Ahead of their upcoming debut album release, the members of the Jubilee Quartet let us in on their working methods
Tereza Privratska, first violin
Reach for ‘perfection’ in rehearsals, not while playing in concert.
Delivering a perfect performance is everyone’s dream. But what is perfection? Does it exist? While rehearsing we must have the highest performance quality in mind, but this mindset can be restrictive when performing. The good thing is that in rehearsals we are continually enhancing our muscle memory through constant practise and repetition. This ultimately serves us in performance, as it frees up space in our brains to actively listen and communicate with the other quartet members.
Lorena Canto Woltèche, viola
We find it useful to understand aspects such as the structure, harmony and context of a piece when preparing a work, because it determines choices of phrasing or colour. It also helps us to question our gut instinct and get to know the composer in an indirect way. Do not be afraid of spending time studying the score both individually and as a group because these decisions, combined with more technical ones related to playing, result in a more unified sound. Ideas are regularly debated during rehearsals, necessitating a more theoretical understanding of the piece in order to support one’s own vision, and an open mind to accept the vision of the other quartet members.
Julia Loucks, second violin
There is one massive element of quartet playing that we make sure we always cover in every single rehearsal - tuning! Toby begins by tuning his cello in very “narrow” fifths, which means the lower string (let’s say D) is fractionally higher than a perfect fifth when played with the A string. He applies this to all four strings, which ensures that the open C is nice and high. After the rest of us have tuned our own instruments with narrow fifths, the interval between open C and open E on the violins is much more in tune than if we’d tuned with pure fifths. This system is imperative to our quartet sound, as we always prefer to play with open strings (especially with Haydn). The open strings help create a clean, bright and brilliant sound especially in friendly keys like G and D major. Once we’ve tuned, we always start by playing scales as a group. One person will hold the tonic note (for instance, open C) and the rest of us will play a C major scale, with one player on the third note of the scale, the fifth, and the seventh. This is a great way of opening up the ears and understanding the role of each note in the chords as we go through the scale.
Toby White, cello
As you approach a piece for the first time, it is much more interesting to listen to other works by the same composer rather than listening to the piece itself. For instance, one could listen to late Beethoven piano sonatas before approaching his Opus 127 for quartet, or comparing Mozart’s writing in Le Nozze di Figaro to his string quartet K. 428. This will help you avoid making decisions unconsciously based on other people’s ideas! It is equally important to listen to artists who you admire, as well as artists whose interpretations you may question or disagree with. Try to work out why you disagree, and what you would do differently. As you analyse the performance, you may even find that you start to understand where the artist’s musical decisions come from. This is so important for helping each member keep an open mind and for encouraging creativity in rehearsals.
The Jubilee Quartet will release its debut album of Haydn Quartets on 10 March 2019 with a launch concert at Conway Hall.