From Ensō to SPCO: Maureen Nelson and Richard Belcher

Maureen (seated) and Richard (right) pose with fellow Enso String Quartet players for a promotional photoshoot.

This month, the SPCO took up Beethoven’s Razmovsky Quartet No. 3, and, in typical experimental SPCO fashion, the classic string quartet piece was cleverly arranged for 18 players – with the stage split by two groups of violins mimicking, singing, and sometimes musically shouting from either end.

For several SPCO players, the world of string quartet was their main focus before joining the orchestra. For some like Maureen Nelson and Richard Belcher, their backgrounds more closely intertwine.

“This is a piece that we used to play a lot, so it was fun to look back at Richard during rehearsals this week and remember practicing these same parts,” recalled Maureen, who played in Ensō String Quartet with Richard for 17 years. “There was a time during rehearsal where I was about to say something, and I looked over to Richard and he started saying exactly what I was going to say!”

Richard added, “A lot of times in a quartet you become like siblings and very comfortable! It’s wonderful to have a familiar face as a colleague again.”

Richard and Maureen warming up, literally, before an Ensō performance.

“This is really quite serendipitous that we ended up in the same group again,” Maureen said. “I really lucked out in getting hired at the SPCO because I always respected this ensemble … and just two or three years later, Richard joined! My closest music buddy!”

Being the popular quartet piece that the third Razumovsky is, having the opportunity to revisit it together, but with a new twist, was thrilling for both. And the piece fit like a glove! The power and force of the added string players created a soul-pounding performance.

“Beethoven rocks!” exclaimed Maureen, who went on to liken the composer to an onion. Though composers such as Beethoven have been household names for hundreds of years, there’s always more layers to uncover.

“You can keep revisiting the same piece, and there will always be something to add to the performance,” she continued. “He’s such a meat and potatoes composer of string quartet literature. This is such a hearty piece – so much joy and energy in this piece. For me this is really well suited to play in a bigger group because of that aspect.”

Richard reflected on this as well, showing that there is a different energy created with a larger group. “I think his [Beethoven’s] heroic side comes out in this piece. The weight of it really struck me. But then there’s the bright side that comes out too. It’s one of the most exciting fugues that we could play and has one of the most thrilling finales you could hope for!

Maureen explained, “There’s a camaraderie in the section, especially in the difficult parts of any piece. I love playing with other violinists! Sometimes there are nights where it can be challenging, but we all have everyone’s back. Other times, it goes great and we all want to celebrate that!” And opening night was certainly one those times.

On the final draw of the bow at Temple Israel, a sense of grand accomplishment was released immediately among the violinists who threw large smiles to the audience and each other before exchanging high fives.

Richard said, “There’s a lot of joy in this piece. It’s about the journey that makes it so special.” Similar, you could say, to the journey that he and Maureen have shared – one that looped them back together.

On the way to the 2010 Grammy’s in style! Ensō was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance.