In November we had the pleasure to perform with the brilliant Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna. We performed eight concerts in ten days! Our program called “Bach and Baltics” featured pieces by Bach, Vasks, Sumera and Ešenvalds. We had a great honor to rehearse this program under the leadership of a great musician – violinist Rainer Schmidt. Joining the Hagen Quartet in 1987 and co-founding the Ravinia Trio in 1989, maestro Schmidt devoted himself to the study of chamber music. During our rehearsals in Riga and Rēzekne, maestro Schmidt generously shared his knowledge and ideas with us. Here we collected some reviews and pictures from our tour as well as an interview with Rainer Schmidt.
First of all, thank you very much for giving us your time so generously to work with us this week. Playing chamber music and working usually without a conductor we are used to relying on the system of ques from our leaders, but during our work together you didn’t ask anyone to show entrances, tempi, etc. How should a quartet or in our case chamber orchestra play together without conducting each other?
There are two ways to play together: one is the way we were educated as instrumentalists, that had to do a lot with kind of metronomic precision. We can do that – we can all follow the metronome which I think is a whole lot of work. I believe that what we all feel together is the sensation of tension and release – that is what we experience in so many different ways not only in music but in life as well. It doesn’t stay abstract – once we feel that together then, like what happened today in the Vasks [Symphony for Strings], everybody feels a certain inner pulse. There were moments [on a concert] where for me it was clear –it can not not be together anymore. Now, how to reach it that is of course the problem. I believe that one of our senses is underrated, and this sense doesn’t belong to the five major senses – the kinesthetic sense (how we move in space). Moving together our bow arms – that is what we do. The more aware we become of that the better. Once that is there [we move together], we feel the pulse together – we play together. As simple as that but as complex as that at the same time.
Since there can be so many different opinions in the orchestra and sometimes everyone feels music in their own way, how should we reach a consensus?
I think it should remain that everyone is engaged and can voice their opinion, but once we play and don’t talk anymore then we have to admit ourselves to the greater good – not to be right or wrong but just listen to what is happening and react to that. Once we discussed everything and we play, its almost like the right part of the brain must kick in and not anymore the left part. Then it is just listening and experiencing together what the music is about. In the Vasks [Symphony for Strings] today I felt that very strong desire [in the orchestra] to play with each other,which was beautiful to watch from outside and of course it was beautiful to listen – it makes the sound right away much more alive and much more beautiful.
You teach so many chamber groups, how do you recommend them to rehearse? Do you maybe have a certain system that you can suggest?
Each chamber music group needs to find their own way. Always the four people are different and the chemistry in every quartet is very distinct from one another. I would always try to help them to find they own way of not wasting time but using the time well. My wife always helps me, particularly with this. For instance, she lets each member of the group rehearse for half an hour, but that means that this half an hour has to be prepared extremely well. You have to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. I think part of the problem in chamber music groups is that they are actually wasting their time in rehearsal. At a certain point one person should be responsible for reaching a certain goal without everyone putting their own opinions. Then afterwards they can discuss, of course.
We had a wonderful time with you and we have learnt so much in these past few days. What did you initially think of Kremerata? How did you feel working with us?
The reason why I was so thrilled to come [to work with Kremerata] is that I heard the group in March in Basel – it was a wonderful concert, the quality was high, and I felt that the group was open and flexible and, probably, willing to listen to what I would have to say. So that was all very promising. When I look at the first rehearsal and the result today, something became, what is so important to me, so human. I am not saying it wasn’t there from the beginning, of course, but when I look at today’s concert, it touched me as a human being. And I am very grateful for having been given that. If music is without this human touch, I lose my interest in the end. So, it was quite amazing to see that the orchestra was willing to do something that I asked, someone they don’t know, there was this willingness to listen to what I had to say and for that I am very thankful. The concert was wonderful – to play the piece by Vasks with such a quality was a gift!
Lastly – who is an artist? What is the purpose of the artist’s work?
I would like to make it very simple, art is nothing else but communication, music is the form of communication. That is something very human. But between people it needs the people, otherwise it is an empty art form. An artist is the one who is willing to communicate but, hopefully, not ugly things. When I look at the music of the past, also the music of today, I really believe that this music speaks to the better part of us, human beings, and that somehow it would like to evoke the best part of who we can be. That is what I always feel when I play Bach – I feel it is communicating something that has a potential not to make me a better person really, but to speak to me in a tolerant, beautiful, human way. The true artist is someone who can communicate that very beautifully. I think if it wasn’t like this, I would have done something else already.