Capturing a string quartet on camera

Matt GroomThu 22nd November 2012

A film-maker looks on as the Belcea Quartet lose themselves in Beethoven

The car drive to a video shoot is always a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand you're happy to be out and about and discovering new parts of the countryside, but then the nearer you get, the more that checklist starts bubbling in your head: should I film the quartet individually or together as a group? Which questions will get interesting answers, and will I just get four versions of the same answer? How to make the most of my allotted hour with them? Will it rain? 

In the event, the Belcea Quartet were a pleasure to film and the session stretched over to a couple of hours. To experience them rehearsing was a real privilege. The level of discussion, to-ing and fro-ing between the members on the fine details of the score, was mind-boggling. I suppose quartets have been working through this music in much the same way for the past 200 years – the only thing that really changes is the metronome, which on this occasion was an iPhone. 

To begin, I filmed them playing the Cavatina, which, being quiet music, required me to turn the levels up a few notches. Then came the Grosse Fugue and I hadn't anticipated just how loud that piece can be, so the sound levels on the opening bars of the first take went straight into the red! Thankfully they started again for me, and I got the recording you'll hear in the film below.

Another worry when making a film about musicians is not having enough visual material to use, and having to rely on single-camera interview shots, which can get a bit dry. Despite having a concert to prepare for they were happy to walk about outside and let me film them relaxing, which gives the film a lighter touch than would have been the case had it just been them inside the Britten Studio. They even played along when I asked them to stick their faces through the Barbara Hepworth sculpture Family of Man. I like to think it's got a bit of an A Hard Day's Night vibe...

Matt Groom

Film-maker Matt Groom is head of classical music at RSK Entertainment

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