Classical Enthusiasts Quiz the
Maggini Quartet on British Music, Tour Experiences, and How They Met
Ask the Artist
Michal Kasnowski Answers Questions from Curious Fans
The Grammy-nominated Maggini Quartet. Click here to see more
about Naxos' Grammy nominations.
questions for virtuoso pianist KONSTANTIN SCHERBAKOV
month's release of Rachmaninov's Second and Third Piano Concertos
(available in DVD-A and SACD), followed by Tchaikovsky concertos
in May, Konstantin Scherbakov's endless repertoire
accomplishments continue to amaze.
Send your questions to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.
did the members of the quartet meet?
A. It's all been a big mistake! That's what we say! Can you
the second violin and I were at a special Music School together when we
were 14 years old and I was told that I could not play chamber
with him as he would be a bad influence on me? Well, in that
they were right – but special music schools are not above making
mistakes! David and I had also been fellow students at the
Academy of Music, London, but I had gone into orchestral playing
some years, while David had founded a quartet. Martin, also a
at the RAM after having improved his mind by taking a music degree at
Cambridge University, joined David's quartet in 1983 with me joining a
month later. When the leader left we formed the Maggini Quartet in June
1988. Laurence is the baby of the group – he joined in 1993!
Q. What new works will you be
adding to your repertoire this year?
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets 4 and 5, Sir Malcolm
Quartet 1, Rawsthorne 3, Tchaikovsky 2, Beethoven
59/2, Haydn 71/2,
76/1, Schubert G Major.
Q. Can you update us on the
progress of your collaboration with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to record
the "Naxos Quartets"?
He has written quartets 1, 2, and 3, which we have performed. 1 and 2
have recorded already, with Max at the recording sessions. World
premiere of 4 is this Summer in Norway with the premier of 5 at the
Wigmore Hall in the Autumn. We could not have asked for a more
stimulating and satisfying composer to work with as well as a charming
man. Max has challenged us on every conceivable front as
thoroughly amused and entertained us to boot!
Q. How can I get the Maggini Quartet to
come play in my part of the world?
A. You must have missed the nine tours we did . . . in 1991 –
1998! Although a facet of our lives, touring is
not always popular with families. There was a tour to Japan
Kong a few years ago when I only managed to see my wife one day in six
weeks in Nagasaki, and she was away from our children three weeks and
two! (She is also a professional cellist).
Q. What are your worst
experiences of going on tour?
A. For me, I had a wonderful moment about 14 years ago in West Wales in
hall of a seaside town. During the rehearsal break the delightful
who was looking after us brought me a welcome cup of tea and to make
with me she said, 'Tell me, are you thinking of studying the cello and
up professionally?' I was so delighted to be the victim of such a
comment that I
only chuckled and said that 'my colleagues in the Quartet were always
would do some practice and take the cello up professionally.'
Q. My favourite performances of yours have to be the much-under
appreciated but serenely beautiful chamber works by Vaughan-Williams
and Bax, and I thank you for these and other endeavours. What
would you consider contributed most to your success as musicians?
A. We take a very fundamental approach to learning and performing music
in the MSQ [Maggini String Quartet] stemming from our teachers and our
experience. By that
I mean we go back to original sources as much as possible and work on
new pieces with no regard to how others have played them, unless we
already have had a big reaction to another group's interpretation –
amongst others, the Griller Quartet, Amadeus Quartet or Borodin Quartet
(with Kopelman). This approach is often laborious and frequently
requires reinventing the wheel, but it does mean that we feel we are
not applying a veneer of an accepted 'style' to a piece. This is
particularly important in Haydn and Beethoven, as well as important in
negating the ridiculous and ignorant image of English 20th Century
Chamber Music as rambling and pastoral!
Some of the big musical influences in our life come from the musicians
George Hadjinikos, Peter Norris and Simon Rattle - all who have
insisted that we treasure the absolute supremacy of the score and seek
to play what the composer has written and not a nice adaptation of what
he should have written had he had the benefit of our (the MSQ)
advice! It is so important to work with living composers as a
musician because then one can ask them if they did really mean what
they wrote: the answer is nearly always yes!
