Better Together

Goethe famously likened quartet playing to "a conversation between four rational people." This uber-Germanic observation strikes me as not only dry and unfortunate, but also incomplete.

Sometimes, you don’t fully know how you feel or what you think until you’re forced to articulate it to a friend. Someone you trust, and who inspires you, can get you to make connections and find meaning in new and surprising ways. And likewise, we delight in helping friends do the same. This results in emotional and intellectual growth for everyone involved, and in the creation of bonds between them.

It’s the definition of intimacy, and it’s what inspires me most about chamber music.

Chamber music is a beautiful, cogent, living metaphor for human relationships at their best. It sonically illustrates how, in coming together, we transcend what we can do alone.

Playing chamber music is about engaging with others, and, in turn, bringing out the best in them and ourselves. It's about providing support so that others can rise higher, creating a safe and inviting context in which they can soar. It's about allowing thoughts and feelings to evolve in tandem with other voices. It's about yielding when you should, and asserting yourself when you have something to say. It's about trust, chemistry, respect, spontaneity, shared goals, and intuition.

It's an iterative and dynamic process unfolding in real time. It's people with unique voices coming together to create something beautiful. Something that transcends each individual voice, yet wouldn't be the same without them exactly as they are.

A few weeks ago, I read an interview given by Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica. She spoke at length about what she learned from such an extended period of isolation. I was particularly struck when she said this:

"Before that expedition, I had always assumed that I was intrinsically me. I thought Felicity was a specific, definite thing: this is who I am, these are my values, this is how I react. But out there, I realized that me, my character, is the space between all the people that have huge influence in my life. When those people and outside influences were taken away, suddenly my character didn’t have a form anymore. I felt fluid. It made me realize just how much the people in our lives help shape who we are — and how absolutely essential it is to surround yourself with others that reflect the values and the character that you want to have. People who are good for you."

This makes as much sense to chamber musicians as it does to everyone else. In the past year or so, I've given more thought to how Salastina can apply this approach as an organization, in the service of our growth.


Last summer, we set a goal to engage in at least three strategic collaborations per year. This month is full of such collaborations for Salastina.

On Thursday, I’ll be attending the monthly meeting for Chamber Music LA. -- a collaborative between eight acclaimed local chamber music series. It’s been a profoundly inspiring process, and I can’t wait to see where our joint efforts go. (More on that soon.)

The next day, we'll celebrate the release of Beyond, an album we had the privilege of recording with Hindustani vocalist Saili Oak.

She sounds even more beautiful.

She sounds even more beautiful.

It's an apt title: Beyond truly goes beyond sheer genre-bending. The combination of Saili's vocals with Western string quartet is otherworldly. Nothing like it has been done before, and yet it sounds so cohesive and organic.

This kind of project is the very raison d'etre of Shastra, an organization dedicated to connecting the great musical traditions of India and the West. Shastra is co-directed by Saili and our dear mutual friend Reena Esmail. I asked them each to share a bit about why cross-cultural musical collaboration is important to them. Here's what they had to say.

Reena: “I've lived my entire life between the cultures of India and America, and I feel like each one has so much to offer the other. Bringing together people from each culture through music, through a mutually enjoyable social and aesthetic experience, allows for dialogues to begin, and for a positive experience to be shared. My hope is that those resonant experiences will help build a pathway into the more difficult forms of cultural dialogue.”

Saili: “Since I moved to the US, I have been fascinated by Western classical music. I began looking for ways to blend Hindustani singing with Western music so that it sounded cohesive. It has been a wonderfully rewarding challenge, in part because western music is completely notated, and Hindustani music is completely improvised. It is my hope that others will find inspiration from "Beyond" to also challenge themselves to explore something new.”

We hope you'll join us this Friday for the album release party.


May 11 -- the day after the album release party -- is our encore performance of Sounds Delicious: Game of Thrones with Chef Becky Reams. Sounds Delicious is one of our more fun, fulfilling, and -- err -- filling collaborative projects.

Next week, we're recording the music of Tarik O'Regan with the Pacific Chorale. I've definitely enjoyed collaborating with Andy Brown, the Executive Director of the Chorale, on the details. And that's to say nothing of the musical process itself.

We finish the month -- and our season -- with the complete string quartets of Brahms. How I wish we could rehearse Brahms all day, every day... !

Suffice it to say that I've had collaboration on the brain this month. It's so satisfying to plant seeds in unique and fertile soil combinations and see how they bloom. We've got so many more exciting collaborations in store for our upcoming tenth season. (I'll drop the word opera right here.)

Stay tuned...