A League of Extraordinary Violinists (Part III): Mathias Tacke

For our first concert on the upcoming Ear Taxi Festival, we've been working feverishly on brand-new commissions from George Lewis, Tomeka Reid, and Samuel Adams with none other than Mathias Tacke. Mathias has been a coach of ours since the early days of Spektral, and his years as violinist with the (hometown heroes) Vermeer Quartet and Ensemble Modern have presented us with tremendous insights into repertoire new and old. He's also generally pretty quiet...until he comes out swinging with a zinger. It's been a true pleasure to work alongside a mentor, and we certainly threw a ton of music at him for our first foray together.


Doyle Armbrust: Hi Mathias! As one of our coaches in the early life of the quartet, you are a violinist we are particularly excited to be working with this fall. I'm wondering what it feels like to be sitting in with a string quartet after playing for so many years with the Vermeer?

Mathias TackeI am actually more aware of the many years - almost nine - without having a quartet, since the Vermeer retired in 2007.  It feels great to play with you guys - I do miss that life!

DA: Would you say we have more, or less stylish haircuts than your former Vermeer colleagues?

MTHard to say - for fair comparison, I would need to see you without that beret.  But you should never underestimate the percentage of your audience willing to attend your outlandish concerts just to admire your stylish haircuts!

DA: You were telling us in rehearsal the other day about your audition for Vermeer, which given our current violin search, took us by surprise. Can you tell us a little bit about how long and drawn out it was? 

MTThe four of us knew of each other but had not really met before.  On my way back to Germany from Santiago de Chile, I stopped in Maine, where the Vermeer Quartet traditionally spent the summers to learn new repertoire for the next season and to perform at the Bay Chamber Music Festival.  The “audition” was really not that long:  We read four or five different quartets into the afternoon and had a conversation over lunch.  Musically we connected right away, and I guess we all figured that finding out more about each other would take years anyway.

DA: You were also a member of Ensemble Modern. Who was the most interesting (or challenging or hilarious) composer you worked with in the room while in the group?

MTWithout a doubt, György Kurtág.  These were the most interesting, complicated, exhausting and also rewarding rehearsals.  Some of his music is reminiscent of Anton Webern in the sense that there can be a whole drama incapsulated in one note.  Kurtág was always searching and had very precise ideas at the same time, which at times was not without contradiction.

DA: Given all the teaching you do at NIU, I'm curious how new music plays a part, or doesn't, in what your students choose to play.

MTThat depends on the individual student, and learning to play the violin still involves mostly traditional repertoire up to a certain level.  But we do have a New Music Ensemble at NIU, and George Crumb’s “Black Angels” has been performed by students!

DA: On a scale of zero to bananas, how excited were you when Germany won the World Cup in 2014?

MTBananas?  Papaya!

DA: What was the last concert you saw that really moved you? 

MTA recital with one of my favorite musicians, pianist Murray Perahia playing at Pick Staiger about a year ago.

DA: Can you teach me to play an f-natural in tune?

MTOh God, which one?  There are so many!