In June 2009 we featured the Aquarelle Quartet as a ‘Rising Star’. Now the ensemble are musicians in residence at the Harrogate Festival and working on their next album. We caught up with half of the foursome – Rory Russell and Michael Baker – to see how the group are getting on.
How do you feel about being the musicians in residence at the Harrogate Festival?
It’s quite an honour. We performed for Harrogate last year for their International Sunday series and we thoroughly enjoyed it so we were delighted when they asked us for a return concert and even more delighted when they asked us if we would like to be musicians in residence! We’re doing a masterclass this year too and in the evening the musicians will have the chance to perform the pieces they’ve worked on, just before our concert. We were all extremely lucky as young guitarists to have inspirational teachers and now we are professional musicians, we feel it is our duty to try and inspire a new generation.
Your last album was released in July 2010: have you got another one in the pipeline?
We have two! They’ll both be on Chandos: one will be a CD of film theme tunes arranged for guitar quartet, and the second, a CD of Spanish music. Making the albums has been a long task. It’s not like we can go to a library and choose an hour’s worth of repertoire and record it. It takes time to decide what we want to record, see if it’s compatible for a guitar quartet, arrange it, trial it, tweak the arrangement and perform it. The whole process of physically developing two CDs worth of repertoire can take a year or maybe even two years. We’ve had some people ask us why it’s taking so long for us to release our new album so now you know it’s not for lack of trying!
How do you go about arranging classical music for guitar quartet?
As we all play standard guitars- there isn’t Guitar I, Guitar II etc like you would have with a String Quartet – we don’t want anyone to be lumbered with just a bass line, so we try and make our arrangements a little more intricate. We also like our arrangements to be visual so when you watch us on stage you can see the themes or motifs passed around the four players. It can be daunting arranging classical music for guitar quartet and we only ever tackle classical works in which we think the guitars add to the work. Next year we’re joining soprano Sally Johnson for a series of concerts of opera arias, in which we shall be playing the orchestral part. Obviously there are some big arias that we would never tackle as we cannot match the sound of an orchestra and we wouldn’t pretend we could.
What do you think makes your guitar quartet unique?
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about what we do is the scope of music that we can cover. In one concert the range of music that you can hear is potentially as varied as you’d ever hear in a classical concert. It might start with a Brandenburg Concerto, followed by a tango from South America, then a piece of Californian Minimalism before ending with some Gypsy Jazz from France. We’re not tied to one style, which gives us a great freedom to reach a larger audience. Perhaps that’s the selling point of our group: we can bring in new audiences to classical music and hopefully, entertain them along the way.
Interview by Annie Reece
The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet are musicians in residence at this year’s Harrogate Summer Festival. They will be conducting a masterclass and performing a recital on 9th July, before playing with special guests on 16th July. www.harrogate-festival.org.uk