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Dane Johansen Dane Johansen | 10:32 UK Time, Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Photo of the Escher Quartet

 

As Radio 3 listeners heard last week, the Escher Quartet’s Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert produced some unexpected drama. Cellist Dane Johansen fills in the background

 

The Escher Quartet's latest trip to the United Kingdom was very exciting, artistically enriching and – as you will discover – quite adventurous! As members of the Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme it has been our privilege to record great repertoire for radio broadcast, both from the studio and in live concert.

Our recent tour of the UK began with a set of Radio 3 NGA studio recording sessions. Our past recordings have taken place at the BBC's Maida Vale studios; for our latest sessions we had the opportunity to record at The Warehouse, Waterloo – a beautiful old warehouse (as the name suggests) that has been very successfully transformed into a space for recording. We began with Brahms's third quartet, in B-flat Major. A very demanding work both musically and technically, the third quartet is lighter in expression than either of Brahms's two earlier quartets and at times is almost classical in style. The music requires a tremendous variety of character and expression and often demands great energy. We were very happy with the results of the sessions and are excited to hear the final cut. The fluorescent lights at The Warehouse were buzzing, so early in the session we decided to record without lights, relying on the ample natural light streaming in through the large windows. As the first day of recording drew on we required a bit more light, so one of the engineers set up a halogen spotlight above the quartet. At one point in the middle of the third movement of the Brahms there was a deafening explosion – we all jumped and certain members screamed with fright! We looked around us to see molten shards of glass all over the floor, thankfully not all over us. The spotlight had exploded (perhaps in reaction to Brahms’s passionate writing) and the sizzling shards had burned into the wood floors. Wu Jie's violin case was slightly burned by the hot glass but in the end no one was hurt and we had a bit of unprecedented excitement in the studio! Our lead violinist Adam suffered a few nose bleeds, but I think it was connected to a bad case of the sniffles he brought with him from New York City, not the exploding light or the intensity of Brahms!

On the second day we worked on Webern's Five Pieces for String Quartet. The expressive demands of this relatively sparse composition were in such stark contrast to those presented by the Brahms. It was as fun as it was challenging to push the limits of all the extended techniques Webern used in these five pieces. In the end we were very happy with the results and we look forward to listening to our version of these pieces on the Radio. We would like to thank producer Emma Bloxham, assistant Philip O’Meara, studio manager Michael Bacon and everyone else from BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists for such a wonderful and exciting experience in the studio!

 

Following the sessions in South London, we rented a car and drove to several towns in the North of England, performing Bartok's Fifth String Quartet and Haydn's ‘Largo’ Quartet, Op. 76 No. 5 in preparation for our Wigmore Hall debut on their Monday Lunchtime Series. Driving on the left side (or according to most English people, the ‘right’ side) of the road was difficult at first, but we soon mastered the finer points of driving in the United Kingdom including spotting the attentions of traffic cameras…

Monday brought our Wigmore Hall debut and we arrived for our sound check excited to get to know the beautiful and historically rich hall. Adam’s nose bleed began flaring up again, and after a very energetic performance of the first movement of Bartok's fifth quartet he was sniffling with abandon, and it became clear that we could not continue with a bloody first violinist (or, for that matter, first violin). So – live on air – Adam left the stage to sort out his nasal affliction and after an awkward time sitting on stage we joined him. After a great deal of presenter improvisation by Fiona Talkington and some music to fill the time coming from Broadcasting House, we all resumed the stage and Adam heroically continued with tissues crammed up his nose. We were obliged to stop between movements so that Adam could replace a blood soaked tissue with a fresh one. In spite of all the drama we were quite satisfied with our performance and the audience was very enthusiastic and applauded us generously. We owe a debt of gratitude to the kind staff at Wigmore Hall and to our friends at Radio 3 for helping us to overcome a not-so-minor bump in the road! Hopefully things will be less dramatic when we return to Wigmore Hall in October.

 

 

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