San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet comes to New York regularly to perform at Baruch Performing Arts Center. The ensemble brings two all-Mozart programs to BPAC on May 3 and 5, 2017.
We sat down the cellist Sandy Wilson, co-founder of ASQ, to learn more about the group and their repertoire.
Q. Your ensemble has been in existence for over 30 years, with most of the original members. To what do you owe your longevity?
A. We’ve never shied away from an animated discussion (fight) when the music or the situation called for it. All the members of the quartet have brothers, (some even had sisters) so the idea of sticking up for something you wanted was a practiced art. It took us a couple of years to learn the difference between what the music needed and where the egos got in the way but the Quartet and we have survived. All are the stronger for it.
Q. Alexander String Quartet is one of a number of spectacular chamber groups. What distinguishes your programs, repertoire, sound and interpretation?
A. The ASQ is equally committed to contemporary (including commissions) modern and classical repertoire and we prefer though do not insist on mixing it all up in thematically connected programs, rather than all contemporary or all romantic. An exception would be when we have to possibility of presenting the canons of a composer’s output in which case, we have learnt so much from presenting works in chronological sequence. We feel that audiences can profit from the same perspective, hearing and perceiving the composer’s catalogue as a sequential journal - affording tremendous insights into their existential reality, constraints yielding to their compositional process.
Q. What is your approach or philosophy to playing Mozart? Some of these works are very familiar and are performed often - how do you maintain a fresh approach to these pieces that are familiar and so often played?
A. They represent some of the most difficult and therefore high maintenance repertoire that we play. There are so many ways to get it wrong and it takes enormous effort to refine and simplify the music so that we can get out of the way and let Mozart shine through. They never seem completely familiar and there is always a surprise concealed somewhere, even after 35+ years of trying to master them.
Q. You are performing the "Prussian" quartets over these two concerts. Tell us more about this set of Mozart's compositions.
A. Nowhere is the disconnect between a composer’s real life dilemma, tragic at this late point in Mozart’s too short life and sublime elegance and pathos evidenced in the actual music more evident. That he was suffering so much in pure human terms, an agony of circumstances, some within but most beyond his control and trying to conceal such hardship from his wife and family, one can be overcome with compassion, and admiration for his sublime compositional gift, not to mention his determination to prevail against all odds. Although the music hints at it broadly if you pay attention, even without that insight it remains miraculously radiant.
Q. Tell me about collaborating with the pianist Joyce Yang. How did you decide to work together, and what accommodations do you each make when joining forces in a performance?
A. Collaborating with Joyce requires no accommodations other than a very secure seat belt. We all revel in each others’ inventiveness, unbridled artistry and instinctual creativity - all within the best parameters of good taste. We love playing together and look forward to it with impatience. It’s a wild ride for everyone involved, not lest the audience.