Interview with Concordia Quartet

L to R – Theophilus Tan, Kim Kyu Ri, Edward Tan, Matthias Östringer

INTERVIEW WITH CONCORDIA QUARTET

The newly-formed professional quartet, Concordia Quartet, play their first concert on 1 Feb 2020 at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre at Funan Mall in a program of Schubert, Beethoven and Haydn. Aileen Tang interviewed them to find out why it takes four to score.

Violin 1 – Edward Tan
Violin 2 – Kim Kyu Ri
Viola – Matthias Östringer
Cello – Theophilus Tan

The Flying Inkpot: Congratulations on your upcoming first concert! First of all, how was this quartet formed? I heard there were auditions? 

Theophilus Tan: Mervin Beng (Chairman of re:Sound Collective) first put forth this idea of forming the quartet. He invited whoever was interested and from there, he did a few trial sessions in his home.

Matthias Östringer: It was an open call within the re:Sound chamber orchestra so any of the re:Sound musicians could apply.

Edward Tan: 12 people applied so it was very hard to match everyone up (for the trials) but it was like what I might call a speed-dating set-up! So it was, try with this group for 20 minutes and then another group for 20 minutes.

TFI: A bit like a round robin then? 

Kim Kyu Ri: Yes!

Ed: The sessions took place between April to July 2019

TFI: Besides playing together in the re:Sound orchestra, had the four of you played together in a chamber setting before?

Kyu Ri: Before this quartet, not at all.

Matthias: Individually, we have of course.

Edward: For me, I’ve done orchestral work with all of them. In fact, most of my friends are surprised I’m doing this. Here and there I’ve done chamber – like playing with the T’ang Quartet – but day to day, week to week, it’s been orchestra.

TFI: What was the greatest challenge in becoming one unit? You are four individual musicians with your own work but now you are also one Concordia Quartet.

Kyu Ri: The different perspectives we have of the music we play, because we’re all trained with different backgrounds. Theo and I are from YST (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music), but he went to Europe for his Masters. Matthias is from Europe, and Edward and I went to the US for further studies. So we were trained in the American style and they were trained in the European style, and that is what I think brought about the differences in perspectives.

TFI: How has this new undertaking had an impact on your existing professional work?

Matthias: For me, I needed to shift some students around. The teaching is of course affected – I may have to cut down and it’s also trying to find different time slots for students.

Theophilus: Before the Quartet, I was playing a lot of projects with orchestras but now the focus is on the Quartet, the rehearsals. But as musicians, we also need to have different kinds of training with different ensembles. 

Edward: Even before this Quartet, my schedule was pretty packed to begin with so I’ve had to move some things around but also scale back. I think Matthias and I have been working the longest so we’ve had a lot of things we had to move around.

TFI: How difficult has it been to make that decision?

Edward: It took a while and yet, I think there were a lot of things that kind of lined up for me personally – through the process of the open call and try-outs. At certain stages, things lined up pretty nicely and I thought I should just continue (with the Quartet).

Matthias: For me, it wasn’t that difficult a decision. For my teaching, I’m my own boss so I can decide what time I need to be free and my teaching at NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) is part-time so that is not really affected. 

Kyu Ri: I wasn’t really working before the Quartet but I was in the middle of my Masters and I decided to take leave from school. 

TFI: That must not have been an easy decision to make.

Kyu Ri: There were a lot of considerations. Ultimately I decided that this was an opportunity that I felt I should give it a go at.

TFI: How do the four of you complement each other – whether it’s personality-wise or musically? 

Kyu Ri: Personality, I think all of us complement each other quite well because none of us stick out. All four of us are generally quite introverted and reserved – which can be a good or bad thing.

TFI: So no fist fights or food fights! So who usually makes the decisions? I would think that one of the drawbacks might be that you’re all working so well together that no one steps up to make a decision. Would that be a problem?

Edward: Yes, sometimes. But I realise we all have pretty strong opinions so I think it’s just once somebody says something, we can discuss it. It’s a really nice experience because I have been in groups where really nobody wants to say anything, and groups where someone says something but they make you feel stupid.

