Though full of career challenges, the last year has also opened up new musical opportunities, explains the Carducci Quartet
Having visited Northern Italy for a concert in beautiful Brescia in mid February 2020, we arrived back to the UK to the breaking news of the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe. The impact on our work was immediate and hard hitting. Because we had visited and travelled through Lombardy and Veneto, the regions first affected by the virus, we were unable to perform for our audiences even before lockdown began in earnest. In fact, it is quite likely that we had the first Covid concert cancellation in the UK!
When lockdown started and our diary emptied, we were a bit stunned, to be honest. In the twenty-three years since the Carducci Quartet began, we had never had more than a few weeks off and we were now faced with months of cancellations. That period, though stressful in some ways, became a sort of recuperation period for us - years of dashing from one concert to another, juggling learning repertoire, performances and recordings along with family life…we were probably quite pleased to have a little break at first. But, of course, it hasn’t turned out to be such a little break after all.
Initially, we were fortunate to be able to continue our residency teaching using meeting software, such as Zoom. It really is remarkable how technology has evolved and reacted so quickly to accommodate such a huge demand for digital alternatives to in-person experiences. With our children also being educated in virtual classrooms, it has been quite strange having our households interacting with the outside world via electronic devices. It certainly stretches the internet bandwidth to the limit. We have also been able to lead online group rehearsals with various ensembles, which is quite amazing, really. Something we would have never thought of pre-2020.
From a performance point of view, it has been very challenging. Even rehearsing has been more problematic. During the first lockdown, we weren’t able to get together at all although, being two married couples, we were at least able to practise together in pairs. We also are hugely grateful to good friends and supporters of the quartet who allowed us use their large space to rehearse. But what should we rehearse for? Sadly, emails about cancellations and postponements were filling our inboxes to the point where we honestly didn’t know when our next concert would be. Should we really start looking at that new Beethoven or contemporary quartet when it is most likely that the concert will not take place. Or will it?
With the exception of a few socially-distanced concerts (when they were allowed) our performances were transported to the digital realm. We have now grown accustomed to giving a recital performance to an audience of cameras, microphones and videographers. And so we managed to perform for a number of festivals as well as online concerts for Wigmore Hall and the Barbican. It has been exciting to know that our performances have reached new audiences across the globe. A definite positive coming out of this difficult situation.
It has been inspiring how musicians and artists have thrown themselves into developing their online presence during this pandemic. Our violist, Eoin, was already a keen photographer and general technophile so he relished the opportunity to delve deeper into the audio-visual world. We decided to take the plunge and gather some recording equipment so that we could start producing our own content and record remotely for various composers and musicians. Soon, we were knee deep in alien terms such as DAWs, EQ, audio interfaces and phantom-powered condenser microphones. However, with the help of friends, colleagues and many online tutorials, we managed to use our early ‘free time’ to learn these new skills. We’re not sure we would have ever found time to do this under normal circumstances and we certainly intend to continue with these activities in the future.
It has been amazing to be able to collaborate virtually with other artists this past year, from performing as a remote lockdown string quartet, to contributing to large ensemble pieces like Musicians For Musicians’s fantastic Dancing Folk charity project. We were able to perform with old friends like Julian Bliss and also to make new musical connections, as in our recent collaboration with the amazing young US-based drummer Cristián Tamblay. This was a particularly fun project and we guarantee that you will have never heard Shostakovich quartets like this before! We were recently involved in a fantastic charitable event called Music Feeds, performing alongside singers and songwriters, including a virtual collaboration with Charlotte Church. It was wonderful to contribute to such a great cause at this incredibly difficult time for everyone.
Another very important aspect to our musical lives is our educational activity, whether it be visiting schools or working with young musicians. So we created a virtual workshop with the support of our Trust (Carducci Music Trust) that we have made available to primary schools. We have also begun filming a set of Digital Postcards for our New Music New Places project, taking modern classical music out of the traditional concert hall. Some of these projects have certainly tested our video editing skills to the limit. With so few performing opportunites, this past year has been incredibly difficult for young musicians at the beginning of their careers, so we set up the Serenata String Orchestra, the purpose of which is to support these emerging artists by providing opportunities to record and perform with us.
We have been so grateful to many people for their continued support, which has taken many forms this past year. While we tentatively plan for a return to live performances (with excitement), we will never forget this past year and the generosity and encouragement of our friends and supporters.
While, of course, just performing in front of a live audience will be exciting enough, we are really looking forward to getting back to travelling both in the UK and abroad and reconnecting with our audiences. We have some interesting projects planned for the future, particularly our return to cycles of the Shostakovich quartets in 2022. Performing all 15 quartets in a number of cycles in 2015 was a career highlight for us and we can’t wait to repeat it.
The Carducci String Quartet is managed worldwide by Avanti Arts
You can hear the Quartet online, performing alongside VOCES8 and Frederick Long at LIVE from London, Spring on 28 February LIVE From London Spring – Carducci Quartet