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The Secret of their Success

img  Tobias

Success always seems to have many mothers (and fathers very likely). In 2004, a remarkable ensemble celebrated its tenth birthday and left the world puzzled as to how exactly they managed to captivate the minds of listeners all over Europe just that little more than others. Artists are always worried about good reviews and for sure, the media have been kind to the Fibonacci Sequence. As I'm flicking through page after page of positive feedback and raving accolades of publications such as "The Times", "The Standard" and "Classical Music", I begin to wonder if it might indeed have been the support of those journalists that has ensured the grup an uncontested "darling" status. On the other hand, there is definitely more at play. After all, not only the press, but "the audience was overwhelmed", as the Aachener Zeitung observed.

To music critic David Sonin, the answer is clear: "The secret of the sequence's popularity is in its egalitarian approach to performance. Chamber music might not be the best selling blend - but the group has never restricted itself to performance in ivory towers." Instead, they have played wherever enough people would listen to them: "Apart from the big concerts in major venues, it (the Fibonacci Sequence) also performs for music clubs, societies and charities". The thing is that smaller locations are actually rather a necessity than a noteworthy fact - chamber music, by definition almost, exists in a space of intimacy and voluntary restriciton. It might be a sign of welcome humbleness that the Fibonacci's are not refusing calls from the aforementioned concert venues, but it's hardly a reason for their succes. To truly understand what they are about, you would need to go further into the past. I take some older articles and decide to dive headlong into history.

The history of the Fibonaccis Sequence is closely related to one name: Kathron Sturrock. Sturrock was a gifted accompanist and an open-minded pianist. Not coming from a very musical family (she does mention her father playing the bagpipes for fun, though), she did not grow up with the usual guided music lessons and a super-imposed standard repertoire. Instead, she just played what she liked best: Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and... ragtime. While she now regrets this, quite possiby it was the key to everything that followed. As so often, the wish to become a musician grew gradually and became certainty thanks to an overwhelming experience: "There was one defining moment which confirmed my wish to be in music. I was sitting in the Albert Hall in the choir stalls listening to a rehearsal of Britten’s War Requiem and being absolutely blown away by its power – thinking – THIS is what I want to do. There is one chord towards the end where everything is playing fortississimo and it was just so exciting, especially at the end of such a gripping, emotional piece – I was 16 at the time, and it just decided me."

As an accompanist, she was quite in demand, recording albums with some of the most renowned labels and winning the Sofia International Opera Competition twice. But she craved for the opportunity to play some pieces which she enjoyed most - without having to depend on a singer or an instrumentalist to ask her to perform this repertoire with her. So she formed an ensemble to be able to realise these compositions - the Fibonacci Sequence came into being. Again, it was her background and her strong family ties which defined the nature of the newly founded formation: "You can’t have a properly balanced life, the profession is too demanding... but you also need some kind of balance, keep a normal life going with family and friends...... or you stop seeing the wood for the trees." she says in our interview and it mirrors her comments in an article from "Classical Music": "All the players were either personal friends who I worked with, or friends of these players, so there was a strong social feel to the group from the beginning." So there you have reason number one for success: A group of friends out to play the music they love and which they can't perform outside of their bond - and their ability to transport this friendship and enthusiasm to their audience.

Of course, the openness of the group with regards to repertoire helped, but there are other ensembles out there as well, who play modern pieces and have contemporary composers write pieces for them. And the inclusion of some famous names is always welcome, of course: Jack Liebeck, one of the great young violinists, is a regular and fervent member. But the real genius of the Fibonacci Sequence is their ability to change shape and yet remain clearly recognisable. Depending on the work and availability of players, the group can consists of merely two artists or the full monty. Which means that there is an ever-changing line-up on stage and an unusal and highly attractive diversity during concerts. There is an element of not knowing what will come next, which hardly anyone would expect of a chamber music ensemble or of a Classical performance in general. This is what defines the Fibonacci Sequence more than anything else,  makes them a class of their own  - and probably best explains their success.

If we may believe the papers, the tenth anniversary celebration was a smash and it once again proved that these musicians were not afraid to defy the pre-conceived nature of a concert: "We all know how ten-year-olds love to party. And the dazzlingly good chamber ensemble the Fiboancci Sequence threw a big one: Luch time concert, rehearsal, talk, evening concert, cabaret and, who knows, dancing till dawn.", Geoff Brown of "The Times" remembers. When I ask her about her ideal program for a festival, instead of giving me some names, Sturrock talks more about how changing the way such an evening usually goes about could make it more attractive: "I would let people bring in drinks... you can do this in the UK in the ballet and the theatre – why not in concerts? The interval is always such a rush to queue up to get a drink and then to gulp it down - ...if concerts could be more user-friendly – and I mean all kinds and types of users – they might be more appealing to more people. Also I would continue to look at establishing an earlier start time and perhaps shorter concerts."

If one thing has become clear, it must be that you'll have to listen to these instrumentalists to fully grasp them. In an upcoming discography, we will give you a few tips which discs of them are woth checking out. And as to seeing them live: There's plenty of opportunities - right now, they're about to embark on a tour of Germany. Which brings me to the end of my research. On paper, that is. There are indeed many fathers of the Fibonacci-fame: Friendship, family, flexibility. But, as even modest Kathron would agree, there's only one mother to it.

Homepage: Fibonacci Sequence
Source: "Concert: The Fibonacci Sequence"; "The Times", November 20th 2004
Source: "Musical formula that equals success"; "H&", August 20th 2004
Source: "Small pleasures"; "Classical Music", April 24th 2004
Source: "Life is ascherzo for piano virtuoso"; "Rutland Times", March 28th 2003
Image by Bo Lutoslawski

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