A string quartet that is redefining classical music in the ever-famous Nashville music scene, La Vie Quartet is making it their mission to "share the beauty and importance of the string quartet classics in the conversation of music." Known for their popular covers of artists ranging from the classics of Elvis and Etta James, to the mainstream artists of today like Drake, Bruno Mars, and Ariana Grande, La Vie Quartet is reinventing the idea of classical music with their modern arrangements of today's hit songs.
We had the opportunity to chat with Jacob Tudor, second violinist, and get the story behind La Vie Quartet. From their unassuming beginnings to career defining moments such as performing with JOHNNYSWIM, we've got the inside scoop on what makes this group so special.... and we couldn't be more excited to share it.
First things first, we want to know how you got started as a quartet! Can you tell us about the beginnings of La Vie Quartet?
In 2015 I moved to Nashville to begin my masters degree at Belmont University in Classical Violin Performance. Born and raised in southwest Ohio, I was accustomed to finding plenty of performance work throughout the area. I reached out to all kinds of ensembles and music contractors when I moved, but work didn’t really pan out the way I had hoped, and I didn’t know what to do. I decided that if I wanted to get music work in a music town, I would have to create it for myself. I reached out to a long time friend from home, Pendra Snyder, the founder and manager of Viva La Strings (a chamber music ensemble based in Dayton, OH I frequently performed with), and we went into business together in bringing the Viva La Strings business model to Nashville. I reached out to musician friends and connections I made while in Nashville to create a team, and we branded Viva La Strings-Nashville. Over the course of a year, we were booking more and more events, from some of the most prestigious corporate and non-profit events in the city, dozens and dozens of weddings (including that of country singer-songwriter Rhett Akins), a feature on the National Geographic Channel, and more. I realized that the core quartet of musicians had something really special. Hannah and I decided to take the next step and establish a classical string quartet of permanent members, focusing on standard quartet repertoire and collaborations as an artist ensemble, with other artists.
Where did the inspiration for your quartet name come from?
This was actually a very difficult process! Four people with four different opinions, we threw in name after name, but couldn’t agree on one. We wanted a name that reflected our values, worldview, and philosophy of music. La Vie Quartet had been among our top choices. We loved the French meaning of “la vie” (in English, “life”) and its relation to our beginnings and continued partnership with Viva La Strings (Italian, similarly meaning life / long live). However, nearly a month had gone by after we began regular rehearsals as an ensemble, and we were still without an official name. We set a deadline for ourselves: if we did not agree on a name, we would be La Vie Quartet. Long story short, we came to our agreed upon deadline without an agreeable alternate option, and so officially became La Vie Quartet! We have since adopted the abbreviation LVQ and signature, “Life to All, LVQ.”
La Vie Quartet is becoming known for radical arrangements of popular, contemporary music into classical style masterpieces. Tell us about this process. How do you choose the songs?
Do you arrange them yourselves? What is your inspiration behind re-creating these songs into classical pieces?
There are a variety of factors we take into consideration when choosing popular artists for our contemporary arrangements. We have a concert series in partnership with The Rymer Gallery, a contemporary fine art gallery located in downtown Nashville, that we call “The Gallery Sessions.” These performances are free, open to the public, and we offer themed cocktails for 21+ guests. Each performance pairs a standard, classical string quartet with a contemporary artist. We first choose the classical quartet based on popularity, accessibility to audiences of various musical backgrounds, and consideration to where we are as a relatively young quartet in order to take us to the next level of performance. We then pair the classical composer’s name with that of a contemporary artist — in alliteration, also taking into account an audience of varied taste, and an overall thematic concept. For example, our first gallery session was “Beethoven & Bruno,” featuring the Beethoven String Quartet Op. 130 in B-flat Major, “Cavatina” with “Versace on the Floor,” by Bruno Mars. Our second gallery session was “Dvorak & Drake,” Dvorak’s American String Quartet and a compilation of popular Drake hits. We are currently in the works preparing our next gallery session, “Mendelssohn & Michael.”
On our Instagram, we take a more edgy approach in featuring up and coming artists, or other varying genres of music than Top 40’s pop, that might not typically be thought of in the realm of classical music. We have done arrangements of songs by Ariana Grande and Allen Stone, while also featuring our classical repertoire. We have plans to soon be featuring songs by Delta Rae, Daniel Caesar, Lennon Stella, and Troye Sivan, among others artists!
As far as the arrangements themselves, we always custom create them ourselves. Gideon and I are both arrangers/composers. He or I will typically chart an arrangement as a foundation for the songs and then bring them to the quartet for additional thoughts and ideas before recording. For our “Dvorak & Drake” performance, the Drake feature went under many stages of composition and revision between myself, Gideon, and Josee, with the final version completed the day before the actual performance! It is our goal for the arrangements we create to feature incredible songs and artists, as well as show off our chops as versatile, classical musicians.
What is your rehearsal approach to mastering the complicated pieces and arrangements that you often perform?
We typically either begin or end a rehearsal with recording an arrangement of a contemporary artist (time permitting, as this is generally a faster process than working the classical repertoire). The majority of our rehearsals focus on the classical work, or preparing music for upcoming live performances/recordings with artists. We keep a schedule that breaks down week by week goals for expected progress in learning our classical quartet selection in order to plan individual practice time in learning repertoire and preparing for upcoming rehearsals.
