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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On string quartets, advertising, cellists and fame,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

My friends and I have recently left a London music college, and are desperate for work (my mum keeps saying I should have read Maths)! We thought of forming a gig string quartet, and trying to get some work at weddings, corporate events etc. I've read your book about the profession, so I know how you think quartets should behave but is there much work about? And do you have to advertise? Adverts seem very expensive to us.

L G, London

Dear L G,

Go for it, is the short answer. There are admittedly already hundreds of string quartets in London doing the same thing, but that should not deter you. In fact, the reason for the multitude is because background gigs are probably the only 'classical' music field still maintaining its normal volume of work at present. Arrange to get a decent brochure/photos/video/CD made and send to all the agents (and wedding magazines). The best advice I can give you is not to stint on the initial outlay, as appearances are crucial in this field. For the same reason I hope, for your sake, that you are female, as all-girl quartets, however lousy, still seem to be favoured by the hoi polloi. But don't be too dismayed if partly (or even entirely) male as people will always get hitched and corporations will always need to entertain/butter up their clients, and string quartets probably sound best in either circumstance, though solo harpists, woodwind quintets etc may wish it were otherwise. I am not an expert on advertising, as my own quartet is too well-known to need to bother, but I have been to all the fuss and bother of calling a few friends to research this question (Note to Basil: do I get a raise??????? Huh????? Do I????????) and I understand you're almost guaranteed to recoup any advertising money spent in wedding publications, so budget that in to your calculations.

Just let me sound a note of caution regarding your title. My own quartet, which is long-established, well-respected and widely-known in London, is called the Giardini Quartet. We chose the name (note: poncy and foreign-sounding is always good) in the mid-1980's, in tribute to the bolshie and brilliant Felice Giardini, star of my eminent husband's PhD thesis (Violinists in London in the 1700s, now in the British Library). Giardini was a genius, a virtuoso and fairly completely crazy: the first professional musician in the country who refused to sup with the servants, he insisted, when playing for Dukes and Earls, in eating at the same table as his eminent patrons. He was also the first London violinist-leader to insist on decent wages (a whole guinea, if I recall correctly) for even the rankest of rank and file players in his orchestra. How cool is that??!!

And so what happens? Along comes a twat in the last couple of years actually entitled Antal or George (or whatever) Giardino and proceeds to set up his own little quartet called the Giardino Quartet despite the long-established pre-existence of the Giardini, also based in London. This kind of pathetic attempt at imitation is doomed to ridicule. My advice is to make up your own poncy Italian name (better still, think of a new gimmick of your own) and stick to it.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Had to write and tell you that your articles in M&V are always what I read first. Then I go to the articles on largely unknown (in the USA) English composers and performers.

Bob Jordahl
retired musician and cat lover.

Dear Bob,

Many thanks for this kind tribute, though I can't help remarking that it is rare to hear of such natural discrimination and taste in cat (as opposed to dog) lovers. Perhaps you play the cello? Or the horn? The violin, the bassoon?

However, your comment made me ponder yet again on one of the oddities of the music world, to wit, that someone widely celebrated on one continent (the shrinking planet notwithstanding) is all too often almost unknown in another. There is still a fame gap, in short, between Yo-Yo Ma (celebrated worldwide) and Colin Carr (celebrated in the US and his native UK, mainly). In fact, it seems to be harder and harder to bridge the invisible gap between fame in one's own region and world-wide fame -- and this in a time when such barriers are widely believed to have disappeared.

With the mammoth growth in air travel, classical CDs, illegal downloading, and the world-wide web etc it is truly amazing that these differentiations continue to exist. Surely one man's Brahms is another man's George Crumb, yet genius remains genius and gorgeousness of sound continues to be gorgeousness of sound.

Or am I being pedantic here?
Cordially, Alice

Ask Alice



(snazz this up with graphics Keithie baby ...)


(Dear readers,
Just Keith trying to be funny. Do not encourage him!!!!!!!!!!!!)


THIS IS NOT A WHITEWASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Includes these comments:

'I was in the audience when you missed the shift and muttered something indecorous, and really it was almost inaudible.'

'That elderly lady at the back would probably have passed out anyway.'


'If you think the language of lower strings is bad you should listen to the brass!

(NOTE TO MS GLORIA STOATGOBBLER: Put that in your pipe and smoke it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)


Copyright © 6 February 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK






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