Reconcile that with, for example, the tempo mostly taken by quartets
for the slow movement of the Debussy Quartet which is so much slower
than what Debussy asks – it is undeniably very pleasant like that
but then there is no possibility of going only a little faster for the
middle section – it has to be much faster (not what Debussy marks) –
and the slow down has to be more extreme (also not what Debussy marks).
It is so important for a musician to play and work every piece as if it
is the best masterpiece he has ever come across. Only then does
he realise the musical potential, and the moment he starts to
music as second or third best then he is diminishing his
interpretation. So many times I have heard a great artist play a
piece in which I had little interest in such a way that I was
compelled to think it was a masterpiece and to realise what beauties I
had failed to find in it.
Q. I prefer listening to
quartets where all four instruments share equally in the musical
instead of works that are only show-pieces for the first violin.
Which composers write quartets this way and who is your favourite among
A. Hmm. In the world as seen by the MSQ, not many quartets are
written like that – certainly few in the standard repertoire – examples
being Spohr and Paganini. If a quartet playing the standard
repertoire sounds like a violin solo with accompaniment then many
questions need to be asked about that quartet's playing - internal
balance, interpretation and dominance of personalities.
Interestingly, given that so many viola parts of quartets are so
beautiful, displaying the abundance of composers who played that
instrument, how often one can listen to an orchestral piece and be
entirely unaware of the beautiful viola part in the balance, only
hearing top and bottom of the strings. All the great composers
wrote equally good viola parts in their orchestral pieces as they did
in their quartets but one rarely hears them!
Q. Have you considered recording
the chamber works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rozsa?
A. Not on our agenda at present. Our recording contracts with
Naxos/Select are for 20th century British music and the Maxwell Davies
'Naxos' Quartets. We have hugely enjoyed learning and recording English
music, but we have only one life and have not learnt and played as much
Haydn, Shostakovitch, Bartok, Kodaly, Dvorak etc. as we would like to
have done. When we have done that then I am sure we would want
to. Although we are very privileged and happy to champion English
quartet music, our musical life springs from the standard quartet
masterpieces – particularly Haydn.
Q. Thanks for this opportunity.
I consider you one of the greatest quartets nowadays and believe a good deal
of the repertoire you're recording now is getting its first run through a
world-class ensemble. I'm interested to know what you think is the reason for the
relative neglect given to
Music. You've done the String Quartet and the Quintet well enough to make them
sound to my ears as masterpieces (though, being clear my admiration for you, in
the Piacevole of the quartet I would've preferred a little more balance in the
climax at the middle of the movement); however, could those works become
"standard repertoire" some day?
A. Many thanks for the kind words – we don't normally meet our CD
audience so it is welcome feedback. In the UK the Elgar Quartet
does not appear to
suffer from neglect and the Piano Quintet is played frequently.
Elgar is less well known, and when I was in the French cellist Andre
Navarra's cello class
in Germany in the, er........... 1970s, the 'foreign' students often
playing the Elgar cello concerto as a penal sentence! (Navarra
the piece into his repertoire on the insistence of Sir John
Barberolli.) We have no
doubt that the quintet is standard repertoire in the UK now, and can
only hope that it
will become so in other countries. As for the quartet – I think
it will be harder for it to become standard repertoire as it is less
robust to indifferent performance, becoming rambling and unfocused
through the very many
tempo changes not being well enough controlled, and even more
introduced as musical!
