Artist in
Resid nce
| Quatuor Ébène

Jeff Schiltz
The Quatuor Ébène wearing black and standing in front of a white wall

In the aftermath of their first concert at the Philharmonie this season, we had the pleasure of chatting with Pierre Colombet, Gabriel Le Magadure of the Quatuor Ébène about their residency. We discussed how to navigate both the classical and jazz repertoires, the challenges of sustaining a musical partnership over time, and the ensemble’s fruitful collaboration with the Luxembourg Philharmonic!

How does it feel to be an artist in residence at the Philharmonie?

Pierre Colombet: It brings us immense joy! The concert hall holds a special place in our hearts, and we've had the pleasure of performing here regularly. The warm reception from the audience has always made us feel at home. We've made many memories which we cherish in this beautiful venue, and the prospect of returning more frequently fills us with excitement. It opens the door to new projects and allows us to express ourselves in unique ways.

Gabriel Le Magadure: One specific project on our horizon involves collaborating with the Luxembourg Philharmonic. While we typically perform as a quartet or occasionally as a quintet, the idea of playing with a full orchestra behind us is a thrilling departure from our usual format. We're eager to embark on this exciting venture.


Does playing with an orchestra require a different kind of preparation?

Pierre Colombet: As a quartet, our usual routine involves extensive rehearsals when working on new programmes. We typically dedicate three weeks a month to fresh repertoire, embracing the process of coming together and meticulously delving into the works. This immersive approach is what works for us.

Gabriel Le Magadure: However, the process will be quite different when rehearsing with the orchestra. We anticipate having fewer rehearsal sessions, which demands a heightened level of efficiency. This change may also allow us to explore extremes, going from delicate pianissimo to much more robust forte, and tackle a palette of dynamics that extends way beyond our usual repertoire for quartet. 


How do you communicate during a concert?

Pierre Colombet: When we play together, a sort of intuition develops. There's a moment in the piece where a repetition occurs twice, and for some reason, yesterday in Berlin, I thought to myself: «No vibrato here». He (Gabriel Le Magadure) caught on immediately, and the second time, he knew when I was going to add vibrato, so he did it automatically, or maybe I anticipated his move – I'm not sure. In any case, there are moments when we're accustomed to certain unspoken cues. It's like a subtle way of saying, «Wait, I'm going to do something». We listen to each other and immediately pick up on certain nuances.

The essence of chamber music, I believe, lies in breathing – a complex subject. While it's often said that the first violin leads and breathes for others, it's not that simple. If we strive to breathe together and each become our own leader, harmonizing our internal timing, it's not as straightforward as it seems.

Gabriel Le Magadure: Of course, the first violin often provides the breath, since he plays the melody and has a leading role. He sets the pace, but if I just wait and observe, I'll be behind. If I put myself in his shoes, even if I have a completely different part to play, I need to accompany him. «Accompanying» means playing with and empowering the other to contribute – it's always a dialogue.


Classical versus Jazz: is there a difference in technique?

Gabriel Le Magadure: Indeed, in our arrangements, we've created quite a few adaptations. He (Pierre Colombet) engages in a lot of improvisation, and then we, possibly at the core, infuse a more rhythmic and defined element compared to what we typically have. The playing technique when improvising in jazz music varies significantly from classical music.

Pierre Colombet: So delicate is the bowing, almost hushed, that we've become accustomed to using microphones when we perform this kind of music.

Quite frequently, we also find ourselves playing double or even triple strings, creating chords that are reminiscent of the Big Band style. Interestingly, these are also found in Béla Bartók’ works and occasionally in Ludwig van Beethoven’s!


What is the key to maintaining a musical collaboration for so long?

Pierre Colombet: The life of a quartet is akin to a group psychoanalysis, where we continually find ourselves stimulated by the other three, revealing aspects of our personalities that we might not have been aware of. It requires quite a lot of effort in terms of communication and attitude, so we can create a respectful environment and react less invasively to one another.

Gabriel Le Magadure: The endurance of our quartet can also be attributed to an objective we’ve all subconsciously shared from the start. Over the years, as we developed and even won competitions, we realized how important our commitment to working diligently every day was. We are passionate about our repertoire and fully dedicated to this particular way of life.

As we constantly support each other, we are also reflecting on the future, the past, our evolution, and the challenge of maintaining our performance standards for interpretation. It's a fascinating journey, and if we preserve this passion, there's no reason why it should stop.