Four Sarasota Music Festival violin Fellows, from left to right: Qiaorong Ma, Kenneth Ryu Naito, Camille Poirier-Lachance, and Xinyuan Wang.
This weekend’s Saturday Symphony holds a rare treat for Festival fans as four Fellows team up on the solo violin parts of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in B Minor from L’Estro Armonico (which translates rather poetically to “the harmonic inspiration”). We were lucky enough to gather all four of them together to chat about festival life, as well as the particular challenges and sheer fun coming up for them in Saturday’s concert.
SO: After three days in, what would you say is the best part of Sarasota Music Festival so far?
Kenneth: The faculty here have been incredibly supportive and very encouraging. I'm very appreciative of Martin Beaver, Ani Kavafian, and all the other faculty for their wonderful support.
Qiaorong: I love the environment here. People are supportive and friendly. I've been to other places where people are very competitive, kind of looking down on others and each other—but here, it's like we improve as one group together.
Camille: I also think the atmosphere at Sarasota Music Festival is very welcoming. Even the nice woman who drove me from the airport—I needed a phone plan for my stay here, and she was kind enough to bring me to the store. Obviously, the faculty is incredible, and so is every participant. I've had such a great time so far working with you guys for the Vivaldi and also just in chamber music in general. Yeah, I think it's a really inspiring environment.
SO: How about the toughest parts of Festival life?
Qiaorong: For me, it’s getting over the jet lag.
Kenneth: And it’s not just people who are jet-lagged. In a sense, our instruments are jet-lagged too. New York was quite cold and chilly this past year; here, it's very humid, very warm. My 200-year-old instrument is being a little bit temperamental! Our bow hairs are stretching, pegs are sticking.
Xinyuang: I feel like it's easy to practice too long for all your repertory here. After a lot of chamber and orchestra rehearsals, I myself don't feel tired, but I know my body is tired. I want to practice more, but I have to pace myself.
SO: What’s been your proudest moment of the first three days?
Kenneth: For me, that's yet to come. Based on what we've done the past few days, I think the Vivaldi is going to turn out well, and we have a really good camaraderie between us.
Xinyuang: My chamber music group arrived on Sunday, then we rehearsed once and had coaching on Tuesday. I was just so proud of how quickly we could put it together. We didn't feel super comfortable, but we could still go to the rehearsals and perform for our coach.
Camille: When I got the assignment for the Vivaldi, I was told that there hadn't been a [Saturday Symphony] concert in years with a performance only by Fellows—that is, without a faculty member in the solo part of the piece. So I think we're really lucky to be doing this. Rehearsing it with the orchestra and getting the help of the faculty here was so far my proudest moment.
[At this point in our conversation, Camille had to leave for a rehearsal with her chamber music group, and we turned the subject of discussion to Vivaldi.]
SO: Vivaldi is fundamental to violinists, especially since some of his solo violin works are among the first pieces students “cut their teeth on” to develop technique. Can you tell me about your individual relationships to Vivaldi’s music?
Kenneth: It's really interesting how you can hear a lot of Vivaldi’s background as a violinist influencing his pieces. He was starting to break the boundaries of what was considered possible to play on this instrument.
Qiaorong: The first Vivaldi piece I played was before I actually took violin seriously as my career. Now that I'm getting back to it, I still feel like he's actually quite virtuosic. But now I think Vivaldi is more fun for me to play, I guess because I am able to understand it more than when I was young.
SO: Let’s dig into the Vivaldi work you will perform on the June 8 Saturday Symphony concert: the Concerto Grosso in B Minor from L’estro Armonico.
Xinyuang: This piece is like a puzzle—like, our part isn’t just four violins playing together. At different points I have to connect with the other three violinists individually. I have to know who is before me and who I should connect with at any given moment. If I don’t, it’s easy to fall apart, because it all happens really fast.
Kenneth: You can definitely tell that Vivaldi wrote this for a specific group of people. As soon as one violinist finishes a part, the next violin instantly picks it up—and it goes on, and on, and on. So you can definitely tell that he wrote this piece for a group of people who really knew each other, who could rely on one another in terms of the breathing and counting. I feel like each time we play this piece, we're going to get to know each other a lot more; we're going to discover our tones, our bowings, and how we're each uniquely styled as musicians. Then we try to find a way to all come together and produce something new.
Qiaorong: Kenneth mentioned that all four of us have different characters in terms of how we play the violin, and it's just fun to see how we make small adjustments to make the four of us fit as a group, and how different characters can meld and mix together so well as we rehearse more and more. In the moments where the solo violins all join at the same time, this is so satisfying. I don't know about you guys, but for me, it’s always like, Oh my god—we did it!
Hear Camille, Kenneth, Qiaorong, and Xinyuan perform Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso in B Minor from L'estro Armonico on Saturday, June 8, as part of Sarasota Music Festival’s first Saturday Symphony: Four, Two One. Tickets and Concert Details