Thursday, 15 November 2018

Twisting for Solos, the Violist Is a Quartet’s Odd Player Out

Twisting for Solos, the Violist Is a Quartet’s Odd Player Out
31 Aug

John Pickford Richards, of the JACK Quartet, recalled his surprise when an enterprising stagehand in Belfast, Northern Ireland, presented him with a swivel stool. “We played pieces I was really comfortable with,” Mr. Richards said, “so whenever I wanted to contribute a bit more I could just lift my feet up and swivel.”

The most elegant solution, from a violist’s point of view, is also the most obvious: switching seats. The cello usually needs to stay at the back, to anchor the ensemble’s sound. That means that the second violin, usually second from left from the audience’s perspective, could, as Mr. Richards put it, “take one for the team.” The position is so acoustically ungrateful that Ms. Sirota’s mixed sextet yMusic places its sole brass player, a trumpeter, there “so that it is literally harder to hear him,” 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 “concertante back-and-forth” between the two violins who face each other.

And, during solos, she no longer has to twist to make herself heard. “When I want to make sure something is really clear, I think of sitting especially straight,” she said.

That sense of taking responsibility for her sound with her full body may be a remnant of her time in the violist’s 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.

“Balance is not always so much about the actual sound you are making, but about what you’re drawing the audience to,” she said. “If there is a moment of even a slight turnout, it gives that person the conviction of saying, ‘Here I am.’”



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