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Hirvi Quartet Q&A

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With only a few days to go until our first Synfonia event, we caught up with the Hirvi Quartet to find out a little more about their musical background, their careers to date and what they listen to away from the practice room…

Tell us a little about the quartet. How did it all begin?

Enya Barber: Leo approached us saying he wished to form a quartet in the later end of first year!

Congling Wu: He put it together really. I think he scoped us out during our group classes/rehearsals in first year at Trinity Laban, to see how we would be as players and friends. 

Leonardo Badila: The story of the quartet starts with me really wanting to play in a quartet, I had met Enya, Floora and Congling individually and I just kinda had the feeling we would work well together. So I went to each one of them and said: hey, wanna join my quartet?

Floora Valila: I always loved the idea of playing in a quartet so when Leonardo came to me asking if I wanted to join one that he was putting together, I saw it as the perfect opportunity. I had played together with each member of quartet in different projects before and knew we’d get along great.

Do you remember your first encounter with classical music? What inspired you to pick up an instrument?

Congling: I don’t think I heard any classical music apart from in soundtracks until I started violin lessons aged 8. My violin teacher gave me an Anne Sophie-Mutter CD of her playing Dvorak, and a Giuliano Carmignola CD of him playing Vivaldi. I still to this day love both these two talented violinists and the pieces.

EB: I can’t remember my first encounter, but I remember my parents (although they don’t play instruments) have always adored music and would always play classical music to me and apparently I asked to play the violin! One of my first memories was being in a group lesson in primary school and learning to play all 4 strings.

FV: Since I can remember, I’ve always felt a strong connection to music, including classical. I was mesmerised by the sound of the cello at every classical music concert that my parents brought me to, and when they finally allowed me to pick up the cello, my love for the instrument was confirmed.

LB: Classical music was always a big part of my life because of my mom who’s a pianist, when I was a kid she got a piano, a trumpet and a violin and put them in opposite sides of a room, she later on placed baby me in the middle of the room and saw which one I picked, it felt a bit like when you pick your first Pokémon!

The Hirvi Quartet (from left): Enya Barber, Congling Wu, Leonardo Badila and Floora Valila

What was the greatest challenge you faced in becoming a musician?

LB: The biggest challenge I had to overcome for me was getting over the fear of not being good enough to make music. I’ve studied classical music my whole life because I really enjoyed it but deep down I was to scared to admit that I wanted that to be my life. Everything changed when one day I thought about it and said to myself: why not?

CW: Probably self-belief. A lot of teachers at school and even music teachers tried to dissuade me from an early age, but I think my love for music and violin playing just stayed strong despite this.

EB: One of the greatest challenges has been becoming acquainted with the pressure we put on ourselves as musicians – the pressure for perfection, and to sometimes conform to the accepted interpretation for pieces. However breaking out of that and beginning to explore more of my own personal style and to accept the way in which nothing is perfect – and in that itself the perfection of music is found.

FV: I think playing an instrument allows you to have a certain sense of control, which sometimes can lead to obsessing over perfectionistic details. I think my greatest challenge has been letting go of that perfectionism to prioritise the expression and vulnerability in music, even if that means making mistakes.

Out of the pieces being played at our event, which is your favourite and why?

LB: My favourite piece has to be the Dvorak Quartet: it’s full of moments where the viola plays the main melody, it’s a lot of fun to play and it’s the first major piece we tackled as a quartet.

FV: I love every piece in this programme, but if I had to choose, Ravel is my all-time favourite as it’s always been a dream of mine to play his quartet. They are so many layers to it, and it feels like there are always new musical ideas to discover in his quartet.

EB: The Dvorak American is my favourite, as it was the first major full work our quartet played and performed… However they are all my favourites for different reasons. I find the Philip Glass and its minimalist essence ignites a really thoughtful mindspace for me.

CW: It’s a hard choice, but my favourite piece from today is quite possibly the Ravel. It is simply so catchy, and I love Ravel’s dreamy atmosphere.

Finally, what's your favourite (non-classical) jam? We won’t judge…

FV: Honestly, I can jam to songs from almost any genre. Right now, I’m loving listening to jazz classics and a lot of Fleetwood Mac.

EB: I am really into 80s music and jazz!! However I love all genres… but I’ve got to say that Chaka Khan I’m Every Woman is one of my all-time favourites!!!

CW: My favourite non-classical jams are very varied. I love going out with friends though and a classic party tune is Rumors by Lizzo!

LB: I absolutely love Africa by Toto, all time favourite.