In Conversation: The Letter String Quartet

In Conversation: The Letter String Quartet

Biddy Connor from TLSQ on programming, collaborations and working with Richard J Frankland.

In Conversation: The Letter String Quartet

Biddy Connor from TLSQ on programming, collaborations and working with Richard J Frankland.

The Letter String Quartet's next performance sees you collaborate with Richard J Frankland, who is known for his fantastic storytelling as well as his writings and music. Can you tell me about how you first met Richard and how this program came about?

About this time last year, Andrew O’Grady, Richard’s bass player in The Charcoal Club, recommended me as a string player for a concert with The Charcoal Club at The Melbourne Recital Centre. Since then I have played a few shows with Richard and we have started to develop a way of working together. I asked Richard to perform with the quartet because I knew his voice would sound amazing with the texture of the strings and I wanted to hear the stories contained in his songs in a bit of a stripped back way.

TLSQ is known for creating new and exciting works within and around the traditional string quartet soundworld, with each member singing and composing for the group. How did the ensemble come to be and how has it developed since your earliest rehearsals?

The seed of the quartet began after we had done a recording session for James Cecil (Super Melody & Architecture in Helsinki) playing disco strings. At that stage it was a trio with me, Steph and Zoe. Eventually we asked Sue Simpson to join us on violin but sadly she moved up north in 2015 so the next stop was Lizzy Welsh on violin. I suppose we have started to work out how to play with our strengths as individuals in the ensemble and as a whole ensemble. Working with other musicians and composers in the last few years has helped us to refine our sound on a technical level as we have had to work out how to play new sounds rather than follow the mould of how a string quartet should sound.

You began your training as a singer before moving into the viola - how has that influenced the repertoire you listen to and choose to perform?

My listening is very varied although I do listen to a lot of pop music and I always have. My initial experiences performing music were in bands and playing in pubs. The thing I love about playing with the quartet is the opportunity to play more dynamic, subtle and complex music. I am very taken by the idea of a perfect song but I also love really abstract and complex music.

How do you approach programming a season of works, as you are doing for the Melbourne Recital Centre's TLSQ season this year? What makes a great program?

I try and programme shows that I would like to see: I like concerts that have an element of diversity in them - maybe there is a nice tonal piece next to an abstract textured improvisation. Really, the thing that the quartet is drawn to is working with people whose music we like and are inspired by. This is regardless of style, so it often does lead to a concert programme that contains that diversity of genre.

What does a regular rehearsal look like for TLSQ? How do you structure your time, particularly leading up to a performance?

It really depends on what the content of the concert is. All of us do a lot of freelance work so sometimes it is hard to get everyone together as much as we would like. We do like eating and drinking tea and coffee during rehearsals: bonding over a shared love of eating has been very important to our progress and process! When we have enough time it is great spending rehearsals fine tuning things that are going to help us in not only learn the repertoire but, also help in building the cohesion of our ensemble playing – so taking a close look at our tuning and locking in together on rhythmic passages.

For young musicians hoping to play as part of an ensemble and collaborate with other musicians and artists, how do you recommend getting started?

I would recommend playing with lots of people and being proactive about creating your own opportunities. If there are some musicians that you think you might click with, try and create a scenario where you play together. Opportunities for further ensembles and performances often come from your community of music colleagues.

The Letter String Quartet present Songs & Stories at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Thursday 6th July at 6pm. Photo by Caroline McCredie.