Three key chamber music concepts from West Dean

For three days last month, three ChamberStudio 2014–15 Mentorship groups secluded themselves in the beautiful surroundings of West Dean College to work with coaches Richard Ireland and David Waterman. Stephanie Tress, cellist of the Solem Quartet, explains three important concepts her group focused on while studying Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartet, Haydn’s op.20 no.4 and Mendelssohn’s F minor Quartet:

Solem Quartet

Solem Quartet at West Dean College

‘The most important thing we learnt from Richard is that we always need to do so much more than we think to make our ideas come across. In our coaching he would get us to go over a single bar again and again until our conception of the sound was what was actually coming out. He encouraged us to study in greater detail the character, voicing and dynamic of every chord, not just a general section. This kind of coaching was really helpful for us, because we can apply it in exactly the same way to anything we learn from now on. By rehearsing in this way we have already started to listen more objectively and to raise our standards to a higher level.’

Richard Ireland

Richard Ireland coaches the Solem Quartet

‘The time and space that a residential course like ChamberStudio at West Dean allowed us meant that we could get truly in-depth about some very specific technical issues. David Waterman, a walking encyclopedia of bow technique, spoke to us a lot during the few days about bow speed, in a couple of particular contexts. One issue that came up repeatedly was the follow-through of a bow stroke on, for instance, a loud three-note chord at the end of a phrase. If the fast motion of our arm is stopped dead at the end of the bow then the sound immediately dies and we lose all the potential resonance of the chord. David compared this to a tennis serve – if the arm doesn’t follow through with the right shape after the racket has hit the ball, then the ball doesn’t make it over the net.

‘We also spoke a lot about how to achieve a crescendo using bow speed rather than bow pressure, and the reasons we might have to do this. In certain passages we found that, in order to show the phrase shape, we were increasing the pressure on the bow and this in fact caused an unwanted change in colour and mood. Increasing the bow speed instead allowed us to keep the overall colour and dynamic of the phrase consistent, while still giving it shape.’


For more of Marc Gascoigne’s photos from the course click here.

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