What is your ideal performance space? Do you have a dream venue that you hope to perform in someday?
We are incredibly fortunate to have great relations with The Rymer Gallery in Nashville - it really is the perfect venue to host our local performances! Of course, we also have dream venues, among which the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater is definitely at the top of our list. Locally, I think we would love the opportunity to perform with artists at the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, an excellent performance venue with the most picturesque backdrop of the city, nestled next to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.
You have collaborated with another one of our favorite artists, JOHNNYSWIM. Can you tell us about that experience, how it came about, and how it affected you and your journey as a quartet?
I first started listening to JS in 2012 with the release of their “Home, Vol. 1” EP. At the time they were not yet well-known to mainstream audiences. One of my best friends sent me a link to “Home” and suggested them to me as someone I would enjoy. I was hooked! I continued to listen and purchase all of their following EP’s and, over time, albums.
In June of 2017, Abner posted on Instagram/Twitter that they would be doing a secret show for free at Exit/In, a popular music venue in Nashville. Myself and our violist at the time, also a huge JS fan, waited in the rain for hours to be among those to make it into the show — my first time seeing JS live! A longtime JS fan, I knew all of the string parts in their music, and during the concert I thought, “they need live strings, we should have brought our instruments!”
About one month later to the date, I received a phone call through my Viva La Strings-Nashville work number. I was awoken in the middle of an afternoon nap by a phone call from an unknown caller and thought, “hmmm, should I answer?” Groggily, I decided to pick up. Low and behold, it was JOHNNYSWIM’s management company! They were in the process of planning two Christmas performances at The Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville and were looking for a string quartet to perform with live, the first time they would feature live strings in concert. I couldn’t believe it! Naturally, I contracted La Vie Quartet for the gig, in which we also performed with Jesus Culture artists Bryan & Katie Torwalt and special guest Colbie Caillat. After those performances, we were invited to perform with them again at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles for their 2018 Valentine’s Day concert featuring special guest Tori Kelly. We opened the night alone on stage with a 30-minute set of classic and popular love songs.
Abner and Amanda are truly incredible musicians as well as people. In the music industry, you often hear horror stories of working with artists, but Abner and Amanda are the most pure, genuine people that you see on stage as you hear in their music. They are models for what it looks like to have love and family in music careers. While in LA, they invited us to rehearse with them at their home in Burbank. Rehearsing with them literally in their garage is one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced in my music career to this day. We also had the opportunity to stay for dinner and hang out with them in their everyday, normal life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the artists we love are really just normal people, too. Having the opportunity to perform with JOHNNYSWIM has tremendously helped us show a much larger audience who we are and what we are capable of as a classical ensemble, and achievement aside, was a rare dream come true.
What are some of your dream collaborations?
At the top of my list, I would really love to perform with Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars. Also on my list would be another long-time favorite, OneRepublic.
You are based in Nashville, the music capital of the world. What would be some dreams or goals that you would like to reach as a quartet?
Nashville, a central location in the US and a multi-billion dollar hotspot in the music industry, is booming all around. Being based in Nashville has really given us some incredible opportunities over quartets in larger, more established cities. We had the opportunity to perform for R&B singer Brian McKnight’s wedding ceremony last December in New York City, our performances with JOHNNYSWIM, we recently did a project in collaboration with the National Parks Service and Discovery Channel, among other projects. It is our goal to continue pursuing excellence in the performance of classical string quartet repertoire — compete in chamber music competitions, offer performance master classes and coaching opportunities to high school and collegiate level ensembles, etc., as well as continuing to collaborate in recordings and live performances with contemporary artists.
As a quartet, what kind of legacy do you want to leave in the music scene of Nashville? What do you want to be known for?
Nashville has a huge reputation in the music industry across all popular genres, but the classical music scene is still very up and coming. There are really only a handful of classical chamber ensembles based here. It is our desire to share the beauty and importance of the string quartet classics in the conversation of music. The music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and many other composers formed the foundation of Western Music that paved the way for the music of our favorite artists today. We believe in the value and continued relevance of the classics as integral to current music, but we also have a passion to bring the same level of performance and artistry to contemporary music. With that in mind, I don’t think we couldn’t possibly be located in a more perfect place than Nashville!
Any upcoming releases, concerts, or collaborations that you want to share with fans?
Right now we are working on our next gallery session, “Mendelssohn & Michael,” featuring Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 30 as well as the works of Michael Jackson! We’re anticipating this performance to be in the winter/spring. This December we are very excited to be performing with Christy Nockels at the Franklin Theater, a legendary historic movie house venue in the greater Nashville area. As far as recording work, we were recently featured in the 2018 CD Baby DIY Conference hosted in Nashville, recording with EverSol at Nashville’s OceanWay Recording Studios. We also recently worked on a recording project with classic folk rock singer-songwriter/guitarist Arielle, @officialarielle on IG, that we are looking forward to sharing! There are several other mainstream artists that we are in the works with… but we can’t share that information just yet ;)