By Laurence Vittes | From the January-February 2023 issue of Strings magazine
Jacqueline Thomas’ chronicle of her life, art, and work as member of the Brodsky Quartet, which she formed at the age of ten in the heart of industrial England, takes her up through the quartet’s first commercial recording in 1984. Taking its name from the cellist’s childhood nickname, Jacksons, Monk & Rowe is both an uninhibited romp through the ensemble’s first decade, when classical music was mainstream and string quartets were cool, and the story of a group of preteens taking a serious look at developing interpretations and performance skills.
Their collaborations with Björk, Elvis Costello, and Paul McCartney still ahead, the quartet’s road began with the ensemble on its own, then with teachers, at competitions, and in residencies around the UK and Europe. It was as rich with adventure as any yellow brick road. Whole chapters are given over to wonderful descriptions, including a master class with Sándor Végh and a summer festival at the Masterpiece Theatre setting of Dartington Hall.
Thomas writes gracefully and engagingly, and while the overall narrative seems directionless, the chapters are mostly self-referential, and the diary entries she interweaves catch the immediacy of the moment the way her quartet’s playing catches the ear. She has a casual way of explaining musical events, even sometimes harmony and technical matters, that makes readers feel like insiders. She is tough on herself, her colleagues, and the social and gender inequities of her profession.
When Thomas grew up, music lessons and instruments were free to any child wishing to take part. “From this hotbed of opportunity,” she writes, “our group evolved and became the driving force of our young lives.
“After orchestra,” she reminisces, “we walked home in the rain and got chips. We had the most brilliant improv we’ve ever had with a fantastic ending with me leading. After that we had a great dance to African Sanctus. It’s amazing!!!”