It’s not that listening to Rock & Roll was forbidden in my parent’s house, and our home bore little resemblance to the town in ‘Footloose’, but rather my parent’s taste in music had simply changed over the years, and as children we were forbidden from touching the large collection of vinyl that had been carefully tucked away in boxes under the stairs. Gone were the days of Sir Elton, Sir Paul, and Toto; their places in the stereo cabinet had been taken up by Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel. It was the forbidden quality of those basement records that drew me to music more than anything; these mysterious and somehow valuable objects that had been stacked just a foot away from my collection of Ghostbuster toys (also a valuable possession), and yet must never be played with. My father must have feared my temptation would grow too great, so he began my education on the proper care and use for the home stereo with all of its blinking lights, dials, knobs, and sliders, as complex as a space shuttle and conceivably just as expensive, and along with it came my introduction to classical music.
I can vividly remember my father taking me out on several occasions to experience Symphony New Brunswick: each time I’d be wrangled into a dress shirt with a clip-on tie, my hair brought to heel, and a sweater that would have made Bill Cosby proud would be thrown over the whole lot. I’d swelter away in the packed theatre, I’d clap at all the wrong moments, and invariably I’d nod off sometime before the intermission when my father would drive me home, but if anyone ever asked me who my favourite musician was back then, I’d unhesitatingly answer Mozart.
For four instrumentalists of the Symphony, the music doesn’t stop once the conductor puts down his baton. David Adams (first violin), Danielle Sametz (second violin), Sonja Adams (cello), and Christopher Buckley (viola) are also members of the Saint John String Quartet, a well-known, award winning ensemble that has toured the world. The group was formed twenty-seven years ago by three of the initial members, David, Sonja, and Chris, when Symphony New Brunswick put out a call for additional talent. Chris Buckley tells me, “I was a local yokel, but not living here at the time, and when the symphony decided they wanted to hire a conductor and four string players, I heard about it and decided to send in a tape to audition. So I moved home in the summer of ’87, met David and Sonja in September, and we’ve been together ever since.” The quartet first began playing at Saint John’s Queen Square United Church, before moving to St Andrew & St David United Church on Germain Street, while as part of Symphony New Brunswick they performed in Saint John High School’s auditorium before the renovation of the Imperial in ’94, “We’re lucky to have two good auditoriums in our city. Most cities have no good auditoriums.” Danielle is a new addition, having recently embarked on her first full season with the quartet; Sonja jokes that, “We’ve been doing this for twenty-seven years, she’s not even twenty-seven years old yet.”
As a group, and as individuals, there has been no shortage of impressive accomplishments. Having toured in Canada, the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia, released numerous recordings, and enriched countless young people in their studies, these four musicians have established themselves as a musical force both on and off stage in New Brunswick. “Classical music today is probably more popular than it was in the past few decades. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s there was almost a movement away from it, but now we’re not seeing that so much. We go to schools quite often, doing fifty school shows each year, and we see a lot of school age children; they’re much more open to classical music than, for example, what I can recall when I was in school. The feedback that we get from the kids is really popular; they’re really interested in it, and they don’t seem to have the peer pressure to shun something that is not mainstream. I think it’s a great time for classical music right now; for people to hear your classical music and appreciate it.”
One of the goals of their newest, and sixth album, Montage, was to highlight the immense talent found within the New Brunswick music community. The album features works by composers who have both lived and worked within the province. With a line up that includes composers such as Michael R. Miller, Eldon Rathburn, and Martin Kutnowski, the album pays tribute to some of the outstanding pillars of New Brunswick composition. “It features all Canadian music and it has that East Coast Maritime flair to it. Of the seven, six of them are maritime composers.”
“They were worth, what’s the word… immortalising? It’s a chance for us to showcase what we have here in the Maritimes.”
The album itself consists of seven works, each differing to such a degree that can be expected from pieces drawing from influences as varied as Anthony Genge’s abstract and impressionistic String Quartet No. 2, to Martin Kutnowski’s folk song inspired Peter Emberley’s Dream. “They’re all from different backgrounds and they all come from completely different places. I mean, Anthony Genge is a jazz musician, […] and he composes classical music…”, David tells me, and then, because they finish each other’s sentences, Sonja adds, “And he’s inspired by Japanese styled music. He’s a minimalist, whereas someone like Rathburn, he creates a sound picture of what his work is. He wrote for the national film board, so his music portrays images. Everyone has got a different style.”
The Saint John String Quartet’s newest album will be being released during an event at the Saint John Theatre Company, October 27th at 10:30am, where they will also be making another announcement. For more information check out their webpage.