The Quartet Gerhard, one of the Catalan music groups with the most international recognition, has left Berlin after seven years to return to Catalonia, where they formed 10 years ago. Lluís Castán (violin), Judit Bardolet (violin), Miquel Jordà (viola) and Jesús Miralles (cello) celebrated the anniversary in August with a concert at the Palau de la Música, the Barcelona concert hall where this interview took place.
You’ve left Berlin after some years and returned to Catalonia. Why?
(JB) We’d been living there for almost seven years, and we feel it’s been an amazing stage in the quartet’s growth. It’s opened a lot of doors for us internationally and being in Germany has been crucial to us developing a career abroad. Now, however, coinciding with this 10th anniversary, we feel the quartet has reached a point that means the place where you live is no longer so important. And we are Catalans, we love our country and we like being here.
What was the most important thing about being in Berlin all these years?
(LC) Meeting musicians and that feeling of freedom that cities like Berlin provide. We felt like we weren’t really tied to anything, which as a quartet allows you to grow in your own direction. It’s been quite an adventure.
Where is the quartet at now?
(MJ) Numbers always have a symbolism and it’s been 10 years, a really intense 10 years! I don’t know if behind this milestone there’s also a change but we notice the effect of these 10 years on the way we work, in how we approach our repertoires, in how we think about the future. Celebrating any birthday usually gives you perspective.
How was the quartet founded?
(LC) There’s a vocational component because when we were little three of us studied at the same music school, in Vilaseca, and we played together. We’d go to one of our houses and, if need be, spend the whole night playing. Yet, there was always someone missing and Judith began joining in. Straight away there was a special feeling.
How does a quartet usually evolve?
(JM) It’s usually a very complex process, but also a very natural one. You have to spend many hours together, rehearsing, working on technical, emotional and communicative aspects. It’s constant work, which you do with very clear objectives and which allow you to grow day by day. (LC) There are no two quartets that sound the same. Quartets are always very transparent reflections of the artistic personality of their members. Yet, the path forward isn’t easy because while you have your own voice you get a lot of outside input. You need to be able to grow from those inputs but at the same time follow the voice you carry inside.
You’re the same four who started out, which isn’t common in quartets.
(JB) No. The personal part is very powerful in the Quartet Gerhard. Obviously it’s not all fun and games, but there’s a very important personal component that’s reflected in our sound. (LC) Emotionally it’s very intense. I guess that’s the reason why there aren’t many quartets in which the same musicians keep playing together for so many years. You spend five hours rehearsing a day with three people who are always judging you for the good of the group. It’s an ongoing struggle against your ego.
I imagine you also need to be personal and professional at the same time.
(MJ) Yes, we see it as a joint evolution. We’re the same as 10 years ago but with a whole lot of experience. A quartet is all about playing and playing. The live experience is fundamental, because every concert is unique. The audience, the repertoire and the place where you are emotionally are always different, and so is each concert.
Was it easy to find your own sound?
(LC) It’s a very long process. At first you look towards the musicians you admire most but there comes a time when contradictions begin to emerge between what the musicians you admire do, what the teachers tell you, and what you think you should do. (JM) I’m convinced that in our case, part of our sound was there from the start and it had to be shaped. The four of us have motivated each other every day and this has made us grow, but I think our sound already had its own elements from the first week. (JB) Yet, it’s very intuitive and it often takes a long time to find one’s own sound. These things are usually perceived more from the outside.
What’s the model quartet for the Quartet Gerhard?
(LC) The Hagen Quartet [an Austrian quartet founded in 1981]. (JB) We spent three years in Basel studying with Rainer Schmidt, the violinist, and I think that together with Eberhard Feltz in Berlin he’s the teacher who’s made the most impression on us. (JM) Before working with him, we studied this quartet a lot, listening to CDs and watching videos. The Hagen has a very homogeneous sound, but at the same time four very clear voices and very well defined roles. It’s a quartet with personality that takes musical risks.
Many of your ideas are typical of jazz and improvised music.
(JB) Yes, many of our influences come from jazz! (JM) We constantly tell ourselves that we want to feel classical music like some people feel jazz. I’m sure many composers wanted this. They were writing down the notes but they wanted what was finally going to happen with those notes to happen on stage.
Why did you call the quartet after Gerhard?
(LC) In Spain’s 20th-century musical history there was a French compositional tradition that Gerhard was not comfortable with. So he had to go out and find what he wanted. His music expresses things that are true and that come from within. (MJ) Yes, he inspires us because he was someone who went looking for his voice and found it, even if it meant going against the tide. Breaking away from a more impressionistic French tradition at the time and turning to Expressionism was practically a leap into the void.
He died 50 years and there’s still a lot of talk about whether he is performed enough on the country’s stages.
(MJ) I think Gerhard has to be performed well. In fact, the better we play any music, the better. I think it’s more important to interpret Gerhard well than to perform him a lot. I prefer that care be taken with the material and for it to reach the listener’s ears in the best condition. If not, you distort it, which is something for which poor Robert Gerhard is not to blame.
Any projects to highlight?
(JB) In January at the Palau de la Música, we’re planning the premiere of a quartet written by Ramon Humet. (LC) We’re excited because this is the first time a quartet has been written for us in which we’re part of the creative process.