From the Archives

from Notes on Phase II, Nov. 4 ’05

was late Friday afternoon at the end of the first school quarter. The students
dribbled in slowly with instruments and backpacks. The weather was lovely but
the week had been long and some were dragging, plopping down and stretching out
at 45 degrees, completely limp.

Providence Quartet moved the furniture around, creating a space in the big room
full of round tables and chairs in which to make a circle. There were over
twenty of us: the students, the Providence Quartet, Rob Jones (the
facilitator), and myself. Rob began by asking three questions: what has been
going well for you, that is, what are you proud of? What have you not been doing, or what are you feeling bad
about? And how are you feeling about
Phase II in particular?

of the students volunteered, and after that we went around the circle including
everyone who had not yet spoken (me too, as the only comparative stranger). The
good news included being on the honor roll, getting high honors, working on the
yearbook, and the bad news included getting an F in algebra, having a terrible
time with a job. Some of the disappointments were spoken so quietly, often with
head down, or hand over the mouth, that it was hard to hear. The remarks seemed honest and the fact they
were willing to share them suggested this was already a group that had
developed considerable trust.

staff also spoke of ups and downs – a successful performance, planning a
wedding (hearty applause), good practicing, illness, and neglected paper work
at home. When it came to the Phase II
question, the Providence Quartet members expressed frustration with getting the
new Phase II quartets started, as members would fail to show up at scheduled
times, leaving the others handicapped. Students also regretted not making the
quartets a priority among the many things they were trying to do. Rob zeroed in
on the new quartet program and the need to make membership a commitment.
Someone asked about the plan to play in the community. Rob opened up a
discussion about how the quartets would decide what venues in the community
they would like to play in.

first, people were vague about how to proceed, and he reminded them that they
had been given a three page handout, which described the steps in detail for
developing ideas for sites, contacting a key person to explain about the
quartet initiative, finding possible dates to play at the site, checking out
proposed dates with quartet members etc. He directed each quartet and their coach
(member of the PSQ) to work together for ten minutes and brainstorm possible
venues, identifying a contact person where possible. The groups moved swiftly
to work, as if this was important to them.

the groups reported back they had identified excellent community venues where
they might play – sites with which they had some familiarity — City Hall, the
school and the community center, both of which provide space for their lessons
and workshops, a library, a nursing home where a parent worked, the sidewalk by
the storefront office of CMW and others. The students worked with great
attention and the reporting back was done with clear, strong voices, — unlike
most of the earlier communication — with some lively interaction between the
groups, a bit of competition for the "best" list, some delight on
coming up with some of the same places.

a supper of chicken wings and drumsticks, bread and salad, the seats were
rearranged in a half circle for the first master class in the new quartet
program with Jenny Elowitch, a professional violinist invited down from Boston
to work with the Phase II students that evening.

the time they had worked for forty minutes, the piece was sounding very
together and pleasing. The students had learned that the first violin may not
be the key voice in spite of its prominence, that rhythm may come from moving
notes rather than emphasized beats, that learning to listen to what each part
is playing is part of the undertaking of quartet playing. She had built on what
she had covered with Tae in interaction with the group on dynamics, and how you
can make a greater distinction between a forte and a piano. Moreover, a number
of students who thought they had things all figured out were enabled to see how
much more was going on than they thought. The interplay between the audience
and the players as elicited by Jenny’s questions and ways of involving them in
mutual support and inquiry further strengthened an environment of interdependence. 

-Karen Romer, Board
of Directors

Festival Update

Sara Stalnaker reports that she has been performing this month as part of Montana’s annual Chamber Music Festival in Bozeman. She most recently performed Mendelssohn’s Octet with members of the Muir and Cascade String Quartets at Georgetown Lake. She regrets that she has no photos to send in at this time!

Meanwhile, Heath attended his first concert at Marlboro Music School and Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he ran into old friend and CMW artistic advisor Jonathan Biss. What an incredible environment, where young professionals of immense talent share the stage with master teachers and performers (Richard Goode, Charles Neidich, Arnold Steinhardt, Kim Kashkashian). The combination of the creativity and enthusiasm in the performers and the receptive appreciation of the knowledgeable audience was rejuvenating.

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Summer at Banff

This is my first time here in Banff, Alberta
where I’m participating in the Banff Centre’s Master Class session. I’m getting
lessons for the first time in three years, which is refreshing, and playing
lots of BRAHMS. Can’t get enough.

The faculty is all very
forward thinking in their ideas on the future of classical music, which is also
refreshing. It seems very clear to them that our audiences will dwindle if we
do not make some real changes. We can build our future in other ways other than
following the “traditional” route. You cannot expect to simply win an orchestra
or become a soloist
anymore, or to always aspire to play a ‘certain way’, or to become the next
Jascha Heifetz. WAKE UP! It’s not going to happen for all of us. We have to
spend the time discovering our own voices. We have to reach within ourselves
and our communities and learn how to share music on a ground level so our
audiences can continue to grow and feel connected to what we are doing.

learning how to trust my musical instincts, to define them and make clear
decisions based on them. I’m learning to be honest and not go on automatic
pilot in performance (oops!). I find myself daydreaming about the character of
the beginning of
Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 or the second theme of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet.
There is just a whirlwind of ideas floating around here!

has been a truly inspiring experience so far and I’m looking forward to the
rest of my summer…(Apple Hill, rock on!). I’ll be glad share more with you
all when we get back. Best wishes to all the CMW community. I hope you are all
finding things that inspire you this summer so we can come back revitalized and
ready for new challenges.

