Artist Interview: Christopher Costanza of the St. Lawrence Quartet

By jwoods on November 15, 2011

For our third artist interview of the season, cellist Christopher Constanza of the St. Lawrence Quartet was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions about his upcoming program at the American Philosophical Society. Here are his answers. I hope they help to illuminate the artist behind the music, and that learning a bit more about this program inspires you to attend their December 2nd concert at the Kimmel Center.

St. Lawrence Quartet (Christopher Costanza, right)

Juliet Woods:  How did this program come together?  Why did you choose these particular pieces? 

Christopher Costanza:  Programs come together as a result of a number of factors: the repertoire the quartet is performing and offering in a given season; proposed programs the quartet offers, made up of combinations of pieces from the season's master repertoire list; and requests from the concert presenter. In this case, a conversation between PCMS and the St. Lawrence String Quartet's manager (who always discusses and confirms program choices with us) resulted in our December 2nd Philadelphia program. This particular program was shaped around the Philadelphia premiere of our new Osvaldo Golijov quartet; the Schubert G Major quartet (Schubert is a great love and inspiration for Osvaldo) is an ideal choice to balance the Golijov work; and the Beethoven Op. 18, No. 5 quartet is a lively, energetic and exciting way to open the program.

JW:  You've performed Golijov pieces before in Philadelphia, and here you will present the Philadelphia premiere of his new work Kohelet. What is it like working with Osvaldo, and how did your collaboration come about?

CC:  The musical collaboration between the SLSQ and Osvaldo Golijov goes back to the summer of 1992, when the quartet and Osvaldo worked together at Tanglewood. Osvaldo and the SLSQ were "assigned" to each other; Osvaldo was to write a new work for the young SLSQ to be premiered at a Tanglewood performance that summer. The result was Yiddishbbuk, one of Osvaldo's early and most significant successes. In the process of working together, Osvaldo and the SLSQ became great friends, and that friendship continues very strongly to this day.  Working with Osvaldo is always exciting and inspirational. He has a way of writing music and describing his musical thoughts, ideas and intentions in the most vivid way imaginable, so that our work together results in a deep understanding of the honest and sometimes complex emotional substance in Osvaldo's music. It's nearly impossible to write many of these ideas and thoughts on the pages of the music -- I often feel that the interactive working relationship we've had with Osvaldo is key to grasping and executing his conception. Perhaps these work sessions should be recorded or filmed so that other performers and interpreters of his works for generations to come will have a clearer understanding of his ideas!

JW:  The SLSQ has been performing for well over 20 years now and is still going strong, continuing to inspire audiences with its fresh, energetic approach.  What do you do as a group in order to stay motivated and inspired?  

CC:  We perform over 100 concerts per season, mostly in North America, and with annual tours to Europe and occasional concert journeys to Australia, New Zealand, Asia and South America. Quartet life is tiring but always exciting and inspiring. We have the most fantastically complete and inspired body of repertoire imaginable, and with nearly annual commissions from great composers (plus all the great works commissioned for other ensembles worldwide), that rep list grows richer by the day. We feel very fortunate to have remarkably varied musical opportunities, and we're thankful every day that we have a chance to do what we love doing the most. And that includes teaching and interacting with amazing students and faculty at Stanford University, where we've been in residence since the late 90's. Our residency plays a key role in our ability to stay active and inspired, and perfectly balances our sometimes crazy touring life. One other thought:  we still rehearse regularly and quite a lot, and we are completely devoted to the idea that we must always strive to get better and better with each day of work and in each performance.

JW:  What comes to mind when you think about performing in Philadelphia?  Are there differences here compared to concerts back home (in California) and abroad?

CC:  On a certain level, a concert is a concert, and all concerts are taken equally seriously no matter where we play or what type of venue we encounter.  Philadelphia is always an exciting place for us to visit for a performance:  the musical traditions in Philly are deeply rooted, and I feel that audiences there have a deep appreciation for great chamber music, an appreciation that goes back generations and generations. The performance history in your great city is awe-inspiring, and we always feel an extra charge of energy to be in a place of such musical importance. It's hard to note specific differences between the Philadelphia audiences and those elsewhere; I would just like to say that every time we play in Philly, we feel that we have a large, devoted, knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience with us. It's always a treat to be a part of the Philly concert scene!

The St. Lawrence Quartet appears on Friday, December 2 at 8 pm at the Kimmel Center. For tickets and information, visit the concert page or call 215-5690-8080.