Rehearsal Magazine is thrilled to announce that the incredible Tinalley String Quartet have come onboard as our chamber music mentors. You can now ask them questions directly through the mentor profile!
In 2017, Tinalley's programs will centre around the literary works of Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest writers of all time. What is it about his words that have inspired composers for so long?
I think inspiration (for composers and artists alike) is stirred by things that are passionate, evocative and relatable. It strikes me that Tolstoy's novels have all of these qualities; the (often epic) story unfolds amongst very real, 'human' characters as nature takes its course on their lives. I can imagine that narratives such as these would be irresistible to composers - his greatest epics are almost Wagnerian, and the stories always capture the imagination. Tolstoy was also acutely aware of music's power to influence human emotion, and his novel 'The Kreutzer Sonata' tells of a jealous husband driven to murder under the influence of Beethoven's violin sonata. This, in turn, provided inspiration for Leos Janácek, who was so affected by the passion and tragedy of the story that he wrote both a quartet and an unfinished piano trio based on its subject matter. It's a wonderful example of both art forms and their ability to inspire yet more wonderful art!
As a quartet, you have performed the most well-loved works of the genre as well as brand new commissions and collaborations, both of which offer their own unique challenges. This first program sees you focussing on three masterworks of quartet writing - what have you found to be the challenges in presenting pieces that are standards in the repertory compared to working with entirely new writing?
I think there are undoubtedly challenges with both, but there is a certain weight that you carry when performing the masterworks in the quartet repertoire. Not only are they so well known, but there is a history of performance (that all of us inherit as musicians) that can be both a blessing and a curse. New works, on the other hand, present both the fear and the excitement of the unknown. Where we have to sometimes guess the intent of a composer with older repertoire, and with new repertoire we often have the composer as a very present voice in exactly how he or she may wish to have things executed - which can be both wonderful and slightly limiting as a performer! The string quartet is a medium that many renowned composers were incredibly intimidated by, so the craft of the writing in many of these cornerstones of the repertoire is extraordinary. Ultimately, both require the utmost skill and preparation.
Each member of Tinalley juggles ensemble rehearsals alongside a combination of work in major orchestras, teaching, and artistic leadership. What is the process of structuring your rehearsals around your other commitments, and how do the other parts of your career inform your ensemble playing?
We simply wouldn't be able to exist without being incredibly organised. Planning our schedules happens between 12-18 months ahead, with the understanding of our respective workplaces, and a lot of flexibility from us all individually. It means we are all exceptionally busy most of the time, but it's the price you pay to be able to do what we love! There are a lot of emails, balancing repertoire and time that we have, and ensuring we are all incredibly prepared when we meet to rehearse! For all of us, this will mean time away from home at some point, and a decent amount of travel. But the best part is being able to have work that is constantly making us better musicians, and incredibly varied. It means meeting as an ensemble is always a joy, and we value it all the more.
There is a myriad of tasks - both artistic and administrative - that come as part and parcel of playing in an ensemble. How do you delegate the jobs that fall outside of rehearsal and performance? Who does what?
We all have grown into various tasks over the years that we either excel at, or have learned to do over our time. Without management, all of the day to day runnings of the quartet are left to us, and I should say largely to our powerhouse inner voices Lerida and Justin (absolute superstars the pair of them)! Then, other tasks we try and divide accordingly. It is hard, and we are always trying to achieve a better balance!
As a young quartet, you had the opportunity to work with some incredible people who became mentors to you as an ensemble. Why is mentoring important for young performers?
When you start playing chamber music, it is rare that it's with the intent of 'we want to be the next St Lawrence String Quartet'. It's more often that you might play a concert together, then play another concert together....and before you know it - you're preparing for competitions, and study and you've created a life for yourselves. But it's unlikely that you'll know exactly what that life is going to entail, or how difficult it will be! We were so lucky to have incredible mentors who were able to guide us along the way - helping us navigate the harder aspects of being in an ensemble that sometimes have very little to do with playing your instrument! As a result, giving back some of the time and generosity that we received as a young ensemble has become a real passion of mine (and Tinalley's). It's a tough career, but a wonderful one - sometimes you just need a little helping hand to guide you along the way.
To have a successful chamber ensemble, you have to do more than just play the notes really well. Can you tell us about some of the business skills that you've had to learn that have helped make Tinalley the success it is?
I can safely say we had very little idea of the skills we would need to create what we have at the moment. Most of that has been by learning on the fly, the generosity of a few wonderful people, a sometimes insane amount of time not spent on the instrument, and a healthy mix of sheer blind luck and very hard work. Website building, promotional materials, tax, scheduling, writing copy, social media management, donor building, grant writing....you name it - we've had to learn it. This isn't something you are often told when you're at university!!! And in our industry, we are in the same market as organisations that have up to 30 people doing these many jobs. In our case - it's just four. It is hard, but there is a sense of incredible pride to see what we've created after all these years, and I'm so lucky to have colleagues that do this with such incredible professionalism.
For Rehearsal readers who are just getting started on their journey into chamber music, what initial advice do you have about setting up an ensemble?
This will be hard, but it will be one of the best things you ever do as a musician. It will be many hours of work both on and off the instrument, but if you are surrounded by a great group of people (as I have been) then the world is your oyster. Ask for advice wherever you can, be organised, and make a priority of seeing the 'long term view' for your group. The thing I see so often these days is ensembles setting themselves up purely for the benefit of going for competitions (and hopefully being successful). Try it the other way around. Set yourselves up as an ensemble, establish wonderful performances, study lots and then make the competition just another performance. It is just one aspect of a wonderful journey - not the end game. The best reward, however, is knowing that chamber music will enhance your skills as a musician - the best orchestral players I know (and soloists I might add) are all wonderful chamber musicians.