The theme of this week’s Festival Concert on Friday, June 14, centers around large-ensemble chamber works. The program opens aptly with Dixtuor by Jean Françaix, a prolific composer of the 20th century. Dixtour is the French word for the decet—an ensemble of 10 musicians! Françaix’s example masterfully balances a wind quintet against a string quintet. The listening experience is reminiscent of a charming cocktail party, where fascinating conversations and laughter are bubbling out from every corner.
Between their first and second rehearsals of this remarkable work, we sat down with flutist and longtime Festival faculty artist Carol Wincenc and viola Fellow Mark Liu to talk about the process of bringing 10 different instruments together in perfect harmony.
Sarasota Orchestra: Does performing in a decet require a particularly unique approach?
Carol Wincenc: Actually, it's a very fundamental approach, because you’re sans directeur—without conductor—and you have to really rely on your chamber music skills through and through. But the bottom line is that there has to be leadership, ultimately, and everything that you have to cultivate as a chamber music player: listening like a hawk, knowing the score, and lots of rehearsal time!
SO: I understand that this piece is brand new to everyone in the decet, but you began to get it under your fingers in rehearsal this morning. How did that go?
Mark Liu: This is actually the first time that I've played with wind quintet. I've played oboe and flute quartets before, and just last week I played a nonet. String players, you know, we play a lot of trios and string quartets especially. We get in the habit of breathing together to make sure the start of a note is together. There’s just a slight difference when collaborating with wind players, when air comes in to start the sound versus putting hair down on a string. The minor adjustments really make all the difference, I think, and when you have five people on a side, trying to tune into everyone else constantly—yeah, I think it's a nice little challenge.
SO: What does it take to achieve that level of coordination in a decet?
Carol: Again, it's sheer time together, so you can read each other and make suggestions to each other. And I think that you're required to have a blend of authority and vulnerability, a willingness to adapt and try things a lot of different ways.
You really have to know what you're doing, and that just comes from layers and layers of experience. For us, this process is not new. Anybody who gets into this Festival is already quite seasoned, because it's become so competitive. I've been here 35 years, so I have seen it from its grassroots beginning, and now, what it is today—it's thrilling.
SO: Mark, have you been to many festivals in the course of your music career so far?
Mark: This is my first summer here at Sarasota Music Festival. I'd heard of it for years and years from students who came to study with the teachers here, and they always told me, "You have to go at least once." Other than this, I've been to Aspen a few times where I think the focus is more orchestral, and you have more private sessions with a teacher—as opposed to here, where your lessons are working on pieces with other Fellows, sometimes a coach, and then if you're lucky enough, like we are, we actually get to play with two faculty coaches. It's really a hands-on kind of experience, and it’s sort of new for me—but it’s been very nice.
SO: Carol, what’s kept you coming back to Sarasota Music Festival for 35 years?
Carol: For one, I'm a very avid swimmer, so I just can't wait to get out in that Gulf. We used to stay out at Longboat Key Club, and I would just swim up and down that coastline for an hour and a half. I tell you, I have encountered everything in that water: I had a school of squid right in front of my face, and manatee, and all kinds of weird, interesting, big things have brushed against me.
The Festival itself is like a family reunion, and a very special one. I’m so grateful to [Music Director] Jeffrey [Kahane] for having cultivated this element of closeness. We’re all in this together. Age doesn’t matter; we can all learn from each other.
I grew up in a family of string players—the Budapest Quartet was in my living room all the time—and so, having the opportunity to perform a piece like Françaix’s Dixtuor is my dream. I love to play with string players; it’s probably my favorite collaborative work. The friendships here are really gold. Everybody at a festival is going to remember somebody, and you're going to want to collaborate with those people in the future.
Carol Wincenc and Mark Liu, along with cello faculty Desmond Hoebig and seven more Festival Fellows, perform Françaix’s Dixtuor on Friday, June 14, as part of Sarasota Music Festival’s second Festival Concert: Larger Forces. Tickets and Details