Formed in 1985, the Atlantic String Quartet (ASQ) is a versatile and professional chamber ensemble comprised of the principal string players of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO). In addition to their work with the full orchestra and NSO Sinfonia, the quartet produces its own Recital Series each season, presenting a broad selection of works from the rich quartet and small ensemble repertoires. The ASQ is an integral part of the creative life of the Newfoundland community and is known for its versatility and ability to work with music and musicians from all styles and genres. Having shared the stage with such international classical musicians as Anton Kuerti, André Laplante, and Martin Beaver, and local artists such as jazz artist Duane Andrews and renowned songwriter Ron Hynes, the members of the quartet also teach privately, and coach and conduct other ensembles.
This interview has been edited for length and concision.
Annie Corrigan: ASQ is a professional group. Describe for us how a professional string quartet prepares for a performance like the one you’ll present at Sound Symposium.
Kate Read: The ASQ performs recitals and concerts regularly throughout the year. We often have new music to learn which means we are meeting most weeks to rehearse as well as perform together. This means we get to know each other pretty well! When we approach improvisation we tend to work on the concept together and piece together some kind of plan as to how the piece will unfold structurally. We’ll also be performing works by Andrew Staniland and Raven Chacon. These pieces are both written down, so we can approach them in a more conventional sense, although Raven’s score is full of symbols representing extended techniques. By this I mean bow strokes and left hand techniques that produce sounds on the instruments that you certainly wouldn’t hear in a Mozart symphony.
AC: It makes me proud to see ASQ on this list of performers from across the country and around the world. How does it feel to represent the best of Newfoundland’s classical music scene at an event like this?
KR: Thanks! I feel honoured to be involved with the festival. It’s great to be part of an international event to meet new folks and hear new ideas. It always affirms for me how much creativity exists here in St. John’s, too.
AC: You are a traditional string quartet amongst a slew of improvisers, performance artists, and even a group making sound art with spinning wheels. What would you say all musicians have in common?
KR: A couple of years ago, Delf Hohmann of the Cape St Mary’s series, who invites us to come along every year, asked us to play something “really weird.” So was born our first improvisation together. It felt surprisingly easy to do as a group — classical musicians can often be afraid of performing without music in front of us — and we have continued on since. I honestly feel that it’s not so different from performing, say, a Beethoven string quartet as a group. When playing Beethoven we have to play the notes in front of us, but then the more we listen and react to each other, and allow instinct to kick in, the more it feels like we are creating together. Just as we will have a basic plan for an improvisation, we can only let ourselves go in the moment and see what unfolds.
Atlantic String Quartet At Sound Symposium XIX*
- Concert — Sunday, July 8 at 8:30pm (D. F. Cook Recital Hall, MUN School of Music)
*Times and locations subject to change.