourite quartets of his, it's from his, kind of, middle period, the ‘heroic’ period. It's called The Harp. I think it's opus 74 and I think the whole of the first movement in particular is so beautiful, but here are some surprises.

[MUSIC: Beethoven Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 74 ("The Harp")]

Haz: Full of surprises there.

JJ: Yes. And you can see how the conversations have just stepped up in terms of how complex they are. Rather than acting together, we have this real, sort of, contrapuntal mesh of ideas.

Haz: Yeah, it's gone from a little bit playful to, like, full on pranks. And now, yeah, just all dialogue that's almost like an argument. But still…

JJ: Overlapping right?

Haz: Yeah, exactly. Still together.

JJ: And at the end you get this wonderful moment, a cadenza moment, really, for the first violin. And I remember coaching this with a Bristol Pre-Conservative quartet and it was such a moment when they finally managed to get this together. And I think you'll tell why. 

[MUSIC: Beethoven Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 74 ("The Harp")]

Haz: Wow.

JJ: Isn't it amazing?

Haz: Yeah, I can already envision the arguments, though. When the first violin has been practising for hours and be like, ‘look, I've practised this bit. If you can't get the pizz. in time I'm leaving. Now!’

JJ: ‘Stop playing it so slow, I need it to be faster!’

Haz: Yeah, yeah.

JJ: The pizzicato I suppose there a reference to the world of the harp - the name of the quartet. But really, all the focus is on the 1st violin, and that's just… it's so radiant, isn't it? The writing there, the broad writing in the lower parts against this string crossing above that is borrowed from the world of Bach Brandenburgs,

Haz: But then the first violin, even though it is the most important bit at the start, then has to, sort of, blend in as an accompaniment then. So that becomes the harp accompaniment then, and then you've got the big lines coming over with the viola and the cello and… yeah.

JJ: So I thought I'd share that with you. And do you have a favourite Beethoven string quartet?

Haz: I do have a particular favourite, but you can probably guess it's because it's, like, viola-heavy, obviously.

JJ: Brilliant. Well, he writes well for viola, doesn't he?

Haz: He does. And I think this is when we start to get more gooier parts. More gooier? Is that OK to say? Yes it is. I'm deciding that's fine to say. So I'd like to go for the opening of his 16th string quartet.

JJ: Ohh, you're going for the late period.

Haz: Very late indeed. 

JJ: Very bold Haz, very bold.

Haz: Thank you so much.

JJ: Quite contentious.

Haz: Well, quite. And also I feel like the later we go, the more they say ‘go on then viola, you can have a tune. But just at the start and do it well otherwise you're not getting another one.’ So I've gone for this one, which is the opening to the string quartet No. 16 in F major.

[MUSIC: Beethoven Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 74]

JJ: Different sentence lengths, and it's a curious world we've got into by the time we get to late Beethoven.

Haz: Yeah. Curious. We were waiting for a good cadence to, sort of, come in on there and it was like, ‘well, we'll be waiting a long time!’ There's no, like, four bars and eight bars, and then we'll do the first repeat, but not the second. There's…Yeah.

JJ: He's speaking a foreign language when you compare that to even his earlier works, but certainly to Haydn, you know this is, yeah, so much more philosophical in a way. In terms of the depth of the questions he's asking of the genre.

Haz: It's just a bit more ‘out there’. I think if he'd started his earlier quartets with a viola, people would be, like, ‘Nah’, but the late ones are like, ‘OK. Anything goes.’ Of course, we could also talk about lifetime achievement award for string quartet goes to Mozart.

JJ: Yes, fair play. 

Haz: I mean, obviously.

JJ: Chwarae teg.

Haz: Exactly. Chwarae teg. But we could have a whole different podcast just on, like, the first 10 or the first one of his quartets and be here for years. So let's just say ‘great job, Mozart moving on’. 

JJ: You know, well done that man, well done.

