By John Delva
In its third year, the Montreal International
String Quartet Academy (MISQA) unites some of the foremost young string quartets from
around the world to hone their skills through the guidance of experienced
chamber musicians and concert performances. For its director, André J. Roy, the
oral tradition—the sharing of knowledge between teacher and student—is one of the
academy’s main focuses. This is not surprising seeing how many who have met the
viola teacher highlight his affability. With prestigious faculty that includes Gerard
Schultz and Günter Pichler of the Alban Berg Quartet, Michael Tree of the
Guarneri Quartet, Paul Katz of the Cleveland Quartet, as well as the Endellion
String Quartet, participants are not short on mentors. I sat down with Mr. Roy
and discussed the attention the academy has received, and how string quartets
are similar to the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.
LSM: The MISQA has really taken off since
its inception in 2010. How did it come about?
André J. Roy: It's about people coming
together. The Cecilia String Quartet called me and asked if I'd consider being
their coach. I was in touch with one of our great benefactors here, Constance
Pathy, and she helped the Cecilia Quartet join McGill. She was very interested
in founding an academy or something of the sort here in Montreal, but there we
were in April and the professors I was looking for were booked two or three
years in advance—they're big names. I was organizing the academy in May and
June to be ready in August. It was absurd! I had a long conversation with Gerhard
[Schulz], explaining what we wanted to do with the academy and he saw it as a
place to grow and develop the next generation of string quartets. I was very
lucky he accepted to do a few days that first year.
|MISQA Director, André J. Roy|
LSM: The academy's rapid expansion
attests to its increasing success over the years. When did you know you had
AJR: So we did the first academy. The
Cecilia and I went to the Banff competition and, as if from a movie script,
they went on to win first prize. It sparked interest from a lot of people asking,
“Who are these guys in Montreal?”
LSM: What does the academy consider when
selecting its participants?
AJR: Senior groups must be involved in the
international scene, while the junior ones are quartets that will eventually be
selected for international competitions.
LSM: And how do you go about choosing
AJR: You know who's out there, then
you talk to people a year or two in advance. We have [amongst eight professors]
the two violinists from the Alban Berg Quartet and the cellist of the Cleveland
Quartet: monumental quartets and musicians. They have all trained quartets who
have won international competitions and are extremely devoted to teaching.
LSM: What does a typical workshop look
AJR: In the mornings, from 10 a.m. to 1
p.m., we have private coaching sessions. I always try to have two violinists, a
violist and a cellist at least present during that week—if you have someone who
has made a career at being a second violinist, they will know everything in the
repertoire inside out. Then, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., one of the teachers will
give a master class. The rest of the time [participants] practice individually
and with their quartet.
LSM: What goals do the MISQA set for
AJR: I want them to be in contact with
the best practitioners out there. This is very much an oral tradition, which
you can link to Beethoven and Shostakovich who have worked with string
quartets. I also wanted this program to be in the image of Montreal: We always
hear Montreal's a good mix between Europe and North America. I wanted people
from Europe to benefit from what we do here and vice versa.
LSM: What kinds
of challenges do performers encounter in string quartet writing?
AJR: Look at [the] Los Angeles [Kings]
this year: Nobody expected them to do anything because they're a young team,
but with a good coach and group synergy, they were able to win the cup. They
don't have the best players, but they have an amazing team ethic. Same with
string quartets: Each quartet has its own signature sound. There's a lot of
giving involved and it's not about your own sound anymore. Your sound has
to be part of a collective one, and that's the hardest thing to develop.
LSM: Most people are aware of the big name
composers who contributed to the evolution of the string quartet genre, such as
Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Do you think there's a composer of string
quartets out there who isn't given his or her fair due?
AJR: Thomas Adès is an amazing
composer. For the performers, putting it together is a nightmare! Once a
quartet embarks on a career, the chamber music series that will offer them an
opportunity will want to hear Haydn, Bartók, Shostakovich, and so on. Once in a
while they'll accept a modern piece, but not too often. String quartets have a
repertoire they can offer during a given season, so if you're to spend half of
your time learning a new piece—to be really good and keep being in demand—you
have to make sure you'll be able to program it. For me, Adès or Wolfgang Rihm
are not played enough, but they will be in the future when quartets have
learned their repertoire. Every competition has a living composer write a piece,
which is a way of having young quartets learn new music.
The MISQA runs from August 12 to 25.
Labels: classical, classical music, interview, McGill International String Quartet Academy, McGill University, Montreal, String Quartet, strings