Get ready. This summer, string quartet music is breaking free from traditional performance venues and hitting the streets. The Cleveland based Thalia String Quartet: Solomon Liang (violin), Michelle Abraham (violin), Esther Nahm/Rose Hashimoto (viola), and James Jaffe (cello), will be showing up in all sorts of unexpected places to wow new audiences. You can expect to see them on the top of a mountain, or while shopping for groceries around Banff at the end of August.
Tied to the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), the Quartet in the Community: Melba and Orville Rollefson Residency supports one quartet to play for audiences in the community during the competition, to bring a wider appreciation to string quartet music. “The fact they want us out there says a lot about the way the competition is run, and the philosophy about inviting the public to see the competition,” Jaffe says.
The Thalia Quartet was recently here for three weeks as part of the Chamber Music Residency for Pre-formed Ensembles rehearsing and working on coming together as a group. “We’re learning more about ourselves as a group, how we present ourselves as an ensemble, and finding our common voice,” says Abraham. They’ll be back at the end of August just before BISQC kicks off, with a demanding schedule of two to three performances a day, and over 30 performances total during the two weeks.
“As a group, we all responded to these unconventional venues, where people will be encountering a string quartet,” Jaffe says. “Sometimes there’s a trend in performing organizations to draw too much of a distinction between the ‘serious concerts’ for the ‘serious audience’ and the general public.”
So why move the music outdoors? Aside from reaching new audiences, Jaffe explains there are very good reasons to play music outside. “There are things you can achieve outdoors, on a street corner, or in a park that you couldn’t achieve on a stage… A lot of the inspiration for composers whose music we’re playing is from nature and the outdoors. You could, if you wanted, make an argument that some of these pieces are better suited to a meadow.” Also, as Liang explains, “being able to communicate with the community is important; it’s not so open like that on stage.”
The Thalia String Quartet can’t wait to get back to Banff and get started. As Abraham says, “We’re really looking forward to performing a lot and performing in different places and meeting different people. I think we’ll learn a lot from it and hopefully be able to keep it going when we head back to Cleveland.”
The Banff Centre and the Banff International String Quartet Competition thank Susan and Robert Larson for their generous support for the Quartet in the Community: Melba and Orville Rollefson Residency.