Interview with St Lawrence String Quartet – part 3

In 1992, the St Lawrence String Quartet won the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and the ensemble was on its way.

Today, Nutall finds books on music a great deal more interesting than he did all those years ago.

“I think the more excited you are about something, the more apt you are to learn. So the more excited I got about Haydn and quartets, for example, the more I wanted to know – and then I actually started reading the books I was allergic to when I was at school.”

Constanza, who joined the group in 2003, was drawn to the group’s way of working.

“I always felt they had strong musical goals, and a laser-sharp sense of purpose.”

The ensemble’s stability, says violist Lesley Robertson, has a lot to do with its members’ sense of mutual respect, and a willingness to try each other’s ideas.

“Quartet success is predicated on hours and hours of intense work together in a room, then hours and hours travelling together, then hours and hours on stage together. You need a short memory, so that problems don’t bleed through into your personal life,” explains Nutall. “In the natural act of the quartet, you have to be completely committed and slightly psychotic, but then you have to be able to leave that there and be normal outside.”

“The quartet is an unusual beast,” says St John. “It’s a four-person team without a real leader.”

At Stanford, that’s a model which is seen to have interest well beyond the musical world.

“The quartet seems to work without a boss,” agrees Nutall. “That was our connection with the business school. We could share our experience of how to designate authority in a fluid way that allows you to succeed without having a dictator in charge.”

That in turn, explains Robertson, has implications for the entire campus – in fact, for the whole world.

“At a recent campus meeting, they discussed the fact that if you look at the top 10 problems facing humanity in the next 200 years, they’re all problems which must be addressed collaboratively,” she says. “If we can’t produce people who can work in teams, then we’ll be in a tough spot.”

That’s a big job for a small ensemble; but then, the St Lawrence String Quartet has always been ready for a challenge.

© Shirley Apthorp 2011

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