Q. Are you going to record the
A. We would love to – and the piano quintet and piano quartet which we
have performed – but the problems are these. Just like the
Octet and the Schubert Octet, the costs spiral for a concert society
with this number
of players in the concert, and offered performances are few if not
entirely absent for works over five players in the UK. Unlike
support by the state for classical music is very low and music clubs
may have a grant
of less than $500 for a season of concerts, so an octet that might not
hall and will be the most expensive concert of the season is not
We are also very reluctant to record a piece which we have not played
enough in public. Concerts are not just an opportunity to play the
an audience but they are the end of a process of spending time with a
rehearsal and personal practice. If one has ten performances,
they will be
spread over some months, and one's view of the work matures enormously
period. No quartet is able to justify too much rehearsal and
personal practice time on one
piece if it is played a couple of times only. (Bills have to be
Q. Which quartets in the
repertoire do you feel are overrated? Conversely, are there any
masterpieces in the quartet literature that are practically never
A. We just don't think about repertoire in the way you suggest.
still very much kids in a sweet factory (and behave like them!); all
sweets are acceptable – though some are better than others! I am
more going to compare 'The Lord of the Rings' with the Narnia
Chronicles by C.S. Lewis – they make different points in different
worlds – and are both accepted classics, but I am still going to get
sick on over indulging in both of them. The same argument
when Mozart is preferred over Haydn or the other way. The two
composers are saying different things! Bartok said that
was for racehorses!
There is the example of the revered musicologist Hans Keller who, in
his book The Great Haydn Quartet,
refuses to include Haydn Op 33/4 as
he thinks it 'not only evinces textural shortcomings, but its melodic
invention is often surprisingly unoriginal, at times downright
conventional.' Thus a reader might be put off a work with a
beautiful slow movement (as repeatedly acclaimed by audiences
worldwide), a comically funny last movement which never fails to
provoke laughter from audiences (a quintessentially Haydn trait) and a
first movement of typically Haydnesque delight in irregularity,
denial of the expected and slapstick! Great Haydn to those who
As to your second question – the English Music that we are recording
particularly neglected - Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Vaughan Williams,
Arthur Bliss, EJ Moeran. They were played intermittently
early 1970s when a change of regime at the BBC Radio 3, which was the
dominant engine for British Music, moved audiences towards the second
Viennese school to the neglect of the home grown masters.
The result was that few professional musicians or their audiences knew
the music of these composers, and when they were performed, mostly on
little rehearsal, the language was not understood and the performance
wallowed in a muddy pleasant soup giving the whole genre a bad
few of our friends who were fine musicians spoke so highly of these
composers that we stored away the information, and when we recorded the
Moeran and Frank Bridge early CDs it came as a total delight to find
just how good the music was outside the F. Bridge we already
knew no Moeran, Bax, Bliss, Frank Bridge, or Vaughan Williams quartets
when we started this project, and we are not musicians who are hermits
– it was a good indication of their neglect. It is tragic when
find that you are playing possibly the 3rd ever performance of the Bax
Lyrical Interlude and performances of Bax quartets which at that time
still had not reached two figures.
However we joke that the current revival of these composers' music in
the UK is only because audiences are so thankful that we are not
playing something even worse (i.e. more contemporary)!
What's your question for Konstantin
Born in Barnaul,
Russia, Konstantin Scherbakov made his debut with the Philharmonic
the age of 11 performing Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1. Soon after he
Moscow to continue his musical education at the Moscow Tchaikovsky
Conservatoire with the legendary
professor Lev Naumov (whose assistant he later became). After winning
of prizes at prestigious international competitions (Montreal, Bolzano,
Zurich), he has performed with all the leading orchestras of the former
Union and played recitals in more than 100 cities in his native
Since 1992 Konstantin
Scherbakov has lived with his family in Switzerland. His concert
includes participation in major
festivals (Frankfurt, Bregenz, Bodensee, Luzern, Klavier-Festival Ruhr,
Schubertiade Feldkirch among others), Radio and TV broadcasts (ARD, SF,
France, DRS 2, BBC) as well as recitals, orchestral performances and
over the world. Specializing in virtuoso repertoire, much of it
previously considered unplayable, Scherbakov has been called a "modern
Rachmaninov" and has gained international acclaim for his performances
of Liszt's transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies.
Send your questions for
Konstantin Scherbakov to email@example.com, or fill out the form below.