EAR Vol 13 No. 9 Jan 1989 copyright 1222w

pg 18, 19, 20


RUSS JENNINGS: How did you develop such a calm rehearsal style? It's almost as if the four of you merge your egos.

DAVID HARRINGTON (violin): I think that evolves out of the music. To me, every voice in a quartet is important. Every note is important. Maybe we learned this from Morton Feldman. Sometimes when you're playing your own notes you can't hear it as well as other people. Sooner or later, in our rehearsals, everybody has something to say about everybody's notes. So our interpretations belong to all of us. It's the collection of thoughts that really makes it happen.

JOAN JEANRENOUD (cello): We really are a democratic unit. It's probably our personalities.

HANK DUTT (viola): We just came off a tour that included Sweden, where we saw Jan Morthenson, a composer we've worked with several times. He came to our concert and made a comment afterward that he thought our quartet was very democratic. He said this from just listening to us. Most quartets in Europe are top heavy and bottom heavy. All you hear are the first violin and the cello. You don't hear the inner voices. He said that with us you hear everybody pretty much equally.


You deal with a lot of pieces that have never been performed before, so you get to play a real creative role.

DH: When we invite a composer into a rehearsal, I think of them as an extension of our thought, and of the music. They bring to us the way the piece was first experienced by someone. The first person to have that experience was the composer, in a certain raw way. They try to communicate it to us. Then we give it back to them and it may not be what they thought it was.

I remember a really wonderful example in Terry Riley's Salome Dances For Peace. There's a section called "Salome Meets Wild Talker." He had thought of that section in a fast tempo, but I couldn't hear it fast at all. The sensuality of the music was so engaging and enticing that I wanted it really slow and deliberate and sexy. When we played it for him the first time, it really threw him. He was thinking of it two or three times as fast as we played it. Slowly, over a span of time, he began to really like the way we did it. We just recorded that quartet and I wanted to know if, in the end, he liked it that way. I asked him about it the other day and he said that in terms of the whole piece, he feels it has to be that way. We didn't really talk him into it; we just did it that way out of our own instinct.

Is working with the composer always a good thing? Has anybody ever had a near heart attack?

DH: Sure, there have been times when a medic had to be called, but in general I think it's always been helpful. That's not to say it hasn't been excruciating every once in a while. But in those instances when it was difficult, we generally worked out something by the beginning of the performances, and the composer's contribution has been really important.

If nothing else, the "tone of voice" and viewpoint of the composer has been significant. I remember an instance where Jon Hassell got very nervous. It happened in one of the rehearsals we did live on KPFA. We were unfair to Jon because that was the first rehearsal we had with him on Pano da Costa. It was a little scary doing that on live radio. Jon tends to be a real private guy. So here he is, with thousands of people listening to his piece, which he's never heard before.

JJ: Also, he's not used to other people playing his music. He usually controls the whole thing himself in the studio.

DH: So if we had it to do over again, we wouldn't do the first rehearsal on the air. There was one moment where he wanted to cut out the opening. I'll never forget it. I didn't want to let him do that, because to me that's one of the best parts.

JS: I think one of the reasons he wanted to cut it out was again the way we were rehearsing at the time, with all the stopping and starting, tuning each note carefully. He probably felt that it didn't work musically, which wasn't the case at all.


DH: ...

Another composer who is interesting to me is Jin Hi Kim, the Korean-born composer who lives in San Francisco. There's a quality in her music that hadn't been in quartet music before. I don't know how to describe it except that probably what she was hearing as a young person in Korea is something we in this country just wouldn't hear. Her environment had a different sound and different color.

JJ: This is so strange in Western music, because it doesn't happen very often when you play something and it's very static. It doesn't have any direction forward; it doesn't have any direction backwards; it's just, you know, there. Growing up the way I did, being taught by Europeans, was a completely different way to look at something.

DH: It's interesting how that experience has been useful in a lot of the music we played since we met her. For instance with Ge Gan-ru, from China, and Somei Satoh, from Japan -- a lot of music that has its heart, or its base, in the East. In a lot of Terry Riley's music too. It's been really helpful to have this new palette of colors.


Sometimes you are criticized for rushing pieces into performances before they are ready, thus depriving the audience of a perfect performance of a piece they may never hear again.

DH: Terry Riley said we're establishing the performance tradition when we do a piece. When I told him that we had probably spent 1,000 hours rehearsing his Salome Dances For Peace [a 2-hour, 15-minute piece], he was shocked. Apparently he's going to have an orchestra piece done later this year, and they're giving him three hours of rehearsal time. He was shocked -- I was appalled. In his scores there's nothing written except the notes themselves. So either he'll have to change his whole approach and write in a lot of dynamics and phrasing, or there's no way the piece can come alive.

JJ: It's more than likely that your fourth or fifth performance of a piece is going to be better than the first. But that's normal, because you learn a lot in performance. You can't be scared of falling on your butt a few times. You have to take a lot of chances. But I think that makes it a lot more exciting for us and for the audience too.

DH: I think the premiere experience is really unique. It's when a piece is coming together for the first time. It's been assembled and it's being presented and maybe the composer is present and that's fresh input. There's always the danger that it might fall apart, but in some cases it might be a wild love affair.