Walking on stage at Ripon College's Demmer Recital Hall at 3 PM last Friday, Doyle and I were in good spirits. We had just spent the car ride past Milwaukee and Fond du Lac listening to some wild segments of the Walking the Room podcast and a little Buena Vista Social Club.
Having come in a separate car, Russ and Aurelien arrived a bit later and we got down to the business of getting comfortable in the space. While we bring our own stands to our concerts, the chairs were a little unusual. So, we all sat on big wooden piano benches. (A decision I would later regret when my tailbones were nearly bruised by the end of the show.) I love halls with acoustical curtains, and we were afforded that luxury here, being able to pull them at will.
Once we settled into a sound we liked, sampling large sections of Brahms' A minor Quartet, we covered all the standard spots we like to have in mind for Thomas Ades' Arcadiana and Haydn's Op. 77 No. 2. We know these spots because we've played this program several times before. While this is nothing remarkable to ensembles with more mileage than us, having a run of performances on a major and unchanging program has been a revelation for the comfort level it provides.
In fact, we were so ready for that night that we rehearsed for our following evening's show. We still had some sounds to unify in Marcos Balter's intricate Chambers, so while we had a stage to utilize we figured out our articulations in a rhythmic canon and our bow speeds in an infamous section.
I have to say, that night may not have been the most electricity we've ever had coming from an audience, but it's the most limitless I've found myself to be in performance. We took risks that I would've thought ridiculous just weeks before and didn't fall on our faces. We were able to express the big picture in Brahms while reveling in the details and play whisper-quiet in the Ades.
And the next day we played a wonderfully revised and contrapuntally rich piece in front of a most generous Chicago audience without fear. For us (and the audience members I talked to), Chambers is a work that feels 10 minutes long, but lasts 16. There are few greater compliments for a piece than that. The moving parts all fit into place so snugly and the sounds are so vividly colorful that the ear simply follows along without concern for the passage of time.
But, I'm clearly interested in the passing of time. Things are changing in the way I look at performing with each concert the quartet gives. I'm becoming more aware of the constant learning process that I'm a part of and finding new ways to free my mind to be a part of this ensemble we're building to present on stage.
Plus, what better way to learn how to live the performer's life than keeping yourself awake with the killer dubstep of Skrillex while flying down I-94 to get home from rural Wisconsin?