In Conversation: Tinalley String Quartet

In Conversation: Tinalley String Quartet

We had the great privilege of speaking with Tinalley String Quartet about their gorgeous program "Speak Less Than You Know", featuring acclaimed actor John Bell.

In Conversation: Tinalley String Quartet

We had the great privilege of speaking with Tinalley String Quartet about their gorgeous program "Speak Less Than You Know", featuring acclaimed actor John Bell.

As you discuss in your program note, Beethoven’s life and music has become a fixture in the lives of many music-loving writers, programmers and directors. We have heard his melodies in everything from cult films to television advertisements, and yet his own words are very rarely considered. What inspired Tinalley to use Beethoven’s letters to put together this fascinating new look at the man we all think we know?

Letters, like music, are an amazing tool of self expression.  I think it's something we've lost a little as a society; when was the last time that any of us wrote a letter (that wasn't a two line text message) that really allowed people to have an insight into who we are?!  Beethoven's correspondence allows us to truly see how he lived, the struggles he faced, and the man that exists behind such remarkable music - the juxtaposition of this against his quartets makes for an incredibly moving musical journey. We were lucky to develop the idea with Anna Melville for the 2011 Beethoven Festival, and we've decided to revisit the concept in our series this year. 

The exceptional John Bell will be portraying Beethoven, by reading his letters as you perform movements from his string quartets. What stylistic decisions have you and Bell made to help develop this complex character through both words and music?

It's unusual for us to be performing many single movements from quartets as opposed to entire works, however I must say that it's a really eye-opening experience in understanding the quartets when they rest amongst the letters. It really gives us an idea of where Beethoven's mind was at the time he composed each and every note we're playing. Similarly, John Bell gets to hear the music of the man he is portraying! Whilst there's nothing specifically stylistic that we've decided, it's undoubtedly true that our interpretations are being influenced by the words we hear. 

You begin the program with Mendelssohn - a composer greatly influenced by the works of Beethoven. What stood out to you about the Opus 13 Quartet when programming?

The Op. 13 Quartet was composed by Mendelssohn in 1827 (the year of Beethoven's death) and as such, it is a truly wonderful compositional homage. There are echoes of Beethoven's late quartets throughout the work, yet it is still truly 'Mendelssohn' in every way -  a remarkable feat for an 18 year old! On a personal note, the Op. 13 is a quartet very dear to Tinalley - we performed it extensively following our win at the Banff Competition in 2007, and toured it extensively in both Europe and North America. Having 'lived' with it for a long time, we knew it would be the perfect pairing for 'Beethoven's Letters'. 

Does the program follow a chronological trajectory, and do the dates of the chosen quartets correlate with the dates the letters were written? How did you go about choosing the quartet movements for the program?

The letters and music are mostly chronological, with one or two exceptions. Each movement was chosen to reflect either the mood of the letter, or the time it was written - so essentially it's true to the 'life' of Beethoven, both in words and music. 

Tinalley Quartet is known for their exceptional collaborations with artists of different medium and genre. Tell us about how you came to know John Bell, and the process of collaboration for you as an ensemble.

We've been incredibly lucky to work with some remarkable artists as a quartet, and this year is no exception (having worked with Lior at the start of the year for our first series program). In thinking about who we could work with on Beethoven's Letters, we needed to find someone who would essentially be the 'voice' of Beethoven, and as such we wanted someone who could bring incredible gravitas to the role.  We thought asking John Bell would be a dream - and it turned out to be a dream come true when he said he'd be interested in working with us! 

‘Speak less than you know’ comes from Shakespeare’s King Lear - can you explain the importance of literature to music in your experiences, and why you chose to highlight the Bard in this way?

A few years ago, when we first began putting together our quartet seasons in Australia, someone had mentioned we should have a 'tag line' describing us as a quartet (for marketing).  It seemed like an odd thing at the time, but we came up with the notion that having toured and performed all over the world, the world was, in fact, our stage. So -  'the world is our stage' became our 'line'. This was essentially a variation on the phrase from Shakespeare's 'As You Like It'.  From that, we ended up basing all of the names of our series concerts drawing from Shakespeare...we have as much endless inspiration from him as we do incredible quartets to play!

You have been working together for over 10 years now. How has your creative process developed since you began playing as an ensemble?

2016 marks our 13th year as a quartet - it seems like both a lifetime ago and yesterday in some ways! I think the thing that we notice most is our ability to get through a huge amount in a short space of time now; working together for as long as we have means that many musical things happen very naturally without the need for extensive discussion!  But I think the best part is that our values haven't changed much at all. We still love playing together after all this time, and still love the music more than anything. 

Tickets are available for Tinalley's Sydney performances here and for their Melbourne performance, here