How to compose a successful quartet

What: Quartet Fest West

When: June 8 to 19. Concerts at 8 p.m. June 10, 13, 14, 16 and 19

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Where: Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria

Tickets: Concert tickets $12 students and $25 general. Full concert passes are $25 students and $65 general.

At the door or UVic ticket centre, 250-721-8480 or


Playing in a string quartet isn’t just about musical technique — it’s about getting along with the other musicians, too.

That’s a lesson violist Joanna Hood might dispense to international string students who will attend workshops at Quartet Fest West at the University of Victoria next week.

As well as Canada, there will be students from the U.S., New Zealand and Brazil.

Certainly, Hood knows a thing or two about what makes a string quartet last. She’s a founding member of the Lafayette String Quartet, which has retained the same lineup for almost 30 years. The foursome, serving as quartet-in-residence at UVic since 1992, will host Quartet Fest West.

As well as Hood, the Lafayette String Quartet includes violinist Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, cellist Pamela Highbaugh Aloni and violinist Sharon Stanis.

“We’re similar, but we’re very different. You have to learn a type of patience and tolerance and acceptance,” Hood said this week from Waterloo, Ont.

She said one key to string-quartet longevity is allowing each musician room for divergent opinions and personalities. “If you can’t do that, then artistic differences become huge. ‘My goals become different from yours’ — those things kind of take over.”

Hood might give students tips on handing out and receiving criticisms within a quartet so feelings aren’t hurt. If conflicts do arise, sometimes it helps to just let the offended person know you’re listening, she said.

“If somebody says something and maybe they’re upset about it, if you repeat it back to them exactly as they said it, they know you understand what they’re saying,” Hood said. Public concerts include a performance by the Lafayette String Quartet Wednesday night with guest pianist Alexander Tselyakov. That event, beginning at 8 p.m., marks the launch of the quartet’s new recording, Motion and Distance.

The disc (featuring Tselyakov) includes a new composition by Kelly-Marie Murphy written for the quartet, In a World of Motion and Distance, as well as Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor.

The Penderecki String Quartet will perform on June 13, while Henk Guittart, formerly of the Schoenberg Quartet, will give a talk (by donation) on June 14.

A gala concert on June 16 features both the Lafayette String Quartet and the Penderecki String Quartet. A full schedule of concerts and public masterclasses (admission to the latter is by donation) is available at

Hood believes Quartet Fest West, with its focus on teaching musicians to play in string quartets, was likely unique in North America when the Lafayette String Quartet started it in 1992. Now there are others, although they’re still rare on the West Coast.

Hood, who plays an English viola made in 1754, is from Seattle. The Lafayette Quartet was founded in Detroit. It will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year by playing the entire cycle of Shostakovich string quartets.

Hood has played in a variety of ensembles, including New York’s Loma Mar Quartet (which once collaborated with Paul McCartney), a 12-piece chamber orchestra in Detroit and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

She prefers the string quartet over any other format.

“It’s a very high-pressure job … [but] you get to interpret the music, you don’t have to go along with a section. You get to shape the music more. And the music that’s written for string quartet is such great repertoire.”

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