TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Live piano concerts and orchestral performances rarely register on the agenda of young people in 2019.
Concert halls are seldom the domain of casual music consumers, and regular visitors are usually involved in performance themselves.
Violist Jennifer Wu believes Classical music has developed an air of elitism and inaccessibility—so much so that it took a long time before she became interested in watching others perform, even as a musician herself.
In reality, she tells Taiwan News, Classical music ought to be both accessible and enjoyable to everyone.
Jennifer began her endeavor into the world of professional performance aged 10, when she was invited to play viola as part of a chamber orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Prior to this, she had already toured Taiwan and given performances in major music venues with her school orchestra.
After multiple successes performing abroad as a young, prodigious musician, Jennifer decided to enroll for music school in the U.S. to seek out new experiences and expand her horizons. She now lives alongside her band mates in Los Angeles, California, and holds both a Bachelors and a Masters degree in music performance.
Jennifer said Landmark formed rather unconventionally through a classified advertisement she placed on Craigslist in 2015. After a few member switch ups, the quartet settled with the diverse roster of talented musicians it hosts today.
(Image by Landmark String Quartet)
Aside from Jennifer, a Taiwanese national, Landmark comprises Korean cellist Wonsum Keem, Brazilian violinist Luis-Gustavo Mascaro Alberto, and Czech violinist Petr Masek. As well as hailing from different parts of the world, each musician has a unique performance style and area of musical interest, which Jennifer hopes can eventually become key to informing the quartet’s repertoire.
Landmark has so far held multiple concert series in California, and collaborated with an established pianist, percussionist and composer to diversify their sound.
Part of Landmark’s mission is to engage casual listeners of all ages and show that one need not be a connoisseur to enjoy Classical music. This aim partially results from Jennifer’s own difficulty accepting the art form when growing up:
“When I was in high school, I wanted to change major because I didn’t find [Classical music] fun or stimulating—all I saw was people sitting on stage. I didn’t understand how they had fun.
"Then one time, I was listening to my professor’s performance in Seattle and brought my friend who never truly knew what Classical music was, but we were both like, ‘Woah!’
I was completely shocked because before the concert, I didn’t want to go to see Classical performances, even though I myself play Classical music. When I was in Taiwan I didn’t find it fun—nobody told me Classical music is fun.”
The problem, she believes, is twofold.
The idea of leaving the house and going out to a concert hall to enjoy music is an inconvenience in modern life, Jennifer says, because people are used to downloading and streaming music at home.
She bemoans that few people have the motivation to get up and go to a place specifically dedicated to hosting musical performances.
The second problem, she says, is that the act of enjoying live Classical music has become a stifling experience suffused with outdated rules and customs:
“We are told you need to sit close to people and be quiet. That’s not really what chamber music is about.
"In Beethoven’s, Mozart’s time, [Classical music] was their entertainment. The rules—no talking, clapping etc.—have made people on edge, which is why they don’t want to go and experience it.”
In order to resolve this issue, Jennifer says she and the quartet attempt to avoid concert halls as much as possible. She says when Landmark comes to tour Taiwan, she wants to perform in coffee shops, for example, rather than any formal setting:
"I want people to enjoy the freedom of talking and drinking. When they find the performance interesting they will want to be quiet, they will want to listen.
"I want to give people the freedom to choose; if they want to listen, listen, if they wanna walk out, walk out. A small stage but close to the audience is ideal—that way they can really feel us.”
(Image by Landmark String Quartet)
Landmark String Quartet currently focuses on reintroducing audiences to familiar pieces by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and other Classical greats, but will eventually move on to less conventional material, Jennifer says.
Since Landmark’s second violinist is a jazz musician, she told Taiwan News, the group wants to expand its repertoire to include more jazz—something not typically done by string quartets.
Jennifer is making arrangements to return to Taiwan with Landmark, as she not only wants to show its success to her parents, but also the rest of the country. She believes the quartet’s diverse makeup and overseas accomplishments mean it can offer something new to the Classical music scene on Taiwan’s shores:
“I want the audiences in Taiwan to know how to break the stigma of Classical music and the string quartet.”
The Landmark String Quartet currently has several scheduled performances in the U.S. but hopes to be in Taiwan by the end of the year. More information can be found on the group’s website.