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Brahms and the haunted temple: chronicle of an afternoon rehearsal

Brahms op.51 n.2 – 4. Movement

After our (still) incredible victory in Rovereto, only three days later, we already had to perform in Mestre: Brahms and Prokofiev…Ooook let’s get the practice started!

Thanks to the kind concession of the Filarmonica di Rovereto, we received the keys to work in their main office, a spacious room on a roof in the center of the city. We were sincerely happy to enjoy an easier session of practice after all that stress!! We started from Brahms’s Finale Allegro non assai, one of the movements we fear the most. But of course, all the doubts, the mistakes and the uncertainties of the competition began to rise up as soon as we approached Brahmsone again. We had always known that this quartet is really challenging, not only for a relatively new-born quartet like us, but also for hardcore professionals!

Awfully aware of our imperfections during the competition, we soon found ourselves stuck. Questions started to create almost a fog around us: “How else should we practice this?” “Should we do it slower?” “Do we need a metronome again?” “Who is rushing?” “Who is slowing down?” “Where is the score?”

All these questions would sound correct in normal studying circumstances, however at this point of our journey, right after winning a competition and with the concert in Mestre around the corner, they did not feel right. We needed fresher ideas, a clearer image in our head to make the movement flow better. The significant question rose up naturally:

“What do we want to see?”

First obstacle: the first motive, 1st violin vs. viola. “Which approach? Which character?”

Slowly, hilarious plot and characters started to show up in our music! But where were they going and what was going to happen to them?

Stylish Lara Croft and a chubby Indiana Jones are going through hunted ruins. (We couldn’t stop laughing while sketching the course of our romantic, unexpected adventurers!).

The last movement of Brahms’s second quartet is dynamic and rich in contrasts, swinging between the warm sweetness of the second theme and a certain general hysteric desperation: so became the protagonists of our story.

At the beginning an agile explorer is entering an ancient temple, showing off her moves on the snappy notes of the first violin entrance theme. The obstacles on her path are still sporadic and repetitive, much less scary than the ones in the next corridor. Unfortunately, our untrained Indiana, the viola, finds himself in a similar situation but the traps (the accompaniment) are almost faster than him. The two adventurers crush into each other at the end of that corridor and in a sequence of aggressive sforzati and short, hard double stops, they start jumping from one stone to another, interspersed by the hysterical screams of the chubby man. They fall in a descending tunnel and the mystery turns into a romantic occasion, where everyone calms down and the lines in legato get sweeter.

However this doesn’t last long. The hesitation of the two single notes and the silence between them shows the instability of this relationship. The charming atmosphere is replaced by waves of heat that come and go and alternates with a little game of tag and a jiggling dance, mirrored by the syncopation system. The first violin closes this sequence in what seems to be a happy conclusion, but second violin and viola soon remind everyone with two sudden strong forte notes that that was probably just an illusion or an hallucination brought by a poisonous drug coming from one of the traps. The situation is still critic and it will get worse!

Our heroes resume their run on the familiar rondo theme, while the well known musical elements get new shapes, of course nicely mashed and spiced up like no one like Brahms can do! Until the feared Coda comes…

All at once everything slows down under the spell of long legato notes and the two lovers take a breath of relief. Time floats in the air in a sort of translucent fog, all troubles stop for a moment, holding our breaths.

Nevertheless our Lara Croft promptly recalls the thorny situation they are in and the distress comes once more, showing up differently in every instrument: repeated, almost wild high notes of the first violin, wobbly syncopating theme of the bass section, seasoned by some screams on wide intervals of the second violin. At last, all the voices get together and escalate in a loud unisono, the adventurers rush just in time out of the temple entrance, sealed by the rocks of the two last chords.

You can believe us or not, but every time we find a story, an image, a sensation to apply to our music, the sounds come to life and accompany us through an authentic performance, filled with intense emotions.

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