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August 5–18, 2024

Our Interview with the Brentano Quartet

The Grammy-award-winning Brentano String Quartet will be performing in St. John’s, NL, at the D.F. Cook Recital Hall on Wednesday, March 13, 2024! Tickets are now on sale on Eventbrite with special pricing for seniors and students.

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim.

“[A] luxuriously warm sound [and] yearning lyricism” – The New York Times

“The Brentanos are a magnificent string quartet…This was wonderful, selfless music-making.” – The Times (London)

The Quartet has performed across five continents in the world’s most prestigious venues, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. In 2014, the group became the Quartet in Residence at the Yale School of Music, departing from their 15-year residency at Princeton University.

We recently sat down with them to talk about their history, inspiration, and advice for aspiring musicians. Here’s the full interview — have a read! 

1. Can you tell us a bit about the formation of Brentano? How did you all come together?

We met in Taos at school and at music festivals, with a shared passion for quartets and a sense that we had a lot of overlap in our musical outlook and a real sense of camaraderie between us. At times, we are frustrated at the lack of a fascinating origin story, but we hope to make up for that by what we can bring to the music we play.

2. How do you approach selecting repertoire for your performances? Do you have any preferred pieces or composers that you particularly enjoy playing?

It’s a messy process, a combination of putting together themed or more focused programs and offering a wide variety of styles and voices. We have to all agree on what we present in the final analysis. We adore playing Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, etc., but also love exploring new pieces, working with composers, and putting together collaborations with other musicians and artists in a variety of disciplines.

3. When it comes to navigating differences in musical interpretation, how do you balance individual expression with maintaining cohesion as a group during rehearsals and performances?

How long do you have? I feel like I spend a good deal of my life exploring the answer to this question. Unlike some groups, we don’t necessarily value blending and unanimity above all else. The work we do is often an oscillation between zooming in and zooming out, and our hope is that rehearsals serve to put a structure for a collective view of the work in place, without ossifying the details along the way. A fully set performance is a dead one. One advantage of having played together for decades is that we are pretty finely attuned to nuances of each other’s sounds. Of course it is possible to fall into being overly reliant on what has worked in the past, so we are aware of being actively on guard against this when we play and work together.

4. What is your practice routine? How often and in what ways do you maintain a practice schedule?

Most days when we aren’t traveling we’ll rehearse for a few hours. When we’re not on the road we try to take weekends off, like normal people!

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring classical musicians?

Be curious about everything! Music you’re playing, yes, but it’s very important and nourishing to know other music by the composers you play, as well as other music, music from different traditions, etc. Then we can get so much inspiration from other arts: painting, sculpture, dance, theater, literature. Not to speak of nature, both the natural world and human nature. So much of what we can say is enlivened by analogy, and the more we pay attention to the world around us, the deeper well of experiences, thoughts, sensations, and feelings we have from which to draw.

6. Finally, are there any upcoming projects or performances you’re particularly excited about?

We pretty much love everything we do! A few upcoming highlights for us involve new works by James MacMillan and Lei Liang, and traversals of the complete set of Haydn Op. 33 quartets and of the Mozart viola quintets.

Don’t miss the Brentano String Quartet live in St. John’s. Get your tickets today!

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