John Pickford Richards, of the JACK Quartet, recalled his surprise when an enterprising stagehand in Belfast, Northern Ireland, presented him with a swivel stool. ‚ÄúWe played pieces I was really comfortable with,‚ÄĚ Mr. Richards said, ‚Äúso whenever I wanted to contribute a bit more I could just lift my feet up and swivel.‚ÄĚ
The most elegant solution, from a violist‚Äôs point of view, is also the most obvious: switching seats. The cello usually needs to stay at the back, to anchor the ensemble‚Äôs sound. That means that the second violin, usually second from left from the audience‚Äôs perspective, could, as Mr. Richards put it, ‚Äútake one for the team.‚ÄĚ The position is so acoustically ungrateful that Ms. Sirota‚Äôs mixed sextet yMusic places its sole brass player, a trumpeter, there ‚Äúso that it is literally harder to hear him,‚ÄĚ she said.
The Parker Quartet recently made the switch so that its violist, Jessica Bodner, sits to the inside of the first violinist. She said she enjoyed the feeling of forming a bass section with the cellist at the back of the group, and experiencing what she called the ‚Äúconcertante back-and-forth‚ÄĚ between the two violins who face each other.
And, during solos, she no longer has to twist to make herself heard. ‚ÄúWhen I want to make sure something is really clear, I think of sitting especially straight,‚ÄĚ she said.
That sense of taking responsibility for her sound with her full body may be a remnant of her time in the violist‚Äôs traditional acoustical blind spot on the outside. When she was there, Ms. Bodner came to think of the extra physical investment she had to make in solos as not awkward, but an asset. After all, we listen with our eyes, too.
‚ÄúBalance is not always so much about the actual sound you are making, but about what you‚Äôre drawing the audience to,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIf there is a moment of even a slight turnout, it gives that person the conviction of saying, ‚ÄėHere I am.‚Äô‚ÄĚ