Haz: Yeah, yeah. Pat on the head to Mozart because I love some more, maybe modern quartets that I'd like to show you. I mean, I say show you, obviously you know them way better than me, but can I share my favourite?

JJ: Yes, please do. We've got to the Treasure Swap moment of this podcast, I think. Your favourite quartet. I suppose, I mean, you know, the one that you never tire of either playing or listening to, the one that will accompany you to your death.

Haz: OK, well, I have two different ones then - one that I'll never tire of listening to rather than playing because this is quite nitty gritty to get into and it's difficult to rehearse, is the Ravel string quartet.

JJ: Good choice.

Haz: ‘One and done’. If you write one as good as Ravel does you only need one and the second movement I think is the most famous because it's used in Wes Anderson films loads, you know, on adverts on TV I'm sure, and different TikTok videos but it's so beautiful and it's also pizzicato and in weird keys and time signatures. And yeah, I love it so much.

JJ: Curiously similar to the Debussy Quartet that was written 10 years earlier… 

Haz: Isn't it?!

But apparently Debussy really, you know, approved of this creation – saw it as different and distinct. But yes, it does sound very Ravel, doesn’t it? There's a sort of… I think it's marked assez vif so quite lively and definitely full of animation. 

[MUSIC: Ravel String Quartet in F major]

JJ: There’s thumpingly good pizzicato going on there.

Haz: It's great, isn't it? And we were, like, knee tapping along to that and feeling… it's like it's string players feeling like they can be cool for a minute.

JJ: Yes. Yeah, I think exuberant, letting their hair down.

Haz: Yeah, open strings, woooo!

JJ: Lots of clanging open strings. That was the Dover Quartet in quite a close-miked recording, which is why I thought it would work well for the podcast. It's a very immediate sound.

Haz: Yeah, you can hear all the clacks and clunks and stuff like that, that you usually hear only when you're playing yourself, when you can hear the sound of the bow on the string and stuff like that. I like all that.

JJ: Yes.

Haz: Yeah.

JJ: Makes it very live, doesn't it? And I should say that the Beethoven Harp quartet that we were listening to was played by the Jupiter String Quartet. Credit, where credit’s due.

Haz: Well, yeah, and it's due was beautiful.

JJ: Particularly to their lead violinist. So I think you mentioned another possible modern pick.

Haz: Yes. So I love the Ravel string quartet to listen to, not so much to play because it's nitty gritty and I find that I want to sing and play all the parts at the same time. However, one that is just a joy to play, even though you might not think it is Shostakovich 8.

JJ: OK, so not one to play when you've got a headache. 

Haz: No, it's head-banging. It is the heavy metal of the chamber world and I absolutely love it.

JJ: Well, I knew you were going to pick this, so I chose one that I feel has the most heavy metal head-banging quality to it, which is a recent one by Janine Jansen and friends.

Haz: Oh nice! Yay, OK, cool. It's a gritty recording.

JJ: Yeah. OK see what you think of this.

[MUSIC: Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, opus 110]

JJ: Crikey. 

Haz: Yeah. And then the next bit ‘deh deh deh deh deh’ and I got, like, a head-banging going. It's SO good.

JJ: Oh, do you know, we've cut this off too soon, haven’t we.

Haz: No, it's fine. No, because it encourages people to go and listen to it because I actually feel, of everything I've ever said is my favourite on this podcast, this is my actual favourite. Of everything. Honestly, if I could say ‘go listen to one piece of music’, I would say that with your headphones in, maybe not in a dark room on your own, but... It's so scary, it's so cool and I loved it so much when we played it in college. Back in it day, like 70,000 years ago. We did it from memory because it was easier than doing… because, like, I remember exactly where the page turns are, and we did it for an award. We won!

JJ: Fantastic!

Haz: I know.

JJ: It's such a physical piece of music, isn't it? 

Haz: Yeah.

JJ: In terms of how you have to commit the whole body to it and then… yeah.

