We played through the entire quartet (also a surprise) and then the first violinist and violist of the Japan String Quartet preceded to give us various bits of advice and feedback for the remaining 40 minutes. I listened; of course I listened. There was very little else for me to do. In a different setting perhaps I would have asked questions, explained my perception of the performance, or why we had decided to play things a certain way. But in this situation, I listened and tried to squeeze as much meaning from my ears as possible. Throughout, Chihiro graciously gave me a heads up as to where we were to start, or other hints, but for the most part I gleaned more information from the hand gestures, from the vocalizations without words, from the changes in the playing of my colleagues. Ah, so we're playing the third beats a little longer, more resonance from the karots (an articulation). The answers are there, the words are just guides.
Performing in quartet is one of the most exciting things. One has to depend and be dependable. One has to trust and be forgiving, both of oneself and of those with whom one is playing. And to listen. If there could be a religion on this simple virtue I think it is the one I'd like to follow. Listen. Good string quartet playing is one of the ultimate tests in listening. It is always possible to more fully sing with your colleagues from the inside. And to do so is an act of giving, of trust.
Later in the day, we attended the masterclass of one of the other participating quartets and a different type of challenge presented itself. To the degree that one can do all the incredible and impossible things that are required in good quartet playing, can one help others do those things, as well? I got to listen to a young but talented group play the entire Op. 95 by Beethoven, and as I listened to them play the difficult passages and challenges that I remember struggling with in past quartets, I tried to imagine how I might begin the lesson. What was really important at this point? What words or ideas might I share with them and in what manner, in order to bring them to whatever place I seem to think is where they should come? Can I trust that intuition?
It's the same kind of listening that I strive to achieve in quartet playing. It is a listening that goes beyond the surface sounds and seeks to understand the person that creates them; and at the same time imagines an alternate, more perfect version which is completely achievable. It is a very satisfying striving. A fulfilling way to live.