Fuego QuartetSeptember 18, 2018
Renowned for their award-winning performances, the Fuego Quartet is devoted to the performance of both standard and contemporary works for all audiences. Founded in 2015 at the Eastman School of Music, Fuego is passionate about community engagement and education, striving to bring new sounds into familiar spaces and introduce music of all types to people with friendly, creative and informative performances. ALP Alums Erik Elmgren and Gabriel Piqué (both MM ’17) play alto and baritone saxophone in the ensemble, respectively.
In addition to being Fischoff Gold Medalists, Fuego has embarked upon several tours and is currently in the process of creating an album. Can you describe the main responsibilities that come with initiating and sustaining a successful chamber ensemble?
To be in a successful and sustaining group, the ensemble must have similar ambitions and goals in mind. Because of this, we are constantly building short and long term goals within our group in order to sustain our ensemble in a healthy and successful way. To us, there is also a difference between being successful, and being successful and sustaining. We were very fortunate to have done well in several competitions while we were students. However, this can only help a group to a certain extent. We constantly seek out unique opportunities that collectively match our ambitions, strengths and areas of interest. Communication and honesty are also important. In a professional ensemble, you spend a great deal of time with one another. Being open and communicating with each other is a primary goal of ours. This keeps our group’s energy positive and thriving. As students, we had the luxury of being able to live from gig to gig. Now we take a more business model approach. We have learned to not be afraid to reach out to contacts in order to use our resources to our advantage. Networking and establishing significant contacts is key in being able to continue as a sustaining professional ensemble.
Fuego formed during your time as students at Eastman, but now most of you are living in different places. How do you address the challenges of rehearsing, touring, and recording together while living so far apart from one another?
Initially, this was a big change for our group. At Eastman, we met almost every day, definitely every day during competition season. Now that we no longer have that luxury, we tend to have side gaps without seeing one another, and we must be even more efficient with rehearsal time.
We delineated tasks to suit individuals strengths in the group in order to be more efficient in running our ensemble. Each member of the group has a job to fulfil. One makes itineraries, one handles emailing, one is our banker, and one is our social media person. This way when we get together for performances, we can just focus on rehearsing and performing. We have frequent Skype meetings where we use these times for planning, score study and going over broader musical concepts in the repertoire we are working on. This way, we have more to work towards in our individual preparation before getting together. Being organized individually is extremely important in order for us to do what we do today as a group.
What is your mission as an ensemble, and how do you embody this mission in the opportunities you pursue?
Fuego Quartet seeks to enliven both standard and new repertoire by reimagining the boundaries of audiences and concert settings. By building interdisciplinary relationships in a variety of communities, Fuego forges new social bridges using the power of music. Through dynamic programming for all audiences and collaborations with composers and artists, we aspire to ignite curiosity and illuminate minds.
Our group started by playing in the community, and we strive to continue that tradition. We enjoy playing for wide varieties of people, and this allows us to be creative in the repertoire we select. We also like to have a balance of standard concert performances, outreach programs in schools, and new projects such as commissioning composers to write for our group. The words ignite and illuminate draw connections to our group’s name, Fuego, the Spanish word for “fire.”
Erik and Gabe, you’re both ALP alums. How have your experiences in the ALP translated to your current careers with Fuego?
Gabe: The ALP program has given me the tools and experience to manage a portion of the quartet and contribute in a meaningful way to the overall success of the group. In my internship at Jazz 90.1, I learned how to communicate with a team. Quick and effective communication plays a key part to the success of any organization, and if I had not had that experience through my ALP internship, I may still be carrying the same communication habits I had my freshman year.
Additionally, ALP has allowed me to think about creative situations and decisions we face in Fuego in different ways. Many of the classes that I took encouraged us to be creative with our thought processes and to find new avenues for us to explore, and as a result, Fuego is focusing not only on the traditional performance opportunities of a saxophone quartet, but also on branching out to new sectors of potential marketplaces, including performing/presenting at conferences that aren’t music related and commissioning works that complement endeavors in non-art related fields.
Erik: As all of us continue to discover what exactly we want Fuego to become, I find myself constantly relying on skills and ideas that I first gained through ALP. We have taken an entrepreneurial attitude towards our activities with the group as we continue to engage with interesting projects and collaborations. Our early experience with community engagement fostered a desire in all of us to keep doing that sort of work in addition to our own performing schedule. Putting together concerts like these takes a lot of extra work beyond simply playing music, such as writing a script or communicating closely with organizations. Both of these skills were things I worked on during my time with ALP, as well as constantly having an entrepreneurial mindset towards music.
As the group has started to become more professional, we also currently handle a variety of extra-musical tasks like budgeting and grant-writing, and I have definitely put ALP skills to use in these activities. I personally have taken it a step further, as I’m very interested in establishing a nonprofit branch for our quartet that will focus on these types of community engagement concerts and attempting to enrich the lives of underserved populations in the places we perform. To that end, in addition to getting my doctorate at the University of Georgia, I’m also receiving a certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership through the school of social work that will build on the skills I gained in ALP to help run a nonprofit organization.
Do you have any advice for current Eastman students who may want to pursue a career in chamber music?
• Don’t enter a chamber music competition with the mindset of “we are going to win”- instead, take it as an opportunity to network and to work-up repertoire to a high level; otherwise success is highly unlikely.
• All ensemble members should strive to create a positive environment in and outside of the rehearsal room- it is important to always have fun and appreciate the process.
• Take the first year together as a year to get to know each other’s playing. This is something we took very seriously; a truly advanced group knows each member of the group’s playing very well.
• Set both short and long term goals in order to have points to aim towards. Know that this might not be a full time job and don’t start it for the income.
• Always stay humble, work hard, and communicate musically and personally.