Four musicians, four countries of origin, four very diverse backgrounds. And it all adds up to one very good time — for the musicians and their audiences.
That’s what the Landmark String Quartet (nee Sincopa String Quartet) promises to bring to the Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula on May 11.
What distinguishes the Landmark String Quartet is its members’ ability, and especially their desire, to communicate with each other during performance in a way that “draws our audience into the music,” says Jennifer Wu, the Taiwanese violist and spokesperson for the group.
“The audience likes to see our communication between each other visually,” Wu says. “After concerts, people tell us, ‘We’ve never seen this kind of live performance.’ Many people think of classical music as straight, even boring, all serious. But Landmark likes to make music about communicating with the audience and each other.”
It is not, Wu emphasizes, about messing with the music, but about interpretation that comes from each member a) knowing the music and b) knowing when to step up or back off to showcase another’s skill. That’s where the communication comes in — often through a nod, a smile, a wink.
“We don’t tweak anything,” says Wu. “We respect composers and compositions. But a composition is not just one line. There is left and right hand, top and bottom voice, and so we’ll use body language in a way that really looks at a particular melody as two melodies, call and response, to see as well as hear. And for us, it’s very natural.”
It’s also very necessary, given the diversity of cultures represented in Landmark. Joining Wu are South Korean cellist Wonsun Keem, Brazilian violinist Luis-Gustavo Mascaro Alberto and Czech violinist Petr Masek.
“We also bring a mixture of musical influences that enhances our performance,” says Wu. Mascaro Alberto, for example, plays with the band Off to Farofa (fusing elements from Brazilian world music, jazz, rock and pop) and tours with Mexican pop diva Gloria Trevi (on her “El Amor” world tour), while Masek toured nationally with the rock band Death Cab for Cutie.
“We all know the techniques,” Wu says, “but we each have different kinds of musical training, from conservative to soloistic to adventurous, and that makes a difference in how we approach the music.
“So when we rehearse, we try to learn each other’s background, to ask each other, ‘Why do you interpret this music in this way?’ We want to understand each other better, and we learn so much from each other. Luis-Gustavo, for example, is also a jazz musician, and he tells us that, as a classical musician, you can sometimes get trapped in what your teacher taught you. That new perspective helps each of us grow individually, and that enhances us collectively.”
The composition of the group also factored into its 2018 name change from Sincopa to Landmark.
“We took a year off to redefine our quartet,” says Wu, “and we adopted the new name because while ‘landmark’ often means a structure that’s more established, it can also mean something new and innovative. And either way, it means there is a story to tell, which is what we seek to communicate.”
The group is particularly interested, she adds, in helping “redefine and rejuvenate classical music for younger generations, to draw more youth to live classical music. Because each of us are also teachers, and it’s important for young people — many of whom have been so attuned to video games and electronic devices that make music for them — to see classical music as well as hear it. We all believe in giving back and helping to develop the next generation of musicians.”
The Landmark String Quartet will perform Saturday, May 11, at 7 p.m. at Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula, 740 E. Main Street, Santa Paula. For tickets and more information, call 805-525-4647 or visit uucsp.org/events.