Fitzwilliam String Quartet leader takes masterclass with Junior Trinity students

Fitzwilliam Quartet

Trinity Laban welcomed leader of the Fitzwilliam string quartet, Lucy Russell, to lead a masterclass for Junior Trinity this month. Having been a member of the quartet since 1988, Lucy has travelled across the world delivering performances as well as making recordings for Linn Records, Divine Art and the BBC. We spoke to Lucy to find out how the masterclass went and what is next for her and the quartet.

What did the masterclass entail?

"I worked with three young quartets on specific pieces, gauging which level to work at with each ensemble. I tried to engage each group with the broader context of the quartets we were working on; we talked about historical background, about the composer, about the temperament of the music they were playing. I encouraged them, where possible, to think for themselves and to use their imagination in response to the music they were playing."

What did you enjoy most about the masterclass?

"It's so gratifying when your work with a group begins to pay off in the session and you can hear the music taking shape and coming 'off the page'. All the young musicians I worked with on this occasion werealert and engaged, and within a short space of time I felt that I was able to encourage them to play with greater confidence and to find their own collective voices. It is wonderful when this happens as they can recognise this for themselves and derive pleasure from the experience."

What advice would you give to musicians who wish to pursue further study in music?

"To be a musician is to be on a constant journey of discovery which comes with extraordinary heights and fresh challenges. There is no substitute for the hours of dedicated practice that must be part of that journey, but as long as the process is driven by a passion for the music, hunger for improvement and knowledge, you are in with a chance. You need to learn to take the rough with the smooth in this business and it's important to be versatile and flexible."

How did you get to your current position and can you tell us a bit more about what you do?

"I have been a member of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet for 26 years and its leader for 18. I studied Music at York University, of which the Fitzwilliam was the resident quartet. I studied alternately with both violinists from the quartet and was, at the same time, drawn to the business of playing music on historical set-ups. I found myself on trial with the quartet as their second violinist, playing on classical set-ups - and the rest is history.  

What's next for your career?

"My quartet playing is central to all that I do. Today the Fitzwilliam performs music from Purcell to the present, where possible using appropriate instruments. We are currently exploring Beethoven playing on gut and modern set-ups, which is incredibly challenging.As a result of our strong association with the quartets of Shostakovich, these are core repertoire for us. We also work with living composers, and have premiered around 50 new works since the start of the century.

"My teaching is also very important to me, and I have directed period and modern ensembles at all the major conservatoires in the UK as well as abroad. I've travelled the world with various orchestras and led several of them, but nowadays I'm just as interested to work closer to home and to further develop my skills and knowledge as a chamber musician. There's always so much more to learn."

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