On the Road: The Incendium Quartet at the Fischoff Competition | Atticus Mellor-Goldman

Hi, my name is Atticus Mellor-Goldman, and I’m the cellist of the Incendium Quartet. I’m here again to talk about some of my experiences on the road at the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

This competition was such a crazy experience, with so many emotions working for and against us. We didn’t have high expectations for how well we’d do going into the competition: there were just so many good groups there. I don’t think I’ve been in any kind of setting with that many talented chamber groups in my life, and I think we all enjoyed seeing old friends there and meeting many new ones.

On the first day of the competition, the quarterfinals, we played in an acoustically dry hall and we all thought we performed pretty badly on one of our pieces. They wouldn’t announce the groups who made it into the semifinals until tomorrow morning, so we basically had to just try to relax at the hotel and hope for the best. The atmosphere that night was pretty tense; we were all at each other’s throats for some reason or another and our mindset seemed somewhat in the gutter.

I had been confident in us the entire year to make the semifinals, and even though I tried to cheer everyone up, we all sort of seemed to be in our own world and I was a little disheartened, as well.

Cut to the next morning: all 25 groups are seated together in the hall we had played in the day before, wondering if they were going to be one of the 12 groups that made it to the semis. They had a special competition name for us to make it easier on the judges: our name was J8. The director of the competition proceeded to call out the groups that made it to the next round and as we sat there, the four of us clutching each other’s hands, he called out the 11th group to make it to the semis. All of us started looking at each other, beginning to realize that our fear had become a reality: we actually weren’t going to make it past the quarterfinal round. And then he called out the last group, J8.

Being called last was probably the scariest moment of the entire competition and personally, I thought it helped us out in the other rounds. I think that a lot of the stress had been lifted off our shoulders, simply from the overwhelming stress of that moment, and we carried it into our performance in the semifinal round later that day.

Our emotions were riding wild: any one of these performances could have been our last as the Incendium Quartet, since our second violinist, Mei, was leaving for China immediately after the competition ended, and we played like it was. We ended that performance physically exhausted but riding on some form of emotional high, since we had also been the last group to play. This time, the wait before the announcement wasn’t as bad; we were all happy with our performance and we were just amazed at the level of the groups that played in the semifinals.

Later that night, as all of the ensembles from every division gathered, we sat there for what seemed to be ages, chatting amongst ourselves and with our amazing coach Andrew Cook (who flew out all the way with us just to help and motivate us), who seemed just as nervous (if not more) than us.

Once they called out two groups who had received honorable mentions who I had thought were amazing, a part of me had a gut feeling that we were going to be in the finals. Thankfully, this time we did not get called last!

That night was such a thrill ride, knowing that we had placed at the competition was already amazing as it is, and even though we tried to get a little practice in that night for the final round the next day, it didn’t go very well and we were too happy to care. We all went in to the next day expecting to get the Bronze medal, with every one of us, including myself, making sure to remind everyone (and ourselves) that we weren’t going to get Silver or Gold, and to just try and keep that mindset going into the performance and even after we played. And then, right before our Finals performance, Andrew came backstage to give us a little “pep talk” before the concert. He gave us an amazing, emotional speech about how proud he was of us and had all the girls breaking down in tears, with only 10 minutes before we performed!

While they tried desperately to make the tears stop, it seemed like there was nothing they could do: all the emotions of the trip had finally gotten to them. Remembering the amount of effort we put in over the course of the year, assuming that this was going to be our last performance with Mei ever, and then seeing our coach somewhat break down like that, it was just too much. We went out onto the stage still sobbing, and played our hearts out.

After the performance, we all sat down in the big hall amongst the other finalists from both the junior and senior divisions. I wasn’t even looking at the person announcing the winners; I was just staring at the bottom of the stage where I sat in the front row, hearing the first two syllables of our competition name being called out. The Bronze Medal Award goes to group J8… that split second where our name had been called… it seemed like an eternity before he finished the sentence. Group J Eigh….teen!

The next moment was one of the best of my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the looks in my Quartet members’ faces when the other chamber group was awarded the Silver Medal. The impulsive, immediate screams that came from all of them and the moment of pure and utter elation as we realized what had just happened. Before and after our final Winner’s Concert was just one big, surreal blur of emotions that I can’t even begin to describe: we had just won the Junior Division of one of the biggest Chamber Music Competitions in the world. I wish I could explain how happy we were to receive the Gold Medal, but I can’t, simply because I’m still crying while I write about this, three weeks after the competition.

This was such an amazing experience for my Quartet and me, and I’m so glad we were able to conclude the last performance of the Incendium Quartet with such a bang and hopefully made Mei happy before she left for China. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has supported us the entire way, it means the world to us.