May 7, 2006 at 6:29 PMThe odeonquartet is currently in the midst of a series of six performances premiering Wayne Horvitz's These Hills of Glory, which features a non-improvising string quartet collaborating with a different soloist-improviser—saxophone, cello, violin, viola, piano and trumpet—at each concert. The concerts are sponsored by Earshot Jazz, 4 Culture, and Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Here’s the quartet’s “official” take on the project: “Having worked in the past with Wayne, we were already familiar with his captivating improvisations and his subtle, intensely thoughtful musical style. In this new work, composed for us, we found a breadth of musical ideas and textures—contemplative and lyrical melodies, intense and rhythmically driven sections of Bartok-like complexity, jazzy tunes, hauntingly beautiful dissonances, and even reminiscences of hurdy-gurdy or bagpipe music. The elements might seem disparate in when looked at in isolation but they somehow work when put together and unmistakably stamped with Wayne's own style. What is most exciting about the work is that the "topography" of each performance is unique. "Surface features" created by the soloist differ dramatically, creating striking variations in mood, texture, and intensity. The fundamental ideas, shapes and defining structural landmarks of the string quartet part, however, give the piece its familiar identity. Having completed four of the six performances so far, we have witnessed some very interesting approaches to the piece, as each soloist responds in his/her own way. Because of the improvisational aspect, the work is endlessly renewed, and audience members have been coming to hear the piece again and again.”
I recently had the chance to ask Gennady a few questions. Here are his responses. Feel free to make suggestions about other violinists you’d like me to interview.
DL: How did the improviser project come about?
GF: We worked with Wayne last season, and were the first string quartet in Seattle to open at the very trendy Triple Door jazz club. We shared a concert with him and his wife pianist/singer/composer Robin Holcomb. We had great fun and developed a mutual admiration.
DL: Classical string players are rarely taught to improvise. What is it like playing with an improviser and what are some of the challenges?
GF: The challenges depend on the soloist joining. We have played These Hills of Glory with Eric Barber on sax, Ron Miles on trumpet, Peggy Lee on jazz/improvised cello, Eyvind Kang on jazz/improvised viola, Tom Swafford on jazz/improvised violin and Gust Burns on piano.
The most difficult time was when the instruments joining us matched and blended with us completely, like the cello and viola. It took a bit longer to adjust. In fact the easiest were the jazz violin, trumpet and sax.
DL: How does playing with an improviser affect the quartet’s playing overall? Yours personally?
GF: It has taken us to new heights in terms of communicating with one another and relating to the soloist joining us. Even though our parts are written out, it is still a matter of timing, breathing together and of course listening to each other. It has been an amazing experience. It was like experiencing a whole new language.
DL: How did your group get its name?
GF: Originally, we were the Odeon String Quartet. The name “Odeon” comes from a kind of theater in ancient Greece, smaller than the dramatic theater and roofed over, in which poets and musicians submitted their works to the approval of the public and contended for prizes. Hence, in modern usage, the name of a hall for musical or dramatic performances. Shortly afterwards, I suggested shortening the name to odeonquartet since it is easier for most to remember, and looks more hip anyway. And it is easier for reporters/journalists to deal with.
DL: What brand of rosin do you use? Strings?
GF: My rosin is Liebenzeller Gold II. We are endorsing artists for Thomastik-Infeld (via the US distributor Connolly &Co.)
DL: Who made your instrument? How old is it?
GF: J.B. Vuillaume, 1868, and Pietro Sgarabotto, 1976.
DL: What music is on your music stand this week for personal practice?
GF: Brahms Piano Quintet, Mozart "Drum" Quartet and Phillip Glass Quartet #5.
DL: What book is on your nightstand?
GF: Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden, by Peter Bergen and Battles of the Bible: A Military History of Ancient Israel, by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon.
DL: What are some of the best nuggets of advice you were given regarding playing or the musician’s life? By whom?
GF: "Mean and love every note." and “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” Pablo Casals
“Create the character in everything you play.” - Dr. Basil Langton & Constantin Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares
"You have to play like your life depends on it," Isaac Stern
DL: Name three adjectives that describe you as a musician.
GF: Sincere, thoughtful and imaginative.
DL: What projects are next for your quartet?
GF: We’ll be recording These Hills of Glory, Wayne's work that we performed. And there are other premieres by prominent composers awaiting our performance.
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