Haz: Like vibrating with energy, like, just thinking about it. I remember what we talking about - the stuff about looking at each other and being like, ‘yeah, let's do this’. That absolutely is the perfect piece to play as a quartet looking at each other, getting so into it and… yeah. And then, because it's so raw and so cool, that you can say to each other, ‘yeah, that was amazing, by the way. We need to work on this because we're, like, not in time, it's out of tune and blah blah blah.’ But you can say that because the rest of it is so banging.

JJ: And deliberately, kind of, ugly in its aggressiveness, and I mean, if you just look at the aggression of the first violin part right at the top of the G string where it's…

Haz: Yeah, gross! It’s the Quasimodo of the string quartet world. But think how far it's come from… Imagine if Haydn heard that. He’d be like ‘lads, please. What's happening?’

JJ: ‘This is unbelievable chaos!’ 

Haz: Yeah, yeah.

JJ: ‘Put it away!’ Well, I thought we could turn for our vox pops this time to the aforementioned Bristol Pre-conservative students. Now this is a new set. They're a wonderfully smart bunch, I have to say, Alice, Sam, Poppy and Bea. And you know, just to give you a sense of how bright they are, every term we have a different system for remembering the letter name, so we'll go ‘A is for whatever’. And so, we've gone through, I don’t know, old school sweets, like humbug and liquorice and we've had, I think, astronomy and botany. And this term, it was the periodic table and it's like D is 4 and then Bea on cello will come up with four different Ds like or whatever it is. I've never heard of these elements.

Haz: Oh my gosh. Oh my God. Isn't that part of your intestine?

JJ: Probably, actually! Duodenum. Anyway, what do I know?

Haz: I mean clearly not as much as these pre-cons.

JJ: No. So these pre-conservative students meet every Wednesday and I asked them what their favourite piece of chamber music has been so far. 

So I'm here with the wonderful quartet that I have the privilege of coaching at Bristol Pre-conservatoire. I'm going to ask them the same question as I've asked Haz, which is: what is your all-time favourite piece of chamber music either to play or to listen to. I'm going to start with our lead violinist Alice Cui.

Alice: My favourite is the Mendelssohn octet in E flat.

JJ: Classic choice.

Alice: Yeah.

JJ: Which bit? 

Alice: Which bit? I mean, all of it, really. Yeah.

JJ: Of course, of course. And you were mentioning some French music earlier.

Alice: Yeah, the Chanson Perpetuelle by Chausson.

[MUSIC: Chausson Chanson Perpetuelle, opus 37]

JJ: Oh that's such a classy choice! Explain a little bit what your role in that was?

Alice: So I was playing the vocal part on the violin. It was really fun to explore how the voice would be portrayed through strings. Yeah.

JJ: It sounded great, didn’t it?

Alice: Yeah, yeah.

JJ: I'm going to come to. Sam. Sam, what's your choice?

Sam: I'm going to go for Schubert’s C major String Quintet. 

JJ: Of course, of course. Which movement?

[MUSIC: Schubert String Quintet in C major, opus 163]

Sam: Well, both the first and second movements are just incredible but the I have a particular love of the flat mediant modulation into the second theme in the first movement and it just like… it's just right.

JJ: It just melts into it.

Sam: It melts into it. It's unbelievably simple but, I mean, that's the beauty of Schubert - it's simplicity but it’s…

JJ: And the fact that he does that moment for a duet of celli in their tenor range.

Sam: Yes, the celli being higher than the viola, which I think, Berlioz said that you can always count on a passage of music being incredibly beautiful when the cello is above the viola. I think it was Berlioz, I’ll have to check it.

JJ: Top tip.

Sam: Yes, for composition, stick the cello on the higher bit.

JJ: Fantastic. Great. Thank you for that. Poppy, on viola.

Poppy: Well, we're currently playing the Brahms Piano Quintet.

JJ: Very good answer.

