Close your eyes and let yourself be carried away by music… an elegant and soft melody which seems to come from a past century. Julian Leaper and David Angel play the violin, Martin Outram plays the viola and Michal Kaznowski on the cello. Together they form the perfect union: The Maggini Quartet. They held a concert at Brunel University on Friday 3rd October, where they were greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience and I was lucky enough to be able to interview David Angel.
Formed in 1988, the Maggini Quartet is regarded by many as one of the finest British string quartets. They became Brunel Artists-in-Association in 1995 and were awarded an Honorary Brunel Fellowship in 2004. Their recordings have won international awards including Gramophone Chamber Music Award of the Year, Diapason d’Or of the Year, Cannes Classical Award and have twice been nominated for the Grammy Awards. The Quartet is currently recording the complete Mendelssohn quartet cycle for Meridian Records. They also coach an annual string quartet course at Brunel University.
“That’s a very good question and a difficult one as well. For some crazy reason from a very early age I seemed to get what you can call a music bug. I wanted to do music.
I think it was my mother who probably persuaded me. My two elder brothers had violin lessons. At the end of their lessons the violin teacher would stick me on his knees and put the violin under my chin and play. This meant nothing until one time: I must have had about four, I put my finger down and I realized it made a note. It was like a bell going off into my head. For some more reason I knew it was the violin that I wanted to do even if I started on the piano before it. Since then I assigned my life to it.”
How was the Maggini Quartet born? Did you already know each other before forming the group?
“Three of us, me, the viola and the cello have been playing for five years in another quartet. The Maggini Quartet was born out of that. We’ve spent 13 months trying out various different violinists to play with. Finally, it was in June 1988 we became the Maggini Quartet.”
Your quartet’s name comes from Giovanni Maggini, the 15th century string maker from Botticino, Italy. Why have you chosen to dedicate your quartet’s name to him?
“There is no really profound reason. Very loosely speaking, the front of my violin is made by Maggini and the back is made by his teacher Gasparo da Salò, but Da Salò Quartet didn’t sound quite right. Really, it was Martin [Martin Outram], our viola player who liked the sound of the name. It is much better than having a group named after the first violin. What happens when the first violin leaves? So this is what happened very casually”.
You play on a Maggini / da Salò composite violin circa 1600. How did you get that violin?
“I got it from the great violin dealer in London John & Arthur Beare. I had to get a violin. I’ve been borrowing a violin from the Royal Academy of Music and then I had to give it back. So I just went to J & A Beare and within my price range there were three or four violins. I decided I liked this one the best. Each violin has a completely different sound and totally distinct personality which must chain to your own personality”.
Please, tell us what is the favorite piece you like to play during a concert and why.
“Well, it is quite impossible to say. Probably, a quartet would say the piece they were playing at that time was their favorite piece. There might be an exception: lots of quartet players will tell you that Haydn [Franz Joseph Haydn] has a very soft place in their hearts. He was the first quartet writer; he invented it more or less. He is still the most innovative quartet writer there’s ever been. Having said that, when I’m playing Mendelssohn, I like Mendelssohn the best. When I’m playing Moeran [Ernest John Moeran], I like Moeran the best and so on”.
The Maggini Quartet became Brunel Artists-in-Association in 1995, and were created Brunel Honorary Fellows in 2004. Please, tell us about your relationship with Brunel University.
“In fact, our relationship with Brunel University goes back well before 1995. It’s all been to do with Jay Wilkinson [Arts Centre Director at Brunel University]. Two of us were at the Royal Academy of Music with her and the Arts at Brunel University have been Jay’s baby. Nearly always happens that is the passion of one person who does realize things that were impossible and makes them happen. Jay did that. She was determined to get our quartet in some kind of relation.
Brunel University became a place where we would give a lunch time concert or two. Then we did a bit more for a while. We would act as subjects for the artists to draw. We’ve also had a 10 weekly course every year and taught music to some of the people.
In the 90s we’ve got a quartet writing competition and had a commission from Roxanna Panufnik, the composer. What’s really kept it going is our friendship with Jay. Through that we had a very happy friendship with Brunel University”.
You coach chamber music to young musicians, and also at Brunel University you annually coach a string quartet course. What advice would you give to young musicians who want to commit their lives to music?
“I would always tell to anybody who’s playing an instrument whether they wanted to do it professionally, whether they want to do it as an amateur, whether they’re kids, students, young professionals or middle aged or elderly that if you play an instrument is worth playing chamber music.
For social reasons, the interaction is vital important in every considerable way. The greatest music is written for string quartets. The composers all wrote their best music for it. It is one of the best things that western art has to offer and needs cooperation. It needs the closest cooperation between groups”.
How would you spread your passion for chamber music to people who do not really know or like this type of music?
“First of all I would sit them down and play it to them. That’s the first thing: get them listening to it. There’s an image to chamber music which isn’t helpful. There’s an image to classical music which isn’t helpful. Classical music is considered as an elitist music and chamber music is considered the elite of the elite. This is wrong.
If you see an audience of five years olds listening to Haydn Scherzo you’ll see them deeply involved in what you are playing.
The second most important thing is to let them see it live. I remember that one of the most enthusiastic audiences we’ve ever played to, was at a college in Kingston. The musicians were aspiring rock and pop musicians. We’ve played to them and they were absolutely enthusiastic”.
What are your projects for the future?
“We have on-going project which is learning repertoire. It is the main thing. The repertoire for string quartet is pretty well endless. By the way, the most immediate project is recording our third disc of Mendelssohn quartet that comes up in November. We’ll record the quartet that we played last night [concert held on 3 October 2014 at Brunel University]. Moreover, we’re always working on repertoires for concerts and each of the pieces that we do is like a project”.