The NZSQ on Collaborating with Uri Caine

Helene PohlHelene Pohl has been first violinist of the New Zealand String Quartet since 1994. She is also an Artistic Director of the Adam Chamber Music Festival, held every two years in Nelson. In 2014 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for her outstanding services to music in New Zealand.

She has written a blog about their upcoming Uri Caine tour, and talks about the quartet’s process of collaborating with a jazz artist on less traditional concepts:

Rolf (NZSQ cello) and I began by listening to a whole lot of Uri’s pieces. Then we had a Skype session with him late last year to figure out a shape for our shared programme together. The conversation went through a very interesting process: we went round and round with different ideas and, in that mysterious way that new ideas just pop up by some sort of alchemy when talking together, suddenly it occurred to me that a lot of his music is variations on existing music.

Haven’t heard Uri Caine’s take on classical works? Here he is with Mozart:

And variation is also what Beethoven did so much of early in his career – in the salons of Vienna he was famous for soliciting tunes from the audience and then improvising variations on them.  When he wrote down pieces he was always changing things and fiddling with details, until the publisher practically had to tear the manuscript out of his hands and say “Enough!”

If you think about it, that means the written score is actually only one stage away from improvisation – advanced of course – but it does free up the performer to think of it in that way. Bach improvised astonishingly on the organ, Mozart improvised in the aristocratic houses all over Europe… so how about we connect up the programme with the idea of “variation” old and new?

We started building a programme around the Bach Goldberg Variations and Uri’s variations on them – he is famed for these, and his improvisations of Bach.

The quartet then wondered if we should do the same with a set of Beethoven variations for quartet. We gave Uri a list of potentials, and he chose the 4th movement of Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartet, op 74. He’s writing new variations, for quartet and/or piano, to be interspersed between Beethoven’s own variations in the performance.

Here’s a video of the Alban Berg Quartet performing the variations:

We also suggested the Death and the Maiden variations by Schubert. After the quartet has played the variations in the concert, Uri might extemporise on them.  So we’re looking forward to climbing inside the real-time creative process of a contemporary composer who is inspired by some of the greatest minds of the musical past. I’m sure, in the rehearsal process leading up to the tour, as well as in the performances, we will keep changing aspects of the performance – much as we always do, but perhaps more, given that we are performing with the composer.  This will be thrilling and we are sure the whole process will be a source of inspiration for us.

You can book online now for Uri Caine’s ten performances touring the country in March 2016.
All of the details are here:

Uri Caine is presented in Auckland in association with the Auckland Arts Festival; and in Wellington in association with the New Zealand Festival.

Quartet on south coast 09.jpg



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