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Announcement of the three finalists, Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/The Netherlands), Quatuor Cavatine (France) and Dover Quartet (USA) was met with surprise and shock by many attending the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC). By morning most had adjusted to the news. No matter the fact that, since Round One, “The Ten” were each engaged in a fierce field of contenders. We adopted opinions of who would or should win. This conclusion had most searching their memory of the fleeting battles fought this week.
Two reputable mathematicians, Dr. Ernest Enns and Dr. Moses Renert, devised the jury voting procedures. The three quartets chosen for the final round had to excel in just about every part of the early rounds because a weighted ranking was used for each work performed. Then for the final winner, the early rounds scores were still used but the Beethoven quartet performance counted 25% and an overall impression 15%. The full voting procedure may be found at www.bisqc.ca/jury (written by Dr. Isom Herron).
The seven judges were: Miguel da Silva (France/Switzerland), András Fejér (USA), Kikuei Ikeda (Japan/ USA), Garth Knox (Scotland/France), Nicolas Kitchen (USA), Richard Lester (UK), and Scott St. John (Canada).
The Finals performances were magnificent. It was an all Beethoven program.
Navarra Quartet played Beethoven Op. 59 No. 2. It was immensely enjoyable and prize-worthy.
This work has its particular Beethoven challenges. In the second movement Molto Adagio I always note its rhythmic challenges; for instance the handling of the dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth note, or similarly by 32nd note and the articulation that comes with it. Maybe the judges seized on this or some other stylistic requirement to distinguish the Navarra reading from the performance of the same work by Dover Quartet.
Dover Quartet also played Beethoven Op. 59 No. 2 and won the whole show. It was accurate and interestingly styled staying within the Beethoven mode. Dover tends to be very restrained and pedantic along the way and then to subtlety impress with more intensity and bring a bravura close.
Quatuor Cavatine performed Beethoven Op. 130 using Grosse Fuge Op. 133 as the last movement as Beethoven originally intended. They traversed the gargantuan score effortlessly and with a secure grasp of Beethoven’s late style. They were undaunted by the multi-section structure and executed, superbly, shifts in tempo and mood. The Grosse Fuge filled the hall with long awaited Beethoven fire.
The Jury decides:
- 1st Prize – Dover Quartet (USA)
- 2nd Prize – Quatuor Cavatine (France)
- 3rd Prize – Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/The Netherlands)
- Székely Prize for Schubert – Dover Quartet (USA)
- R. S. Williams & Sons Haydn Prize – Dover (USA)
- Canadian Commission Prize – Dover Quartet (USA)
- Judges Mentions – Linden Quartet (USA/Canada) for Romantic Round and Quatuor Cavatine (France) — for “Ainsi la nuit”by Dutilleux
The 11th Banff international String Quartet Competition is hereby adjourned.
Update: Navarra Quartet (UK/ Ireland/the Netherlands), Quatuor Cavatine (France), Dover Quartet (USA) move forward.
The last day of August is the last day for a full ten Quartet Round in the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition: Round Four. After the evening recital, 7:30 to 10:00 pm, the judges will select the three quartets moving forward to the finals tomorrow. The resident audience is larger and more vocally jubilant. That is for good reason as each quartet is strategically strutting their impressive best.
It’s also a day of breath holding for everyone. Performing live is treacherous. Followers and fans want their wishes granted. But, in this competition, I predict, the results are going to be a surprise. One envies those here just to hear the music, if that’s even true. Eleven countries are represented, and there is much intense, untranslated chatter.
Though confidently present on stage, nervousness is evident among the players. Just a slight bobble or momentary lapse in intonation is enough to sink a ship in this field of contenders.
Schumann Quartett (Germany) made a stately entrance. For Mendelssohn Quartet No. 6 Op. 80 they set a serious course, strongly punctuating the thunderous opening statement. They are very capable in the Romantic style, so this was their day. Full orchestral tone, evidenced today in the Adagio has made a strong impression making them an audience favorite.
Dover Quartet (USA) is new to many, including me, but has won a following. Brahms Quartet Op. 51 No. 2 had a reserved quality as of pondering Brahms’ intellectual intensity. The Quasi Minuetto was a best moment and they certainly are good at a strong bravura finish, which they did for Finale.
Quatuor Cavatine (France) played Debussy Quartet Op. 10. It was perfect. A recording could have been made with that single take. This has been my favorite (along with Ravel) since age 18, and I was mightily pleased. Everything struck the right note, but Andantino, duocement expressif bathed us in gentle Parisian light. This national anthem for chamber music in France had the Debussy signature and many shouts of Bravi.
Noga Quartet (France/Israel) brought the mirror reflection of the two-piece French chamber music masterworks; Ravel Quartet in F. The Ravel has long been a flip side companion to the Debussy–when there was a flip side. It is my other cherished musical friend. Noga was chic, and it was wonderful with their quicksilver elegance and concentration of style.
Gémeaux Quartett (Switzerland) was heroic in Mendelssohn Quartet F minor Op. 80. Cellist Mattijs Broersma had the power to propel and Yu Zhuang, violin one, took executive control. The Quartet showed intense artistic commitment in this and is on point for fine ensemble work. Finale Allegro molto brought cheers.
Linden String Quartet (USA/ Canada) has authority and presence that holds audience attention. Mendelssohn Op. 13 was their Round Four choice. The violins of the Linden are a capable pairing with a strong romantic sound. The equally strong lower voices are matched for spectacular artistry. All of this came together for a masterful “homage to Beethoven” string quartet.
Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/the Netherlands) played a beautiful autumnal hued Brahms Quartet Op. 51 No. 1. It was a full volume Brahms with a strong pulsing heartbeat. Navarra lavished Romanze, movement two, with strong orchestral sound engineered by forceful cellist, Brian O ‘ Kane.
