Cellist Stephanie Tress of the Solem Quartet answers our Q&A ahead of their performance on 4 July at St Wilfrid’s Church.
Can you briefly introduce us to The Solem Quartet?
The quartet formed at Manchester University and the Royal Northern College of Music in 2011 and is now based in Manchester and London.
Can you introduce us to the programme you’ll be performing in Harrogate?
The Britten Three Divertimenti are one of the first things we ever learnt as a quartet and are really fun. Each movement is short and sweet, with tons of character from start to finish. The Haydn is buoyant and jolly, the last movement in particular which always has us on the edge of our seats! The slow movement in this piece is also impossible not to mention – its particular combination of vulnerability and hopefulness make it really something special.
The Schumann 3rd Quartet is a favourite of ours. Written after a bout of severe depression as a present for his wife, the equally wonderful composer Clara, it reveals a more optimistic, romantic side to Schumann’s personality – although not without its moments of crippling doubt.
Striving towards the sun is a lovely name/motto – is it a fair reflection of your attitude as an ensemble?
Yes, I think so! No matter how long we’ve been playing a particular piece, we never feel that we’ve found the definitive interpretation – there’s always more to discover. In that sense we’re constantly listening and looking for fresh ideas, trying to find something a little bit closer to that ‘perfect’ version we know is unattainable!
Can you explain how you work well together?
We all bring our own ideas to the table in rehearsal and are prepared to have a healthy debate to get to the core of what the music’s really about.
Are there any habits any of you have that drive the rest mad?
Ali is fond of scat-singing, sometimes at considerable volume, which has been known to annoy Steph. For some reason this only seems to encourage Ali.
There seems to be endless research into classical music and its impact on the brain – reducing stress, anxiety etc. do you think it’s a useful antidote to our info-crazed age?
Absolutely – but not just classical music, any music really that engages its listeners in a meaningful way. Watching a live concert enables people to get lost in the moment and become inspired. The best concerts are those where you come out feeling enriched, or wiser, or like you’ve just glimpsed the world you’ve always known from a slightly different angle.
Do you have a favourite piece of music, or composer, if so who/what and why?
We love playing Bartók’s quartets. They’re extremely complex and among the hardest things we’ve played, but they’re also incredibly visceral and performing them requires an intensity of concentration and energy that gives a really good feeling. We recently performed Bartók’s Third Quartet from memory which was enormously exciting!
Some contemporary composers we’re enjoying at the moment are Anna Meredith, Larry Goves, Aaron Parker and John Luther Adams. And of course all the classics – we’ll never get tired of playing Haydn quartets for instance, or any of the great Romantics, like Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
What do you hope to stir in audiences who come to your concert?
I suppose we don’t seek to stir specific feelings – it will be different for everyone and depend on what pieces we’re playing. But we hope to stir something! Someone who has experienced grief might get consolation from something like the slow movement of the Haydn, someone else might get excited by the faster moments; people often experience a feeling of nostalgia even when hearing something from the first time. Hopefully everyone goes away feeling inspired and ultimately uplifted.
Is there one person (could be anyone – a fellow musician, family, actor…) that you’d love to perform for?
Perhaps Haydn, because he’s the man who started it all off! We must get the number of his agent…
What’s the best thing anyone has ever said about your music and playing, or a moment you’re most proud of?
Someone said recently that we’d changed their whole understanding of what music could be (in a good way, we were assured!)
Anything you’d like to add?
Just that we’re very much looking forward to our concert and, as always, will be very happy to chat to anyone afterwards.
Solem String Quartet, Tuesday 4 July, 11am, St Wilfrid’s Church. Book online here.