SCHRAM: Probably the best testament to this is when we did two Beethoven quartets with your Blueprint in between. People came up to us afterward and were like, “Man, Caroline Shaw’s piece was amazing!” If you’re doing a Beethoven quartet, you almost never hear anyone talking about anything but that Beethoven quartet. When they heard the Beethoven quartet, Blueprint had happened 45 minutes earlier, but they were still talking about it.
SCHROEDER: There’s a program happening next year with Blueprint that I really like. What is that program? It’s got [Beethoven’s Opus] 132 on it…
YEE: And [Mendelssohn’s] Op. 13.
SCHOEDER: Two Beethoven-inspired pieces, and then the Beethoven.
SHAW: It’s on a program with Op. 132 and Op. 13? [lavish sigh] That is so good. Wow.
YEE: We’re pretty pumped about it. I saw that program in an email and I was like, wow, that program is great. And they were like, yeah, we came up with it.
SCHROEDER: We came up with it, Andrew. We crafted that one.
SHAW: Where can I hear that?
SCHRAM: Spartanburg, S.C.
SCHROEDER: But we’ve pitched it for somewhere in New York, so we’ll let you know.
SHAW: Thanks for playing Blueprint in the context of Beethoven, which is what it’s meant for.
SCHRAM: It’s funny we didn’t put it with [Op.] 18/6, which is what it’s based on, but it seems to work just as well with other Beethoven quartets.
STEVE SMITH: What is the complete program for this concert?
SCHRAM: We’re starting off with Entr’acte…
SCHROEDER: Valencia is next…
YEE: Plan & Elevation, Punctum…
SCHRAM: And Blueprint.
SHAW: I’m so scared to hear all of this together! [Laughs]
SCHRAM: We tried calling this “The Complete Caroline Shaw Quartets,” but you keep writing more.
SCHROEDER: We’ll have to have a “Recently Added Two” series.
SHAW: I hope I get to write for you guys some time.
SCHRAM: Ummm: sure.
YEE: We hadn’t gotten around to making the official request yet, but…
SCHRAM: …here it is.
YEE: “Write us a piece, please – question mark?”
SHAW: We should talk about that some time – what you guys are interested in, musically, and how we could shape it together.
SCHRAM: When people come to you asking for a piece, how often do people request something specific, versus someone saying “write whatever you’d like,” and which do you prefer?
SHAW: I like specific requests. Usually if they say, “write whatever you want,” I try to carve down some specifics: What’s the audience, what are you programming on the concert, what do you like to play? I usually want to know something about the people and what they’ve been programming in the last couple of years, what they gravitate to, how they play. But usually it’s a timing request.
SCHRAM: It’s funny, commissions so often are based on the event, the concert. And what we’re trying to do is give your works further legs. The fact that you didn’t write a piece just for Wolf Trap, or any of the places that you wrote them for – that they will have their own sort of journey, and different groups that they’ll find.
SHAW: It’s hugely important, and I’m so grateful to you guys for doing it – not just for my music but for others. That’s the problem: pieces often are performed once, maybe twice, and then they disappear. I’ve written so many pieces in the last year; which ones of those will even leave the vacuum? I still think about it. It’s an important service you’re doing for the world, to disseminate the music.
STEVE SMITH: There’s also a benefit to having a composer’s body of work in the hands of one group, because you’re going to pick up on connections, references, and echoes that a lay listener won’t necessarily hear right away.
SCHROEDER: And for us, having just done all 68 Haydn quartets, we’ve realized that this is how you get to know a composer. You hopefully have more insight into their works by playing all of their works, a different sort of idea you get. And eventually, hopefully, we’ll do that with Beethoven and other composers who we love. It’s important, I think; all those works are somehow influenced by each other, and it’s interesting to see the progression of composition.
TOKUNAGA: It is a relationship between composers and performers. Most of the time, the other side is dead. [Laughter all around] But this is amazing; we have been working on her stuff, and there are things that are very clearly written on paper: “Oh, clearly this is what she means.” And then there are places where we could ask her to listen to the way we think might be good, and then there’s definitely going to be a conversation – as opposed to, well, Beethoven’s dead, so I guess we’ll just do this sforzando here and that’s that.
SCHROEDER: It seems like it’s this kind of sforzando at this particular moment, and then we’ll discuss why.
YEE: With the 68, that did hook us on the idea to just bring everything in, and in a very small…it took us six years, but it was a lot of quartets. By the end, we were like, oh, yeah, [gesturing in multiple directions] there’s that, and there’s that, and there’s that. And I think that we were craving that kind of thing: that we would learn all these pieces in a very short amount of time, and that we would get to that place [sings a line from Point & Elevation] and be like, oh, yeah, there’s a little thing from Entr’acte in there.
SHAW: Oh, yeah, that one actually does have little bits of Entr’acte in it.
YEE: And it’s amazing, because otherwise we might not have known. It still would have been effective, but it’s cool to just be in that small space with all of those pieces.
SCHOEDER: It was like that with Haydn, absolutely: Oh, look, he quotes himself.
SHAW: It does happen. In that case, that movement is all about these cuttings of flowers and all these different pieces – there’s a lot of stuff thrown in there. But that’s what I’m scared about on Sunday – I’m going to hear these patterns that I do, that I didn’t realize: “Ohhhh, god, I do that all the time!”
TOKUNAGA: But that’s also like your signature.
SCHRAM: As distinctive as your music is, I never at any point during rehearsal, when we were doing a lot of your music, felt like I’m tired of the sound. And your sound is always changing quite a bit. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
SHAW: That’s why I like writing string quartets. Of all the things I write, it’s like coming back to a home base, and feeling like I want to, at the end of my life, be able to look back and see that those are the places where I hopefully grew the most. And I’m also excited to get to know you as Attacca Quartet, through hearing your voice filtered through one composer, just like you did with the Haydn.
The Attacca Quartet plays works by Caroline Shaw on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. at National Sawdust; www.nationalsawdust.org