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Maggini Quartet 
Ask the Artist 
Classical Enthusiasts Quiz the Maggini Quartet on British Music, Tour Experiences, and How They Met
Cellist Michal Kasnowski Answers Questions from Curious Fans


Maggini Quartet
The Grammy-nominated Maggini Quartet.  Click here to see more about Naxos' Grammy nominations.

Next month:
Send your questions for virtuoso pianist KONSTANTIN SCHERBAKOV
With next 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 editor@naxos.com, or fill out the form at the bottom of this page.
Q. How did the members of the quartet meet?
-C.N.
USA

A. It's all been a big mistake!  That's what we say! Can you believe that 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 music with him as he would be a bad influence on me?  Well, in that respect they were right – but special music schools are not above making mistakes!   David and I had also been fellow students at the Royal Academy of Music, London, but I had gone into orchestral playing for some years, while David had founded a quartet.  Martin, also a student 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?
-Anonymous
 
A. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets 4 and 5, Sir Malcolm Arnold 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"?
-P.A.

A. He has written quartets 1, 2, and 3, which we have performed. 1 and 2 we 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 musicians and thoroughly amused and entertained us to boot!

Q. How can I get the Maggini Quartet to come play in my part of the world?
-I.J.
Mozambique

A. You must have missed the nine tours we did . . . in 1991 – 1998!  Although a facet of our lives, touring is also not always popular with families.   There was a tour to Japan and Hong 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 me two!  (She is also a professional cellist).

Q. What are your worst experiences of going on tour?
-J.C.

A. For me, I had a wonderful moment about 14 years ago in West Wales in the tiny hall of a seaside town.  During the rehearsal break the delightful elderly lady who was looking after us brought me a welcome cup of tea and to make conversation with me she said, 'Tell me, are you thinking of studying the cello and taking it 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 hoping I 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?
-M.H.

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 – e.g., 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 categorise 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 dialogue instead of works that are only show-pieces for the first violin.  Which composers write quartets this way and who is your favourite among them?
-D.S.
USA

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?
-P.H.

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 Elgar's Chamber 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.A.B.
Acapulco, Mexico

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.  In Europe 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 regarded playing the Elgar cello concerto as a penal sentence!  (Navarra had brought 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 that 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 indulgence being introduced as musical!

Q. Are you going to record the Bax nonet?
-J.C.

A. We would love to – and the piano quintet and piano quartet which we have performed – but the problems are these.  Just like the Mendelssohn 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 actually entirely absent for works over five players in the UK.  Unlike mainland Europe, 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 pack the hall and will be the most expensive concert of the season is not on. 

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 piece before an audience but they are the end of a process of spending time with a piece in 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 in that 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 paid)!


Q. Which quartets in the standard repertoire do you feel are overrated?  Conversely, are there any masterpieces in the quartet literature that are practically never played?
-R.W.

A. We just don't think about repertoire in the way you suggest.  We are still very much kids in a sweet factory (and behave like them!); all sweets are acceptable – though some are better than others!  I am no 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 prevails when Mozart is preferred over Haydn or the other way.  The two composers are saying different things!  Bartok said that competition 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 serenely 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, the denial of the expected and slapstick!  Great Haydn to those who can recreate it!

As to your second question – the English Music that we are recording that is particularly neglected - Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss, EJ Moeran.   They were played intermittently until the 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 name.  A 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).  We 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 you 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 Scherbakov?

Born in Barnaul, Russia, Konstantin Scherbakov made his debut with the Philharmonic orchestra at the age of 11 performing Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1. Soon after he moved to Moscow to continue his musical education at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire with the legendary professor Lev Naumov (whose assistant he later became). After winning an array of prizes at prestigious international competitions (Montreal, Bolzano, Rome, Zurich), he has performed with all the leading orchestras of the former Soviet Union and played recitals in more than 100 cities in his native country.

Since 1992 Konstantin Scherbakov has lived with his family in Switzerland. His concert activity includes participation in major festivals (Frankfurt, Bregenz, Bodensee, Luzern, Klavier-Festival Ruhr, Schubertiade Feldkirch among others), Radio and TV broadcasts (ARD, SF, Radio France, DRS 2, BBC) as well as recitals, orchestral performances and tours all 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 editor@naxos.com, or fill out the form below.


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