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15 Questions to the Lark Chamber Artists

img  Tobias

Hi, how are you, where are you?
Lark is great. We’re based in New York City, and we have a residency at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that is our home away from home.

What’s on your schedule right now?
We just played our final UMass Residency concert of the 2006-7 season, which included works by Richard Danielpour, Gordon Green, and Ernst von Dohnanyi. We are preparing for a concert in Washington, DC, at the Museum of Women in the Arts. Lark is also busy with the details surrounding our new project, Lark Chamber Artists.

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would be doing right now?

Lark’s personal answers range from marine biology, modern dance, pilates instructor to nursing or graphic design.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
Many great artists influenced Lark over the years. We have been fortunate to work with musicians such as Robert Mann, Felix Galimir, Sasha Schneider, Martin Lovett, Valentine Berlinsky, David Soyer, Gary Graffman, Samuel Sanders, Edgar Meyers, and Bill T. Jones. There are many others, but these collaborations and coaching sessions occurred during our formative years as an ensemble and helped lay the foundation for our current work.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician, and what’s the best?
The hardest part about being a professional ensemble is remaining relevant and interesting and fresh. Each season, we examine our priorities artistically, and seek out new ways to do what we do. This means finding interesting new projects, collaborators, and composers. Another difficult part about being a professional chamber ensemble is all of the extra administrative work that is required.

The best part is playing this extraordinarily rich repertoire with fine musicians who share the same love for it. Bringing it to an audience is a great pleasure. Also, traveling and meeting interesting people.

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

From the Lark’s experience, there have been plenty of concerts to play over the past 22 seasons, so it’s hard to say there’s a crisis on that front. But it’s no secret that classical music audiences have been dwindling, and many school districts throughout the country have lost funding for music appreciation and applied instrumental studies. We believe that education and exposure at an early age, fosters a future audience. That’s why audience development has been at the core of the Quartet’s mission from the beginning. The Lark was founded as a non-profit, with the intention of providing concerts for children and families in an effort to build an audience for the future.  However, we recognize that the classical music scene is changing and evolving. No longer is the recital hall the only place where one might encounter a string quartet. There is tremendous creativity on the musical scene at present and the presentation of classical music in new and fresh settings.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music; that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
We’ve never heard that, and it makes no sense. Every artist brings something new to a composition, whether it’s been recorded or not – the artistic expression is completely personal. We each have several recordings of different performers of the same piece of music – one takes a little from each artist he or she hears. It would be impossible to imagine that the recordings of say, the Brahms String Quartets were done and never to be recorded again. It’s quite a depressing thought, as we believe the journey of exploring old and new works will never end, there’s always something new to say.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
As a quartet, we aim to be fresh, vibrant, energetic and spontaneous in our performances. We believe our presentation should be a passionate, heartfelt “account” of a piece and that each venue and concert, however big or small is as important as the last. On stage, we try to communicate and illustrate the interplay between voices and create the atmosphere we feel best suits the work.

What does the word interpretation mean to you?
An interpretation is an artistic point of view. As a quartet, we first reach a consensus in forming our interpretation and then we start to own the piece – we live and breath the music when we perform. Luckily, we have a similar approach to music making, tone production, and other artistic considerations.

How do you balance the need to put your personal emotions into the music you play, and the intentions of the composer?

The need to respond emotionally to the music is basic. In the quartet, there are four of us to oversee and monitor how it all fits together. The composer gives us clues in the score, but we believe there is an expectation that the interpreter will make the piece his or her own before performing it. This is part of an unspoken collaboration between composer and performer. Hopefully we are successful in bringing the composer’s intentions to life.

True or false, people need to be educated about classical music before they can really appreciate it?

False. People just need to be exposed to classical music to enjoy it. Like anything, the more you know about music, the more you might appreciate it on a richer, more informed level, but it’s not a pre-requisite to enjoying a beautiful piece.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

Well, let’s see, how about programming the Lark Chamber Artists?! Seriously, we would be very excited to hear the commissions and collaborations we have coming up with baroque master harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, the Ethos Percussion Group, pianists Jeremy Denk and Gary Graffman, composers Paul Moravec, Jennifer Higdon, and Giovanni Sollima.  Successful programming reflects a variety of musical styles. A mix of Beethoven, Bartok, brand new commissions, and groups that perform World Music, Jazz, Dance collaborations, mixed ensembles and other styles.

How would you describe your relationship with your instrument?

The best way to answer this as an ensemble is to quote one of our more popular children’s programs, “One Giant Instrument.” The idea of the quartet functioning as one complex instrument is one that appeals to us.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

The quartet members once switched instruments and chairs at the start of a concert on a very prestigious series in Los Angeles. The occasion: April Fools’ Day. We played two phrases to the horror of the presenter and her audience before shouting, “April Fools!” Luckily, we got away with this one, but we weren’t invited back. So, perhaps we weren’t very good at it. On a personal level, the instruments range from piano to clarinet and oboe and the results range from “awful” and “horrible” to “pretty good”.

Alexander Borodin
Schoenberg Zemlinksy
Robert Schumann (Part 1)
Alfred Schnittke
Peter Schickele: Schickele on a Lark
Handel, Schoenberg, Spohr and Elgar
The Lark plays Aaron Jay Kernis
Amy Beach
Klap Ur Handz

The Lark Chamber Artists

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