2017 Fellow Fridays, Part Eight, featuring Rebecca Shasberger!

Rebecca Shasberger

This week, Toronto Summer Music sat down with TSM Academy Fellow and cellist, Rebecca Shasberger, to discuss her experience at the Festival and the music she played over the last 4 weeks!

You’ve had a very full four weeks of challenging repertoire. As this intense musical experience begins to wrap up, what’s on your mind?

It’s been a really wonderful experience getting to play so much repertoire, performing so often and for such appreciative audiences. What is particularly great about the experience here is that that we get to perform alongside the faculty mentors – and that’s not common, from my experience.  You learn so much from hearing them play and from being part of their rehearsal process. So, in addition to the amazing fellows I get to play with, playing with these mentors is really a huge gift.

There seems to be an amazing camaraderie between mentors and fellows.  What’s this been like for you?

When I first saw who all I’d be playing with, it was certainly a little intimidating. The first week I played with Martin Beaver. Here is this person who has so much experience, from playing in the Tokyo String Quartet to teaching at Colburn. Then find yourself in the same room with him rehearsing together, and he has some thoughts here and there, and he compliments the way you do this or that – that was really encouraging.  I also think it’s so helpful in guiding us over the bridge of being students to being professionals.  A lot of us are in graduate school or have recently finished graduate school and this is a really helpful way of ushering us into the next stage of our performing lives.

So did the intimidation fall away?

It definitely lessened.  Walking off stage after we played the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D Minor, I asked Martin Beaver to give me a rough guess of how many times he has performed it, and he guessed about fifty times. In contrast, that was my first performance of the piece. Given the difference in life experience there’s still some intimidation factor, but you start to see them more as a musical colleague and not so much as this figure whom you’ve only read about or heard on recordings.

So what have you played in the last four weeks?

The first week I played the Mendelssohn D minor Piano Trio with Martin Beaver. Week two was really intense – I had the Shostakovich Piano Quintet with Mark Fewer and then I was part of the Jordan Pal world-premier of Carmine Skies, a string octet.

So from the Shostakovich to the Jordan Pal Octet – those are two very different musical experiences in your second week.

Yes, they’re completely different. It’s a very unique sound world that Jordan Pal imagined for his octet. It was really complex – complex rhythmically and harmonically.  There were some extended techniques that players had to use as well. It was a big project to undertake in our ensemble of four fellows and four mentors.  To have a group of that size, with such incredible players, was a really exciting experience, even as it was a challenge.

And then there was more in week two…

In week two I also performed the Janacek String Quartet No. 1, and then we played two performances with James Ehnes. Both were all Bach programs, one of which was a children’s concert. It was an amazing experience to play with James Ehnes – to hear his sound and learn from his experience with these pieces. We got quite a bit rehearsal time with him which was really fun. Then in week three, we started rehearsing Beethoven Opus 132, one of his late string quartets – which we performed yesterday. On Saturday of this week, we’ll perform the Brahms C Minor Piano Quartet.

Tell me about what you learnt from these pieces.

The Mendelssohn was probably the most straightforward to put together. Most of the details we worked on had to do with phrasing and concepts of tempos. The Shostakovich in week two was really intense because of the counting challenges- the time signature is constantly changing.  Things that sound like downbeats aren’t downbeats and people come in where you wouldn’t expect them to.  Things don’t always sound like they are right, but they are. Bach, thankfully, was much more straightforward in the counting. It was more about unifying bow strokes, phrases, and feeling things as a section.  With the Janacek String Quartet there’s a ton of tempo changes, a lot of push and pull, and a really wide variety of intense emotions. It’s inspired by a Tolstoy novel about a man who kills his wife out of jealousy.  So there’s a lot to comb through in terms of how to bring the music to life and capture the spirit of it. Beethoven Opus 132 is about 45 minutes long and it’s among his last compositions. It’s the Beethoven we all know and love, but it’s really complex! To put together a piece of such massive size in about a week was an exhilarating task.  It’s a piece you could spend your life on, trying to understand all the complexity of harmonies and emotions, not to mention all the details of quartet playing. But to do what we could with it in a week, and then perform it yesterday for a packed Heliconian Hall was exciting.

I think you must get to know people pretty quickly when you are putting these massive pieces in a short amount of time.

There’s a day or two at the beginning when you aren’t sure of people’s personalities or how they will receive some constructive criticism or feedback you need to give them. But you figure things out pretty quickly because you have to work together as a team, and you have to find a way to work efficiently and get things done.   So you get to know people quickly and learn how to work together in a pretty short span of time.

What do you think you will you remember from this experience?

Besides the experience of playing with such amazing colleagues? There’s been lots of sushi, lots of late night rehearsals…we’ve been living life together during this intense musical process, and there’s a joy in that. I’m sure that our paths will cross again in the future and we’ll have all these fond memories of the time we shared in Toronto.



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