Montgomery, Providence String Quartet


Vision of Love

Tai and I knew that there would be plenty of chamber music at our June 17 wedding in Ithaca, but we were not quite prepared for the highlight of the pre-wedding party: Jeff Louie’s faithful rendering of "Vision of Love" with a back up band comprised of the Providence String Quartet, Minna, and Chloe. Move over Mariah!


In case you are not as devoted a Mariah Carey fan as my wife, I’m including a sample of the (subtly altered) lyrics:

"Treated Heath kind
Sweet destiny
Carried Heath through desperation
To the Tai that was waiting for Heath
It took so long
Still Heath believed
Somehow the Tai that Heath needed
Would find Heath eventually…"

It was wonderful to have my CMW family so much a part of the festivities.

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Return of the Native Son

On the Thursday after the coaching with Timothy Eddy [see "Coaching with Tim Eddy"], the PSQ met up in Ithaca, NY for a concert at a vineyard several miles from the site of Heath and Tai’s wedding two days later. (The wedding was incredible by the way, but that is another blog entry perhaps?) It was the first time we had met since the coaching with Mr. Eddy and we were eager to try out the new approach.

The vineyard was packed, as many old friends of the Ruth family came to see Sebastian and to learn more about this crazy project he had developed down in Providence since leaving Ithaca for Brown University back in 1993. Also, many of Heath and Tai’s friends and family had rolled in early for the weekend wedding. The energy and vibe in the room was tremendous, and the crowd boisterously welcomed Sebastian and the PSQ. After greeting everyone and offering a brief explanation of the Janacek “Kreutzer Sonata,” we took a few moments to get in character for the first movement before pulling the trigger. 

In fact, for both the Janacek and Smetana, we tried to take a few extra moments to “change costumes” before each movement. The performances of both quartets felt alive, dramatic and gripping for us and (we hope) for the audience. Past just trying to play together and in tune, we were focusing on bringing out the drama of these passionate works to the best of our ability. The result was incredibly satisfying and the audience was enthusiastic and grateful. Ithaca’s native son had returned and delivered the goods!

-Jesse Holstein, Providence String Quartet


Coaching with Tim Eddy

On June 12th, the PSQ drove in Loretta (my graffiti-adorned Chevy) down to New York City for lunch and a coaching with Timothy Eddy, esteemed cellist of the Orion String Quartet. 

We got there about an hour early for our lunch at a noodle house next to Lincoln Center so I headed over to Mecca, a.k.a Tower Records to kill some time. Fifty minutes and 100 dollars later it was time to head to the noodle house. (It’s a good thing I don’t live in Manhattan!) Mr. Eddy was easy to spot–he was the friendly guy with the cello case. Lunch was fascinating as he explained to us how he correlates performing and even practicing with method acting. He won’t start a performance or a practice session before he feels that he “is” whatever emotion or feeling that particular piece is trying to convey. I don’t remember anything about the lunch other than what he was saying, as it was riveting.

After lunch, we strolled over to the rehearsal studios for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for a coaching on Smetana’s “From my Life.” Mr. Eddy sat and listened as we ran the first movement for him, uninterrupted. His response was most humbling. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this:

“This is a passionate, stormy movement, is it not?” Being the good Boy Scout that I am, I pulled out a copy of Smetana’s letter that explains what the piece is about. I was feeling pretty good about things.

Mr. Eddy quietly scanned the letter and told us calmly, “When I listen to you guys, I get none of the fire and energy!” At this point I felt like crawling into Sara’s cello case and asking Sebastian to latch it up and to throw it out the window. He then recalled the ideas we were discussing at lunch: musical decisions with regards to tempo, articulation, and rubato all are dictated by the emotion and drama of the movement, NOT the other way around.

He urged us to try again, “once more, with feeling” if you will. He encouraged us to “be” stormy and fiery. As a side note, the PSQ has been working a lot this year on our intonation and our ensemble playing, and our first run through for Mr. Eddy had been perhaps too careful. We let it rip the second time and it felt great! Sure, it might not have been as polished as the first time, but it had some guts and some soul. The difference was striking, and both the PSQ and Mr. Eddy were pleased.   

The coaching was amazing. In two hours together, he had helped us to “free the beast” and we were playing true chamber music, not just four people trying to play together with good intonation. We left the coaching on a serious high, ready to try this new paradigm at out next concert. 

What distinguished Mr. Eddy’s coaching from many other excellent coachings I have experienced is that he started from the center and then moved out. What I mean by the “center” is that he started from the emotional core and unique meaning of the piece of music and used this core as the basis for all decisions made about tempo, articulation, tone color, etc. It was an incredible experience that will never be forgotten and certainly will be a guide for the PSQ next season and beyond! 

-Jesse Holstein, Providence String Quartet