TFI: Is there any truth in the stereotypes of members of a string quartet, like the 1st violinist being the bossy one or the violist being ignored and disregarded?

Kyu Ri: Not in our Quartet!

Matthias: I think the violist is quite important here!

Theophilus: I think it’s a personality thing. It just happens that for our group, we’re very cooperative.

Edward: That’s also kind of how the name came about as well. 

TFI: Oh right! So who actually coined the name, Concordia?

Edward: We threw out a lot of names and one of the ones I threw out was Concordia, which translates to “harmony” and also literally translates to “one heart”. We’re not there yet but that’s what our target is. 

TFI: How receptive do you think Singaporean audiences are towards chamber music, given that some people say it’s stuffy and not that easily accessible?

Edward: I think it all depends on how it’s presented. If it’s presented well, good music is good music. Look at T’ang Quartet for example. For a whole of people, their first experience of chamber music or classical music even was when T’ang Quartet went to their school. I think we just need to know our audience and know our material. I feel that if the perception is that it’s too stuffy, maybe we’re too stuffy!

Matthias: If we present it well, even Haydn can sound fresh. It doesn’t have to sound stuffy. It depends on how we deliver it. It’s not the music itself; it’s the way we present it.

Theophilus: It’s the way that we try to interest them and get them involved. With an orchestra or a large production, it’s bigger and maybe there’s more variety in the number of players and number of instruments. But with a string quartet, there are only four people and it’s very different but this is what we would like to get people interested in.

Kyu Ri: Also, it’s knowing the audience. We would vary our repertoire depending on our audience. If we go to a school outreach, we probably won’t be playing a full programme of Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert, but familiar classics or cross-overs. For our full quartet concert, I guess we can expect our audience to be interested in chamber music and that’s why they come to the concert, so we can then plan more meaty stuff.

TFI: What’s the best thing about playing in string quartets?

Theophilus: I think it’s like a jigsaw puzzle and each of the pieces is very personalised. You also get more discussion (as compared to a bigger group) because there are four people who tell a story.

Kyu Ri: With a smaller group, you have room for more discussion to come to a certain conclusion about what we should do with the music. In an orchestra, there is someone who has the final say and tells you what to do, and it’s just because there isn’t time for 100 musicians to come to one conclusion.

Matthias: In an orchestra, you have to follow someone but in a string quartet, we have to come up with our own decisions and ideas.

Kyu Ri: The challenge I said earlier about different perspectives can also work here. The discussion process is a lot more vibrant.

TFI: Can you share with us what is your personal favourite string quartet?

Matthias: It’s not necessarily what I would like to play first, but if I were to pick one that I would look forward to playing together with them, it’s the Tchaikovsky.

Edward: One of my favourite string quartets is one that we can’t do too soon because re:Sound chamber orchestra is doing it (in January 2020) – Shostakovich 8. There’s just something very raw about that string quartet.

Theophilus: I would say the Smetana quartet. It’s so rich because it paints a very beautiful picture of the composer himself. Of course it’s very personal – some would like the American, some would like Beethoven, but I’m more of an advocate for Romantic style.

Kyu Ri: There is one that I really like – the Ravel string quartet – but Mathias is not a very big fan of French composers! Another one that is not a string quartet but that I would love to play with them and a few other musicians is Strauss’ Metamorphosen. It’s underplayed in Singapore and it’s such a beautiful work. 

Edward: Since we’re not on quartets, I would say the real holy grail of chamber music is the Brahms Piano Quintet. Nothing has even come close to it.

TFI: That’s one of my absolute favourites too! So how is Concordia going to be breaking new ground in Singapore’s classical music scene?

Edward: I think that’s going to come organically and naturally. For us, we’re treading ground which is not exactly new but there’s a lot of dust on it because T’ang Quartet started out many years ago. We’re very different from them and I think after a few concerts, we’ll find our way around. But I don’t think it’s something we can plan.

Kyu Ri: We’re a stem cell – we can go anywhere!

Edward: We’re at that stage! But eventually, it’s continuing what they did and being representatives of chamber music. You don’t get a lot of that in Singapore.

Tickets for Concordia Quartet’s debut are available from Sistic at https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/conquartet0220

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