Last night was our first performance of Shostakovich Quartet no. 4. It was a house concert. Before we began the piece, I was slated to speak a little about what we’d found interesting in the music.

What could I say that would do justice to all the fascinating layers we are still discovering?  I’d jotted down a few thoughts before the concert: about the romance and nostalgia that infuses the piece, about the constant shifting between sacred and secular music. But the journey of this quartet is terrain I haven’t fully comprehended yet. Yesterday, as we finished our final rehearsal, I said to my colleagues: “This piece is going to be different every single time we play it.” Our sense of the music’s scope is shifting under our feet as we get to know it better and better.

(Here we are in our dress rehearsal.)

For me, it was a profound experience to execute what we had talked about over all of our many rehearsal hours, with both Aimee and Dominic, and take the audience on this wild ride. Perhaps this is why string quartets rehearse so much — because the repertoire takes hold of you and won’t let you go. We spent hours and hours tinkering with color, timing, pacing, tuning, tempo, dynamics, strokes, moods, feelings, and logistics so that the complete picture of the quartet was clearly painted.

For me, everything happening at the festival is bittersweet. Performing makes me feel unbelievably alive — like falling in love, like a skydiving trip over the Serengeti. And with that feeling comes the hard realization, again and again, that my mom is no longer with me. That’s the part of the Shostakovich that resonates with me: the music, much like my heart, feels trapped between heaven and earth. Gratitude and grief feel like they are centimeters apart. Singing turns very quickly indeed into sobbing. What a responsibility, and what a privilege, to share this quartet twice more here in St. Louis.

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