Poppy: Well then not this movement. I'll probably go for the scherzo.

JJ: Oh. That's OK! This movement has passion and flow, but scherzo is a lot of fun isn’t it.

Poppy: I mean, they are both obviously the best movements, but I don't know, there's something… just the energy of the scherzo, which is even, like… in the trio, because you've… every, like, phrase starts with an anacrusis. It’s always, like, pushing. I do love it and even, like… because I also listen to the two piano versions. And yeah, obviously it takes a different character without strings, but it's such a versatile quintet. It's so cool.

JJ: It is very, very beautiful - the Brahms piano quintet in F minor, we're talking about. And last but not least, we have Bea on cello.

Bea: So I'm gonna have to choose Libertango, but arranged by the SpiriTango quartet. 

[MUSIC: Piazzolla, Libertango]

And I really just love how they, kind of, tease the main theme throughout the entire thing, they only really play it on the outro. So it's, kind of, the build up all the way through and they build the tension but you don't actually get the tension relieved until when the last minute at the end of the piece, whereas usually it's within the first few minutes that you hear it. I like the rawness and the kind of the.. how rough it is around the edges and stuff, and how each part gets a… Kind of, it sounds improvisational the way that they're, kind of, arranging each different part of each different instrument.

JJ: And does the cello get the tune, you know, in glorious fashion?

Bea: There is actually. There's actually no cello in it.

JJ: What?! 

Bea: It's a different arrangement of the quartet. It's an accordion, a violin, a double bass and… oh god I can’t remember what else is in there but…

JJ: So getting a bit closer to the original bandoneon…

Bea: Yeah. It's certainly not classical, but yeah, it's still my favourite chamber piece.

JJ: Brilliant choices one and all. Thank you.

Haz: Oh my gosh, if I had that eloquence when I was their age.

JJ: They're so articulate aren't they.

Haz: Amazing! And I love how they've chosen very different things as well. Especially, I'm going to check out that SpiriTango ensemble, that sounds great.

JJ: Yes, we must check that one out and these students are a joy to work with. Makes my Wednesday evenings a very fulfilling part of the week, I have to say. So thank you to them for their opinions. I'm going to share Sam's favourite of Schubert's string quintet in C. It has two cellos in it, and he talked about the first movement, that moment where it just melts into this duet on the celli. I'm going to pick the Adagio, the slow movement, which we have featured before on this podcast, but you know you can never have enough of it, really. And it's totally timeless and feels heavenly. And it's always a question of how far you can stretch the beat. So, let's listen to this version.

[MUSIC: Schubert String Quintet in C major, opus 163]

That was the Emerson Quartet with the, I suppose relatively well known cellist called Rostropovich. Have you come across him?

Haz: I mean, many times. He's fantastic, but also, how amazing are they as a string quartet, just to be able to say ‘mate, do you fancy jumping on this as in a quintet?’ He's like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’

JJ: You know you've arrived in the world of chamber music when Rostropovich, yeah, accepts a gig.

Haz: Yeah, he's amazing. Also, I saw the Emerson Quartet live before. It was amazing, and we went on a little geeky trip, me and seven other violas from Royal Welsh, and we all got Laurence Dutton's autograph afterwards and a photo. It's…

JJ: Very nice.

Haz: It's very geeky and amazing.

JJ: I love that, a, sort of, a gaggle of violas. 

Haz: Yeah. He was like, why are you targeting me? Because we went like beeline straight for him. And then, like, ‘we all play the viola’ and he was like, ‘ohh, OK.’ He was like, ‘ah, you band of geeks. OK, no problem.’

JJ: People do, though, develop a very strong, sort of, fan connection to certain quartets and certain members within that quartet. It is a thing, isn't it?

Haz: Yeah. And if they make the instrument cool, it's even better. You're like, ‘wow, thanks so much for what you've done for the… for the sport.’

