The Heath Quartet is one of the most dynamic and charismatic quartets in the UK and they’re coming to Harrogate on Sunday 12th March.
Oliver Heath, violinist and founder of the Heath Quartet, has had some life-changing experiences of late – a departure in the form of violinist Cerys Jones, who left the group last November, and an arrival in the form of his now five-month baby boy, Rory.
If anything equips him for life’s rollercoasters – music is the one constant.
Oliver grew up with music. His mother is a cello teacher and his two older siblings played instruments.
“So I was keen to get started! I picked the violin because my brother played the piano and my sister the cello, so I had to do something that was my own. From a very early age I remember walking past a shop window and seeing a little violin in it and being very excited by it.”
Asking him about why music is so important, he laughs at the hugeness of the question.
“It’s a universal language,” Oliver said. “I really believe in the transformative effect of music, and art generally. You can go into a concert feeling stressed and hopeless and have an incredible experience and come out feeling you’ve been lifted out of your daily existence.”
Culture, generally, he believes allows us to reflect on society in a fun, personal or provocative way.
“I think that’s absolutely crucial, especially at the moment with things being as they are on the global stage. It’s more valuable than ever to have things that remind us of what it is to be human in a way that is very uniting, and in a way that speaks beyond what’s going on now. It connects us with this human experience which has been going on for centuries. We will play something written 200 years ago, and the beauty of that music stretches across the centuries and still reaches us inside; you feel a connection. I think that is an amazing thing. That sense of being connected to someone who was going about their life 200 years ago. It’s something bigger than just contemporary events – politics or not being able to pay the gas bill – those things that can drag us down.”
Cerys Jones left the quartet citing the demands of a young family. Is that pressure a concern for him as a new dad?
“With any creative endeavour you don’t have a sense of being at work and not being at work – it’s something you commit to in a very whole way, emotionally. It’s not something you turn on and off. So it can be challenging. It’s a work life balance, which is quite a common thing people work at getting right.”
The quartet sounds incredibly busy in the next few years. They won the Gramophone Chamber Award 2016, and are in demand. 2018 will see a couple of world premieres, and a focus on Bartok, a composer they love. Harrogate’s programme features Bartok, Haydn and Mozart.
“I think there are certain composers that speak to us as individuals – where the style of composing suits our style of performing. Bartok is one of them. Haydn is the source of where the whole quartet thing started – he got the ball rolling – so he’s the person you always refer back to. His music is full of warmth and humanity, so always a joy to play.”
The quartet have just announced their new violinist is Sara Wolstenholme. Sara is a multi-award winning violinist who has played as a soloist with the Halle and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and was recently leading the Lapland Chamber Orchestra.
“We know her from when we were all studying in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music,” Oliver said. “We trialled quite a few people and just really enjoyed playing with her. I am always wanting to develop and change and feel like we’re evolving as a group. We’re all adapting, but we’ve been playing together for a while – it is great, it’s a very exciting time for us to have a new start.”
As to that other new start, baby Rory, Oliver says his inheritance track will probably be early Van Morrison, perhaps a reggae compilation, “And he likes French music – Ravel, Debussy …” At five months? “I might have projected that, he might prefer Thomas the Tank Engine!”
The Heath Quartet play Sunday 12 March, 11am at the Old Swan Hotel. To book: www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com or Box Office: 01423 562303.
Harrogate International Festival aims to encourage young people to engage with the arts through their Library of Live programme. A limited number of free tickets for under 16s will be available – must be booked in advance.