Along with their progressive repertoire and acclaimed performances, the Borromeo String Quartet have long been on the forefront of performance and educational music technology.
Their most visible innovation is the use of special music stands adapted to hold a MacBook laptop in tandem with FootimeTM, a pdf score-reading tool that turns pages with a USB pedal. Violinist Nicholas Kitchen was the initial member to adopt the laptop and first used it in performance in December of 2007. Over the next few months, the other members of the quartet began using laptops as well.
This technology allows the quartet to read from the full score rather than individual parts, which enhances their understanding of both classic and new pieces.Cellist Yeesun Kim explains that "The most important advantage to using computers, which takes quite a bit to get used to, is that it allows us the ability to read from full, four-part, music scores rather than from individual parts." As Nicholas Kitchen further elaborated, reading from the score allows the quartet to increase their understanding of how the individual parts fit together to create the whole texture of the music and give a more confident performance. It also helps them to learn new pieces faster. The laptops also allow the quartet to carry an entire library of wherever they go on their extensive tours.
Their laptops also enhance the Borromeo Quartet's educational programs. In presentations of works by Haydn, Bartok, and Bach, the quartet has projected facsimile manuscript scores of the work to enhance the audience's understanding of the music as it is being performed.
The quartet is also no stranger to the world of digital recording. Since 2002, Borromeo have been recording their concerts using Pro Tools digital software and began making these audio and video recordings available to audiences in 2003 through their record label, Living Archive. The current archive includes recent performances and a representation of the best past concerts.
Violinist Nicolas Kitchen reflects on the value of their archive: "The constant re-creation of great pieces of music is a very special journey. Each concert has its own alchemy: Every hall is different. Each audience creates a different "vibe." The same piece of living music transforms constantly as the group's ear absorbs it more and more deeply. I think of ocean waves hitting a certain shore, each the same in some way, but each unique. For our quartet, the sequence of performances has been a rich history of discovery."
What is the next step in music performance technology? With the rise of ebooks such as the Kindle, the publishing industry is moving toward electronic distribution and use of printed materials. It is only a matter of time before this and other existing technologies are applied to printed music.
E Ink, the Cambridge company that developed the Electronic Paper Display (EPD), have recognized the music potential of their products from the very beginning. Since the development of their flexible displays, E Ink have been using sheet music in trade show demonstrations and have attracted the interest of not only companies interested in developing music readers, but from individual musicians as well. With the production of larger, flexible displays beginning this year and the development of e-textbooks and e-newspapers, e-scores are within reach.
What would such a device provide above and beyond the advantages of Borromeo's laptops? EPD's are lighter, use less power, and are easier on the eyes than the liquid crystal screens of laptops. In combination with the sound playback, notation, and connectivity technology that e-readers already contain, a music device could change not only performances, but increase the efficiency of rehearsals, and enrich the educational process.
by Stefanie Lubkowski
Publicity and Communications Manager
Celebrity Series of Boston