Sandy Says it’s Heating Up at the London International String Quartet Competition

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Solem Quartet
The Solem Quartet

The early spring heat wave may be breaking at last but the heat is only ramping up yet hotter for the competitors at the LISQC as the weekend bears down. The last of the preliminaries were completed today with fine performances by Switzerland’s Gemeaux Quartet, the American Attacca Quartet, the UK’s Piatti Quartet, Denmark’s Nightingale Quartet and the American Tesla Quartet. In addition to a selection of late Haydn and Mozart Quartets, the day’s public programming also included 3 performances of Brett Dean’s compulsory “Eclipse” Bartok 2nd and John Adam’s latest 2008 quartet. All these quartet performances don’t even include the two freelunchtime off-site performances at St Martin in the Fields and St James’s Church on Piccadilly by Aeolus and Dover Quartets, both of which competitors were enjoying a day off having completed their preliminary rounds earlier in the week. It’s quite possible and even likely, as the Wigmore Hall and the Competition’s Chairman, John Gilhooly commented, that this week may well have featured the greatest concentration of string quartet performances that the City of London has ever experienced!

The audience at the Royal Academy of Music today responded justifiably with tremendous enthusiasm to each the performances and then waited late in the afternoon for the Jury’s considerably delayed pronouncement of the semi-finalists who will advance to the Beethoven round in Wigmore Hall tomorrow. That’s going to be a very hot ticket by the way, and the audience will be treated to six performances of the quartets’ own choice of middle or late Beethoven quartets, (excluding the Grosse Fugue). As it turns out, we will hear as many as three performances of the 2nd Razumovsky which curiously has been an historically significant choice for the final winners over the previous 11 competitions. I cannot provide a precise statistic here since I’m not able to consult the administration at time of writing but I do know for a fact that the Takacs, Hagen and Alexander all won the First Prizes with op. 59/2 in each of 1979/1982/1985 respectively. Can someone break the spell? … Yikes!

Groups advancing to the semi-finals include Romania’s Arcadia Quartet; the U.S. Dover Quartet (formerly known as The Old City String Quartet); the Swiss Gemeaux Quartet; Poland’s Meccorre Quartet; the British Piatti Quartet and the U.S. Tesla Quartet. Three of these will advance to Sunday’s final round but, there are many more than three cash prizes. All the ensembles are welcomed to remain in London through the finalists Wigmore Hall performances and the subsequent Awards Ceremony on Sunday evening when as many as ten prizes will be conferred, This does not include the Competition’ three major cash prizes which also bring an attendant recording contract, a prizewinners’ UK tour and several additional engagements overseas. Among the prestigious awards are a prize from the Morrison Chamber Music Center at San Francisco State University, a prize from the Banff Center in Alberta and another from Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland. Interesting also is htat there are prizes to be awarded for the best performance of a Haydn Quartet and the Sidney Griller Award for the best performance of the Imposed compulsory work. Naturally these awards can in fact be awarded to any of the 10 participating quartets and not restricted to the three finalists so we can count on sustained and great excitement late into the night!

The public masterclasses came to an end today. My morning was spent once more with the Jubilee Quartet, this time with Mendelssohn’s last composition, his op. 80 quartet and the late afternoon with the Royal Northern College of Music’s Solem Quartet who impressed with a fine presentation of Schumann’s op. 41 #1. I feel quite confident that Sir John and Lady Evelyn Barbirolli who seemed to watch over the entire proceedings on the 3rd floor would have been more than proud and indeed enormously gratified that the future of string quartets in Britain and indeed around the world would seem to be in exceptionally robust health!

— London, 3/30/2012

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