Heartstrings: Chiara quartet discovered that playing "by heart" makes for better music

click to enlarge ChiaraQuartet by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
ChiaraQuartet by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

When the Chiara String Quartet plays their music from memory at tonight’s concert in Moscow, it’s not to wow you with their mental prowess.

It just turned out that learning the music in this way became a pathway to something more beautiful and poetic.

“We like to describe it as playing by heart,” said Rebecca Fischer, violinist, in a phone interview.

Playing songs “by heart” means that with the written music out of the picture, the group is better able to connect emotionally with the music and with each other -- and in turn, their audience.

“It really changes the quality of the performance for us,” Fischer said. “It removes this barrier that we sometimes have as musicians between us and our audience.”

She speaks primarily of the unseen barriers, but references the physical ones as well. Because they play by memory, there are no music stands, just four people, sitting on chairs in front of other people sitting on chairs. With nothing else to look at, the group has to look at each other, their instrument or their audience.

The effect is disarming for some, Fischer said, and tends to produce a more intimate, interactive experience that some audience members have described as 3-D. Since the group has been performing together professionally for 17 years, they can tell the audience notices the difference.

The quartet started playing music by heart three or four years ago while in the middle of a recording project of Brahms quartets.

“When we listened to the edit, we felt like there was something missing,” Fischer said.

On a whim, they decided to memorize a portion and see what happened. The recording that came from the process had the spontaneity and creativity that were missing from the first recording.

“It was such a huge difference for us that we decided to memorize those pieces,” Fischer said.

After that, the group slowly added to the number of songs they could do without sheet music in front of them. While that’s standard practice for soloists in the classical music world, Fischer said, it isn’t common for chamber musicians because of the difficulty and complexity of the music. However, the payoff, she said, is worth it.

The group will play a quartet by Schubert, Brahms and contemporary composer Jefferson Friedman, who has written several pieces for the group.

“It’s a program for everyone,” Fischer said. “You can’t get better than that in terms of world-class quartet writing.”


WHAT: Chiara String Quartet

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today

WHERE: University of Idaho Administration Building auditorium, Moscow

COST: $22/general admission, $19/seniors 65 and older, $10/high school and UI students with ID. Family tickets available on request. The purchase of a general admission ticket allows one free youth ticket (ages 6-12). Tickets are available at 7 p.m. at the door.

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