‘It’s all about team playing’

-Posted on 27.04.2017

Clio Gould, Director of Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists, describes the repertoire for their Wigmore Hall concert on Monday 8th May, and explains the special atmosphere in the group


What will you be performing on the 8th?

We’re going to be playing two wonderful chamber works that lend themselves to being exploded up into bigger forces – Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ in the arrangement by Mahler, and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. Both works are much-loved parts of the repertoire.

Souvenir de Florence is very full-blooded, driven and exciting. From the first moment it’s like jumping on to a moving fairground ride. There’s a wonderful slow movement with exquisite vintage Tchaikovsky tunes, and then a crystalline last movement – lots of tunes to luxuriate in and difficult filigree writing.

The piece is thickly scored because it was originally a sextet, so it has double violas, double cellos and an added bass to round out the texture. It’s a busy piece so we’re going to have to spend time trying to thin out the textures. The tendency with a big work like this is that everyone jumps in with both feet and has a whale of a time revelling in all the sounds, so we’ll have to step back from that, otherwise it becomes overwhelming.

The Schubert is an enormous challenge for any string quartet or ensemble. The piece has earned its ‘best-loved’ status for good reasons. Every movement is a masterpiece: from the drama of the opening statement to its fiendish end, it takes audiences through an epic experience. The slow movement is iconic, and everyone loves it. The last movement is simply enormous and an excellent stamina builder: there are pages and pages of difficulty, requiring extreme control – and then we move into a different key and do it all over again, except it’s even harder.

How do you choose repertoire for the Soloists?

We’re looking to find wonderful works that are both stimulating and useful. This is valuable repertoire because it will always come back into the students’ lives, and it’s a bonus for the musicians to have got under the skin of them. They are sensationally challenging, so there’s a great benefit for having worked on them, developing the stamina and concentration, let alone solving the physical challenges.

How do you work with the players?

We have a team way of working, where no one is a passenger being told what to do and faithfully executing it. It doesn’t work if I do all the talking and everyone is passively receiving it. We are all equal contributors, invested exactly the same way. There are section principals, but that just means they may give leads or set tempos. Everyone asks questions, everyone answers questions, and everybody works together to get the end result. It’s a different process to the normal hierarchical orchestral way of working, where roles are given out and followed obediently and you may not feel able to be an equal participant.

Everyone needs to know the score, to have an intimate knowledge of it. You may get a quicker result having a conductor as the focal point, but players don’t need to have that depth of knowledge. This way maybe be more slow and painstaking, but you end up with people knowing these pieces for life.

Students have often said that being in the Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists has been one of the most fruitful experiences they’ve had, and that they’ve got an immense amount out of it. I can’t take credit for that, though – it’s all to do with the experience of working together and being so invested in the product, giving so much time, energy and effort.

‘It’s all about team playing, and that can be very freeing – it takes the pressure away from worrying about your own playing’

In groups like this there’s a generosity of playing, so that sometimes you have to put yourself and your own playing very low in the pecking order. Instead of the focus being ‘How do I sound in the solo?’, it becomes, ‘How can I make this work for the group?’ It’s all about team playing, and that can be very freeing – it takes the pressure away from worrying about your own playing. You put your head above the water and listen to what’s happening around you. You can pay very little attention to what you’re doing yourself because it sounds lovely, but that’s not the end of the story. The point is whether you giving that note to the cellos, or whether the second violins can understand the rhythm you have. When people start thinking like this, there’s a breakthrough and everyone starts to listen more than concentrating on their playing, which is a great thing. 

What’s it like to perform at Wigmore Hall?

Playing in Wigmore Hall is a delight, both as a string player and as a group – it’s perfect. The sound that comes back at you from the hall is glorious, and it’s a treat to be there. We won’t have a chance to play in the hall before the day of the concert – we’ll just get there on the day and that will be it. But part of the educational process is getting used to the fact that just as pianists get used to turning up and playing whatever piano they’re faced with and making quick adjustments, we have to be able to do that with rooms and acoustics. Luckily, this is a wonderful one, so the changes are only positive when we go from the rehearsal space to the Wigmore Hall. We also have to be able to move from a rehearsal space to a less-good acoustic, but not this time! 


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