Notes from North America

16 August 2017 / News

Helene Pohl looks back on the 2017 North American tour

Our annual midwinter tour to Northern summer festivals is an inspiring combination of interacting with musicians and audiences from around the world, connecting with old friends and taking the odd dip in a lake. It varies in length and scope – 2016 was exceptionally long (seven weeks) and included the UK as well as North America – but this year the quartet portion of the tour was a compact two weeks, comprising a performance at Toronto’s famous Music Garden (co-designed by Yo-Yo Ma) and our 14th appearance at one of Canada’s premier arts events, the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ontario. 

We were particularly honoured to be asked to play a significant role in the Festival’s opening concert, which celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday and the achievements of local musicians. Our role was to represent the many international artists who have performed in the Festival over the decades. Highlights included playing with a First Nations fiddle group called “Strings across the Sky” and performances of a virtuoso fiddle arrangement by and with jazz guitarist Graham Campbell, a work by Richard Mascall based on traditional Ojibway musical forms, pieces for clarinet and strings by Vaughan Williams and a Beethoven quartet! Interspersed between our appearances were an astonishing variety of vocal and instrumental numbers performed or written by local musicians. The Festival, now nearly 40 years old, has played a huge part in raising the profile of classical music in this small community and can claim credit for a number of local musicians who were first inspired to play by performances they heard at the Festival. 

The rest of our Festival residency was the usual mix of intense rehearsals and sometimes multiple, often exhilarating, daily performances. We launched our Naxos Brahms Clarinet Quintet CD with a performance of this timeless masterpiece, and were gratified to see stocks selling out immediately!

In early July I also had the pleasure of presenting a violin recital at the Ithaca College Suzuki Institute in New York state. I was lucky to find a musical kindred spirit in locally resident but internationally active Israeli pianist Miri Yampolsky. It’s been a very long time since I performed an entire violin-piano recital – I won’t let it go this long again! - and I found it fascinating how different the musical conversation is between just two people, compared to the family banter of the string quartet. In one sense it’s much easier to achieve a satisfying combination of togetherness and flexible improvisation between two such disparate instruments, and with only two minds at work. Finding that balance in a string quartet is a much more complex process, but the rewards of matching the infinitely malleable string sounds, while maintaining individuality and freedom, are on a totally different plane.  


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