Artist Interview: Scott St. John

By Patrick Burke on November 11, 2013

Decorated violinist Scott St. John (left) has been associated with the Marlboro Music Festival since 1987. As the violinist with the St. Lawrence Quartet (SLSQ), Mr. St. John toured extensively, playing over 100 concerts worldwide every year. This fall Mr. St. John will step away from the SLSQ and start a new chapter in his life. I sat down with Scott earlier this month to discuss his November 26th appearance with Musicians from Marlboro, his memories from Vermont and what the future has in store.

Patrick Burke:  You have been associated for many years with the Marlboro Music Festival. Could you touch on what Marlboro means to you and how the experience has shaped you as an artist?

Scott St. John:  Marlboro was a life-changing experience when I first attended as a youngster. The chance to collaborate intensively with great artists like Felix Galimir and Rudolf Serkin was amazing, but I also enjoyed the down-to-earth nature of Marlboro's Vermont character. Where else can you go from lofty discussions of Brahms to swinging your partner at the square dance?

PB:  Do you remember your first Musicians from Marlboro tour? What was the experience like, and how is it different now, with you being the senior artist?

SSJ:   My very first Musicians from Marlboro tour was an unusual trip to Alexander Schneider's home area in southern France, with Felix Galimir as the senior artist. Being on the road lets you see a whole new side of people you respect and admire, and I especially enjoyed hearing Felix speak French in his own distinctive style! Regarding more recent tours, I'm a firm believer in the Marlboro philosophy of peer-inspired music making. Being a "senior" artist just means that I can influence how much dress rehearsal we need. Otherwise we're all in it together.

PB:  For this Marlboro concert, the program is quite varied. As I understand it, two of the works were rehearsed extensively at Marlboro in 2011:  the Fauré D Minor Piano Trio and the Adès Arcadiana - each for five weeks and over 45 hours. Our audience is most likely less familiar with the Adès. Can you provide a little background on this work and also, if you could, touch on how having five weeks in Vermont to rehearse these pieces is so unique and different from other festivals?

SSJ:  Arcadiana by Thomas Adès is one of those works that tells an incredible sound story with many intricate details and rhythms, and requires extensive rehearsal to really feel like you're "in the groove" rhythmically. Adès himself describes the seven movement titles as "associated with ideas of the idyll, vanishing, vanished or imaginary." Ultimately the piece is a tour de force for string quartet, with nods to older styles but also pushing the technical limits of the instruments with the use of harmonics and double-stops.

PB:  In your bio you say that you enjoy telling the “violin ‘sabbatical’ story.” Would you like to tell it again? And as this fall marks the end of your tenure with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, what will the future hold for you?

SSJ:  These two questions are actually connected, as I have the opinion that every artist needs time to reflect and organize his/her thoughts in order to chart a satisfying path. When I took a "violin sabbatical" 15 years ago it helped me to experience real-world situations more vividly and return to playing in a committed, informed fashion. I'm hoping to take a similar road after leaving the SLSQ:  a year off from playing with more focus on being with my two-year old daughter!

Musicians from Marlboro appear with PCMS on Wednesday, November 26, 2013 at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. For tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on Scott St. John, please visit his website.

For more information on the Marlboro Music Festival, please visit their website.