2016 MfE Summer School: Day 2, part 2

Today the strings rehearsed with Owen Cox. Owen, like Sheku Kanneh-Mason, came to Music for Everyone’s Stringwise as a boy. He has played in the CBSO and many other orchestras and chamber groups, and teaches at Chetham’s Music School, Manchester. Owen has been a member of several quartets and brought three players along to the Summer School to perform as a quartet, which they do when time and geography permit. The Cox Quartet.

Owen1The four of them gave an open rehearsal. This was a masterclass in chamber music playing. They discussed their working processes to decide on the interpretation of the music – understanding the composer and background to the piece, considering technique to convey the performance both technically as an ensemble and, most importantly, emotionally. They explained how many quartets prefer just to be together to work intensively on the music rather than to socialise. This group is unusual in that Owen is married to Katie Stillman, violinist, and Joe and Ken Ichinose, viola and cello, are brothers. Their enjoyment in being together was evident. Each player highlighted a passage to discuss from either Haydn’s Quartet in E flat Major – Op.64, No. 6 or Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, Op.80. They played a version of it that was perhaps more legato or more articualated, and asked the audience which they preferred and why.

It was a hugely engaging, unique and fascinating experience, and striking that so many of the techniques used in chamber playing apply across all instruments, including the voice. For example, Ken explained that when all four parts are marked forte, it dconcert1id not mean all instruments strived for the same volume. Rather they had to understand the music vertically and work out which part’s forte should be louder, and which parts should play a less loud forte so that the melody or theme was not drowned out. Listening to each other and understanding the music being key.

Katie has an extensive carreer as a soloist, chamber musician and an orchestral principal. She is a member of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, co-leader of Manchester Camerata and regularly leads the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Joe has established a varied freelance career as a violist, playing regulary at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and period playing with Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. He will be playing in a Prom performance later in the series.

Ken co-founded the Galitzin String Quartet, which toured internationally. He is co-artisitic director of the annual ‘Accord et a Cordes’ cheamber music festival near Montpellier, France. Before joining the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as Associate Principal in 2014, he enjoyed 10 years of freelancing with London orchestras, including the Philharmonia, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and the Royal Opera House.

As the second day of the Summer School came to a close, the Quartet gave a concert performance of the two quartets rehearsed earlier. Their playing took the audience through the story the music conveyed and touched every emotion imaginable, from reflective to sad, to playful and joyous, all enhanced by their huge delight in playing together. It was an enormous privelege to hear the rehearsal and the performence. Both will stay in the memory for a long time.