We had been very excited and a little nervous about playing Mr Keller. We had heard so many great things about this teaching, and had listened to the Keller Quartet recording of Bartok String Quartets. This was also going to be the first time we perform in the Wigmore Hall together as a quartet.
After performing Bartok String Quartet No.3 a couple of weeks earlier, we were looking forward having his input before our next performance of this piece a few weeks later. We had prepared the whole quartet, and were told we would work on certain sections, as there was another quartet also performing this piece, we focused on the end of Part I and II.
We started playing and immediately felt delight at what beautiful looking and sounding hall it is. Mr Keller sat and listened for a while before jumping out of his chair to focus on the extremely difficult pizzicato passage that the cello and viola have in the opening of Part II. These chords are three notes with a fifth at the top and are played in a quick quaver rhythm, as the violist I struggled getting the strings to ring. Keller suggested using my right elbow and to pull further down on the strings before releasing...It worked! I was happy, they rang too! Some of our friends in the audience remarked what a difference it was, and how much clearer they sounded both in the cello and viola line.
Quite soon after this, Keller spent some time demonstrating how the Bulgarian melodies should swing and have a slight emphasis on the first beat of each bar, despite the time signature changing almost every bar. We tried this, and he told us the exaggerate slightly so the effect could be heard. We were tending to go with the melodic line, rather than the rhythm, it certainly has more lively and dance-like character when played this way.
It was truly inspiring to perform for such a wonderful musician, who has had so much experience performing Bartok String Quartets and has worked closely with composers such as Kurtah. We realised more so during this masterclass the importance of the differing rhythms in the Hungarian and Bulgarian themes, even though each part is rhythmically active most of the time, we figured which bits of each rhythm we needed to bring out and which needed to be played less to let other parts come through.
We hope to have another opportunity to play for Mr Keller again in the future.