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15 Questions to the Zemlinsky Quartet

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am fine, thanks – just relaxing in Banff, Canada, after a succesful string quartet competition. It is just great to have a few free days in the Rocky Mountains!



What’s on your schedule right now?
Most of my schedule is connected to my string quartet very closely. In a few days we are starting a Canadian concert tour, and then during autumn there is a big deal of recording sessions waiting for us.



If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
I might have been a mathematician – in fact that was the first subject I have originally studied. I even received a Holzman degree in maths in the Charles University in Prague...



What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
I always tended to play string quartet, and this was what I tried to keep track on very much. The beginnings were clearly influenced by the famous Czech string quartets as Smetana and Vlach Quartet, and then later by all the successful generation of Panocha, Kocian, Stamic, Doležal and especially Pražák Quartet.



What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
About the good parts: I like travelling, so you have a lot of that being a professional musician Another thing: when rehearsing time comes, your schedule in a small group can be arranged anytime to everyone´s needs; no problem to change the schedule for any personal reason. This is what makes me happy for not working in a bank, for example. The bad parts: of course it is travelling again... It takes you away from your family very often, and especially the relation with your small kids can be influenced negatively by this. Also it might be quite uncomfortable to change hotel every two days during a longer tour... But generally speaking, I am very happy to have a life of a musician! It is great to see that your performance gave joy, happiness and strong emotional experience to the audience...



What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I do not really feel there is a crisis in these days. There are a few things that could contribute to that feeling, but I would be hoping to describe it more as some kind of some temporary effect. One thing that can be seen in many venues in many countries, and that bothers me probably the most, is that the audience of classical concerts is generally getting older and older. I think it is not enough just to wait for young people coming to the concerts; the concert promoters and mainly the musicians themselves have to do some active work to attract the younger generation to listen to classical music. There are more ways to do it (school concerts, evening concerts for parents with kids...) and I think everyone in the profession should keep this in mind and do something positive for it.



Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
Recordings always give people the chance to get any artist in their home, to enjoy it anytime, and to compare different interpretations as well, so I think it is worth having many new recordings of Dvořák American Quartet, for example. Then, if one takes a look from the point of view of a young ensemble, I think it is very good to record CDs. Thanks to the huge market and steadily growing number of all the recordings it is more and more difficult to find a well-balanced CD program, and also – economically speaking – to earn good money by recording and selling CDs. But there is a good reason that has been laid in promotion: if your CD is distributed well, then your name appears in the shops all over the world and your group is being seen by people, and second – especially for younger ensembles – if anyone asks you to introduce yourself, it is always very helpful to have a good CD that you can present.



What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Both a good recording and a good concert have to be on a high level technically and musically, of course. But talking about a live concert, the difference to a recording is positioned in being present at the concert hall at the moment and showing the people also VISUALLY, how you perform and how you behave on stage. So musicians have to think about their live performances from the point of view of an actor, too – at least a little. The audience is influenced by the way the musicians play, and if it just LOOKS boring, then it might not get the highest appreciation from the listeners even if it was technically perfect. Second thing here – it is important how the group is dressed and also, how it behaves on stage. One would tend to consider this being a minor detail, if the musical performace itself is outstanding; but surprisingly, for quite a part of the audience it does play an important role.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
A mixture of two things that both have to be present in your performance. One – you have to follow the composer´s intentions. Those are more or less written in the score (being more or less exact, often depending on the composer´s habits) and generally, one has to fulfill them as much as he can. But then – two ­– the musician has to add its own opinion, its own feelings in the music. This is what gives “spice” to every single performance, and without that, every live concert would be the same. And this is the reason, why you prefer one player to another one – both are technically perfect, but the way of playing, of phrasing, of feeling of one of them positions him higher in your eyes.



How do you balance the need to to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
Oooops, sorry – I have just answered this question, I think :-)



True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
False. Music, as most of the arts, speaks generally about feelings and emotions – of the composers, of the interpreters, and then of the audience as well. And every single person has certain feelings and emotions, so it can happen to anyone to come to a concert, not knowing anything about the music, not even knowing who plays, and what he plays, and though, appreciating it very much. Education helps, that is true, but it is not a necessary thing to enjoy classical music (and any music, in fact).



You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I like well balanced programs, and I mean balanced in every way. Some of the more conservative audience would appreciate to hear the “famous” pieces in the season, on the other hand I would like to “educate” my audience by scheduling pieces that are not so often played, though they have a big value. Those well-known pieces would drag many of the listeners, so outstanding young interpreters could present themselves here, whereas to make the less known pieces interesting even for the conservative part of the audience, I would ask the famous names to come to play these things. And then, I would be happy if I managed to include even a short contemporary piece in most of the evenings.



How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
I think that just has to be a good relation! Your instrument is something you use daily, and you have to take a good care of it, so that it gives you back its best qualities. Often I feel that this relation is something like a relation to another of your kids...



Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Well, let us not count ten days of practising trumpet (and then even performing in a “humour-in-music” concert :-))... Then, everyone in the Prague conservatory had to play piano. But I was a very bad student... so I am sure, that if I could not play viola, I would just not pick up any other instrument and I would just go for something completely different.



As Penguin Quartet:
Dvorak, Janacek, Richter, Suk (Bohemia Music) 2003
Josef Suk: String Quartets (Classico) 2004

As Zemlinsky Quartet:
A. Dvořák: Early works for string quartet (Praga Digitals) 2007

Zemlinsky Quartet


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