We caught up with past Festival Debut Artists the Consone Quartet to find out how the ins and outs of being in quartet, how they work together and how they’ve been coping with lockdown.
What has music given you?
Music is an incredible universal force that unites us, brings peace and can lift our spirits. Being able to express yourself through your instrument is such a gift and sharing our music-making with online audiences over the past few months has been a source of comfort and given us a sense of purpose.
Why be a musician?
Being a musician gives you the most fantastically interesting and bizarre lifestyle. Particularly as a freelancer, no two days are ever the same; it is refreshing, exhausting and rewarding in equal parts! Through music, we have had the opportunity to travel the world and meet such a variety of interesting people. As musicians, we have an incredible opportunity to move people and to share something special.
Why be in a quartet?
Chamber music is one of the most rewarding and challenging things one can do as a musician. The string quartet repertoire is vast and rich and the experience of playing in a string quartet is like having a conversation. Each player, being the only one playing their line, is vital and has an instrumental role in shaping the music – we have so much more say in the interpretation. They say that chamber musicians have particularly fast reactions and it really is one of the best feelings, trying something new mid-concert and sensing your colleagues reacting and adapting to that in the moment.
How long do you think it takes for a chamber ensemble to gel?
It can take quite a while for a group to gel, to really understand how the others tick and how to balance all the voices in such a way that they can still be strong and individual yet work together. For us in the Consone Quartet, we came from a similar starting point with similar tastes, so obviously this helped. We had all studied historical performance to some degree at College, so there were lots of stylistic things that we already agreed upon and didn’t even necessarily need to discuss. However, it takes time to understand the way your colleagues work, what things are important to them and therefore to be able to trust them completely and reach a new level of freedom in performance.
What is it about music that led you to follow it as a career?
Agata: Some of my earliest memories as a child are of Sunday mornings, when my dad would put some jazz or blues on the sound system and instantly there would be an atmosphere of celebration and togetherness. It must have been this aspect of it being something magical that is able to lift everyone’s mood and create a special atmosphere that drew me to music. Luckily, over 25 years after first picking up the violin, I still think of music as a powerful connector!
Magdalena: I loved the idea that being a musician could encompass so many different things; you could play in an orchestra or a chamber group, teach, go into academic music and research or perhaps music therapy. There seemed so many possible paths, all of which are so important to our society.
Elitsa: When I was little I used to sing as an alto in different choirs. I remember loving the feeling of singing in harmony with others. Later, in my teens, I joined a string quartet for the first time and I realised that a similar feeling can be experienced when playing chamber music. To this day what I enjoy immensely is being a middle voice and having the opportunity of driving or shaping the music in different ways.
George: My parents are musicians and encouraged us to take up an instrument or two from a young age. Though it wasn’t until I started at the Purcell School, aged 11, surrounded by others with such passion and commitment to honing this craft, that I began to realise the importance of music making in my life, particularly performing chamber music and the buzz you get from going on stage and that reaction from a real, live audience. Perhaps I fell into it, but I can’t imagine any other “normal”!
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead?
Agata: I guess teaching music or curating a music festival would be the most realistic alternatives to performing. In a wild unrealistic dream, I can imagine myself as a set designer for theatre, opera or film productions – this part of the visual arts world has always fascinated me.
Magdalena: I can’t really imagine not being a musician, but I sometimes dream of opening a little bookshop, or perhaps being some sort of exotic plant specialist at Kew Gardens! More seriously though, I did at one time consider going into languages as I love the idea of communication without barriers, much like in music.
Elitsa: I love being around other musicians, so I would probably stay in the same field and do something administrative, perhaps music management. I also like the idea of sitting in the box as a record producer.
George: I’m sure I’d still do something involving my hands – carpenter, bike shop mechanic..
Creatively, how have you coped with the pandemic?
The pandemic has been a very difficult time to navigate. Obviously as performing musicians, all our work ideally requires an audience to turn up and sit for a period of time in the same space. For a chamber group, the more intimate the venue, the better. However, since this has obviously been impossible during this time, we have been encouraged to think outside the box and become more creative. We have all had to adapt and get more familiar with technology for a start! We were very lucky that a number of our previous bookings could be re-invented as live streams or pre-recorded concerts. Of course, we missed the buzz and atmosphere of a live audience, but nevertheless this allowed us to keep sharing our music, and in some cases we were even able to reach a much larger and more far-flung audience than usual.
Has it given you a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture, or even given you the creative space to consider future ideas and programmes?
In some ways, yes, although the practical worries of trying to survive and reschedule things, piece the jigsaw puzzle together for the next few months has taken a lot of energy and time. In 2022 we will celebrate our 10-year anniversary as a quartet and so we have had time to plan some special programmes and events for this. Watch this space!
How worried were/are you that you might need to pursue another career?
It inevitably crosses your mind when everything is being cancelled, and the future looks bleak. Surviving financially weighs heavily on your mind, but we trust in the power of music and that it really is vital to humanity/the importance of what we do. We are staying positive and looking forward to a day when we can play live to lovely audiences as before. I think we will all be in need of live music and human company by then!
What solutions did you turn to/come up with during isolation?
We tried to use this time for planning – researching new programme ideas, recording plans, making a shortlist of players and composers we would love to work with, and generally shaping the future of the group in a way that usually we don’t have much time to do.
Are there anything that you used to take for granted?
So many things! Company, people, live music, being able to be spontaneous to name just a few!
How can music help our post-Covid recovery?
Music will be vital – as a healing power, a reason for people to get together. It’s not just music itself, but the whole experience of going to a concert, being with people, experiencing the same thing at the same time.
Do you think online performances are here to stay?
I think they could be, but in a way that supports live performance. One wonderful benefit of doing online performances has been that they are much more inclusive. People who live either in other countries or too far to travel for the concert, or who are perhaps unwell or less mobile – they can also participate.
What year did you take part in our festival?
We took part in the festival in 2017, but Magda grew up in Cumbria and was a regular on the orchestral course!
How has your ensemble changed since then?
Since 2017 our group has changed a great deal. We became BBC New Generation Artists in 2019 and have been fortunate to develop our career more internationally. Having more and more concerts in the diary has meant that we are able to prioritise the group and devote more time and energy to it. We have also been incorporating research into our approach a lot more and so our playing style has evolved.
What is your best memory from our festival?
Agata: The wonderful festival audience and the stunning surroundings of Windermere!
Magdalena: The warm and positive reception of the wonderful audience.
Elitsa: The lovely acoustic and intimate atmosphere at Carver Church in Windermere.
George: Playing with my favourite colleagues in your wonderfully intimate setting.
What plans do you have for the future?
In 2022 we will celebrate our 10th anniversary as a group and we have a number of anniversary events planned, such as the release of some new recorded material, collaborative concerts and tours. More immediately we have a tour to Japan planned for later this year which we are very much hoping will be able to go ahead, as well as more recordings and appearances through the BBC New Generation Scheme, including a Wigmore Hall recital in June.
What impact did an appearance at our festival have on your career and development as an artist or ensemble?
Playing at the Lake District Summer Music Festival in 2017 was a wonderful experience for us as a young quartet. We really enjoyed performing in this inspiring setting, and to such a knowledgeable and receptive audience. We appreciated the opportunity for a masterclass with Robert Cohen; it is always fascinating to work with such experienced musicians and the session was informative and inspiring. For us, it was also very important to meet people and build our audience in the area.