JJ: Well, as I say, that was the Emerson Quartet with Rostropovich creating timeless magic with Schubert's slow movement from his quintet. The perfect antidote, really, to the frenzy of the Shostakovich that we heard earlier. Let's finish by coming to the present day and we've got two more, kind of, examples of chamber music that we're excited about, I'm going to start with Caroline Shaw, who we featured on this podcast, mainly her vocal work that won the Pulitzer Prize. But here she is composing for the Attacca string quartet. And it's called Plan and Elevation, the whole quartet, the whole work, because it's taking up this architectural principle of seeing the sound both in terms of its foundation and a, sort of, overview as the crow flies. And then going into the detail. And you might remember we looked at one of the middle movements, The Orangery. Do you remember that one?

Haz: Yeah, it's ringing a bell, definitely.

JJ: That's beautiful. That will be on our Braving the Stave playlist. 

Haz: Good plug. 

JJ: Yes, thank you very much! You can find it on Spotify, that particular playlist Braving the Stave, look for that. I don't know how many weeks of music we have on there by now, but anyway.

Haz: far too many. Not enough.

JJ: But I'm returning to that work because it struck a chord with me and… no pun intended! But this is the finale. This is called The Beech Tree, and it inspired by this magnificent tree in the ornamental gardens of Dumbarton Oaks - a mansion in America, where the Coolidge family lived. And there they commissioned works from Copland, from Stravinsky. So she's carrying on in a fine tradition, this is an excerpt from The Beech Tree

[MUSIC: Carloline Shaw, The Beech Tree from Elevation Plan]

JJ: I mean they’re like a string orchestra there, aren't they.

Haz: Yeah. Wow, it's hard to believe that's just four players, is that four players?

JJ: Yeah. 

Haz: Wow. 

JJ: Yeah. Really drenching the air with sound.

Haz: Good way to say it, yeah. 

JJ: Thank you very much. 

Haz: You're welcome. Yeah.

JJ: What should we see listeners out with then?

Haz: Well, so I… this was completely unplanned, but thinking about amazing new ensembles out there, there's someone I went to college with called Harriet Riley, who is part of a Bristol based contemporary ensemble called.

JJ: The Spindle Ensemble. 

Haz: You know it already!

JJ: Whom I know very well.

Haz: Yeah, which I think are amazing. I used to not like modern music, which sounds really mean and uncultured and it's true. But ensembles like this open your eyes to different sound worlds and soundscapes, and I think that their music is beautiful and very different, and it's because they've got a combination of different players in it. You've got tuned percussion, violin, is it cello?

JJ: Yep.

Haz: And OK, help me out. 

JJ: Piano.

Haz: Piano! 

JJ: Daniel Inzani on piano who I think composes most of them. I don't know, actually, what their creative model is, but I get the sense that Daniel comes up with quite a lot of the material and they sort of co-develop it. And he borrows from lots of different world music styles, but also from the world of Debussy in particular, and, sort of, the symbolist composers. And, yeah, this particular one though, called The Chase, is more dance-like and more folk music-like.

Haz: Yeah, it's just, I think it brings a lot of joy and it's lovely. And I think that, you know, just seeing their little snippets over Christmas and someone did Jingle Bells or something in seven or we wish you a Merry Christmas in probably 5, I don't know what it was. Anyway, it was a really great and yeah, it just opens everything up to the possibility of new ensembles, new music, and yeah, it's really exciting.

JJ: Well, diolch yn fawr Angharad. 

Haz: Diolch yn fawr Jonathan James, ac i chi gyd

JJ: It's been wonderful to be reunited with you.

Haz: Happy New year!

JJ: Happy New year! No! And this will be a great one to see ourselves out and we look forward to our next podcast, which will be towards the end of February, the last Saturday in fact of February.

Haz: Perfect. Ideal. Let's see if I'm free… yep!

JJ: Goodo. Well, until then, hwyl am y tro.

Haz: And see you soon.

[MUSIC: The Spindle Ensemble, The Chase