Cold, Clammy, Hands: Mosaic Chamber Players
It’s been five years in the making. Saturday will mark the final concert in The Mosaic Chamber Players performance of The Beethoven cycle of string sonatas. Three members from this virtuosic group, Jess Salek (Piano), Wes Luke (Violin), and Kyle Price (Cello) carved out time on a Saturday afternoon to meet with me so I could find out what makes them tick.
From the get go, Jess’ vision was to get through the entire cycle. On this program are Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A Major op. 12/2, his Violin Sonata in G Major op. 96, and the Cello Sonata in D Major op. 102/2. The pieces are from different time periods in Beethoven’s life. As Jess and Wes point out, “You have the youthful optimism and the weary hero.” Wes explained, “All of the pieces are masterpieces. Some of them don’t get played that often and they actually give a kind of coherent viewpoint on Beethoven’s life throughout all the stages of his development. If you’re interested in that type of thing, you can come to our recitals and get this intimate glimpse of Beethoven. The music means a lot to us. There’s a certain existential component to it. This is how we choose to spend our lives and this is what we do with our time intentionally because it’s so beautiful to us. I am completely sure people will feel that and be a part of it and they will know that’s a wonderful way to spend our time." With a laugh, Wes said, “It will change your life.”
I asked each member if they had any performance day rituals. Here’s what they had to say.
“I don’t eat very much before because it makes me feel groggy.”
“I have a specific performance day process that involves taking a 20 minute power nap, immediately after that, getting a little bit of caffeine, and a 20 minute workout. I find that if I escalate my heart rate earlier in the day, I tend to not get as nervous. I also eat because I worry about my blood sugar. I do that consistently on each performance day. I also almost never perform having played my violin for no less than 3 hours. I have one specific habit that I really believe in about my hands. I think that if you’re worried about your hands getting cold and clammy, turn on a faucet to scalding hot water. Don’t burn yourself, but close as you can get. Put them under there and rub them together for a few seconds and immediately dry them thoroughly and put them in your pockets. It will keep them warm and you’ll keep a good blood flow going to your fingers all the way until you have to play.”
“I don’t really have a process. I do a couple of weird things. My friend in sophomore year of college was telling me about self-hypnosis. It’s more like meditation and developing a quietness before I go to play. There are other random techniques depending on the day. Sometimes it’s fun to write or find articles that make you feel a certain way. I’ll read an article before I go out and if I’m playing something really aggressive or frustrating, I read something that will piss me off.”
Being a part of a group with so much talent, you can expect that each member have their own thoughts and opinions on how to present the music. Preparing for a concert is multifaceted. “X amount of time before a concert, we get together. We have already had the pieces for a while. We play through the pieces and figure out what sort of communication we want and it sort of evolves from there. I suppose its section work, but also individual practice, but then also figuring out what sort of story you want to tell. Getting back to this concert, there’s a lot to tell," said Salek.
“Have you ever had different ways you wanted to tell the story?” I asked. Looking in the direction of Wes, Jess said, “Remember the Brahms Quintet? We had a disagreement over tempo. That was interesting. There was the slow movement of the Brahms Quintet and Wes and I had very different ideas about the tempo.” In reply, Wes said, “The mood of the piece, we felt different and we felt it at different tempos. Drastically different tempos. I think you won on that one. There is this thing about Mosaic, which is it’s piano based chamber music and it’s foundationally what we do, so often times I’m going to concede to Jess. He probably has more vision about the whole thing than the rest of us.”
I wanted to know what an audience member could expect from the performance. Jess piped up first. “The colors of the music and the way we communicate with each other. The fact that we believe so strongly in what we are doing also helps. I believe in the weary hero aspect of it. It’s not just pretty, it’s impactful.” Having been to numerous Mosaic concerts, Jess was dead on. Just the way they move while they perform is an art in itself. “Wes and Jess both have great ways of explaining the pieces to the audience.” Kyle said. “It’s a lot of fun to hear what the composer might have been thinking about or the historical context is and then you get to hear it and then you get to experience those colors and the way it connects between the performers. It makes for a really engaging experience. What I really enjoy is when everyone is creating and it feels very spontaneous and that is something I’m excited to continue. There is a fair amount of experimentation and aspects that aren’t typically done on recordings. Everyone is open to trying new ideas and who’s to say that it’s not close to what the composer was thinking.” Wes jumped in. “If people actually get their butts in the seats, they will find the immediate emotional reality of what’s going on. Once they are there, they’re going to get it.”
In a town the size of Madison and no shortage of musicians, it can be challenging to draw in new patrons. Recently, I was adding performances to the Classical Hive event calendar and I was in awe of all the live classical music opportunities. What makes Mosaic stand out is they are the only group in Madison doing The Beethoven cycle, and this may be the only opportunity to be able to hear it live. Plus there’s wine and you can drink during the concert! The concert will take place on Saturday, October 7th at 7:30 PM at the beautiful and historic Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, and there will be a reception following the program. Tickets are $15/$10 Seniors/$5 Students.
I want to make note that Laura Burns (Violin) couldn’t make the meeting as she was performing and Wes said, “Laura is the nicest person you’ll ever meet."