Calidore String Quartet (USA/Canada) took a thoughtful on-stage moment before entering the zone. My nickname for them is the “Helium” quartet. For Mendelssohn Quartet Op. 13 they have a particular way of achieving an airy lift to their phrasing. Calidore was elegant in the playing of this epic Mendelssohn score.
Anima Quartet (Russia/China) is named suitable to their style. Standing they allow, as much as possible, physical participation in the music making. Schumann Quartet Op. 41 No. 1 benefited from this in semi-final performance. They played with serious intent, but playful style. The Adagio was a traumerei. They held to the Schumanesque romantic ideal and had as brisk a presto ending as I have ever heard.
Attacca Quartet (USA) has earned a celebrated position for chamber music on the world stage. They ended the semi-finals tonight by performing Dvorak Quartet in G Op. 106. This work comes alive by a performance that brings structure and clarity to its expansive language. The challenge is to not let the listener wander away. Attacca took the effort to do all of this. Andrew Yee deserves a mention for vigorous leadership. The molto vivace was joyful listening. Attacca kept the fine line between plodding and trivializing the folk melody themes.
Dr. Vivian Fung is the Canadian Commission composer for Round Three of the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), offering for this occasion String Quartet No. 3. Her premise is universally appealing. That premise is Chant, here of non-Western origin. Chant on consideration, may be found in every culture and sub-culture in some form: “varied prayers,” Fung’s words “sung to oneself.” Add, to cheer on, to protest and more for universal meaning. The Chant evolves in a 21st century baroque way “trilled versions… fluid, quasi-improvisational anguished renditions.”
The score itself is a visual art piece. The first ten measures proceed to seamless waves notated in flowing 32nd note groups of seven atop 16 note groups of six and sometimes five. Gracefully notated all voice arpeggii are marked to be euphoric. Ascending and descending quasi notated scales beckon the eye. The end is marked Free and With Anguish.
Ornamentation (hence baroque) by Vivian Fung calls for the microtonal tendencies of non-Western scales. “The Ten” welcomed this challenge each in peculiar fashion.
Gémeaux Quartett (Switzerland), coming first to the stage, gave the world premiere of Vivian Fung’s String Quartet No. 3. The introduction was a stille nachte awakening a meditative atmosphere that welcomed the Chant. The quartet precisely rendered dynamic and tempo markings allowing the abrupt changes of subject and mood to have maximum impact. The ten short minutes faded as a dream.
Dover Quartet (USA) took the baton for a second performance greeted by an audience primed to explore more of the meditative region, opened to us by Dr. Fung. After a declamatory Chant announcement, Dover pushed forward putting a slight edge on some transitional passages. Lower voice ascending trills (71) and vigorous arpeggii were rigorously exciting and led to a quiet death before the Chaconne.
Linden String Quartet (USA/Canada) was in high form for their interpretation of the new work. They not only observed with care every triple piano and forte marking they allowed moments of silence that emphasized emotional shifts. Dover paced the Chaconne very slowly giving violin two and then viola (119) time to wreak heart-rending anguish upon us. And then, sadly, all evaporated.
Anima Quartet (Russia/China) painted a distinct picture of Vivian Fung’s String Quartet No. 3. They followed all markings, but their ornamentation had a particular light shimmer even as the notes were accurately executed. They captured the “quasi-improvisational” quality of the Heterophony sections. The Chaconne was a stirring ground with fluid, but intense song from violins and viola.
Navarra Quartet (UK, Ireland, the Netherlands) presented their interpretation of Fung’s String Quartet No. 3 with clear definition. They surged from triple piano through rapid waves momentously arriving to the full Chant. Its importance was well recognized. This led to Anguish above the ground before disappearing to nether lands.
Attacca Quartet (USA) started Fung’s String Quartet No. 3 with transparent, barely audible chords then gathered dynamic strength for stringendo to the gently lapping waves. Attacca is skilled at projecting the peculiar array of effects necessary for new music. The Piacere led to a good slap (44) and pitiful sighs (68)! They emoted grandly for Chaconne with a majestic ground before harmonic fade brought the end.
Calidore String Quartet (USA/Canada) carries decisive charisma with them when they enter the stage. Vivian Fung’s String Quartet No. 3 rested lightly upon them as they shimmered through the introduction and took flight to a heavenly place. I started wishing I were hearing this for the first time, a chance to experience this work’s delightful brevity. Euphoric (25) for Calidore was fury for the Fung. Dramatic quarter note triplets led to Chant. Its statement was particularly articulated. The Heterophonic was soul stirring and at Morendo even died beautifully. Chaconne was solid ground for full lyrical expression. Then came the gentle end.
Schumann Quartett (Germany) for their inspiring name lends gravitas to every performance and took a serious turn for Vivian Fung String’s Quartet No. 3. The even similarity of tone and bow stroke is their advantage. They paced the music deliberately starting with the waves and were grandly Euphoric to a dramatic Chant. It was a very slow Chaconne used for lush passages from violin and viola.
Quatuor Cavatine (France) brings light and spirit center stage. For String Quartet No. 3 by Vivian Fung the listener is immediately captured by waves that were truly seamless. After announcing the Chant, they were able to obey the do not sync together achieving a free flowing texture and playing as they pleased (Piacere). The Chaconne stepped along rather faster than mm.52, but that didn’t put a damper on the pathetic beauty of the violins and the very anguished viola.
Noga Quartet (France/Israel) is a stand alone Jewel of a quartet. Each work they play receives special attention for thoughtful authenticity. Their performance of Vivian Fung’s String Quartet No. 3 demonstrated her concept exceptionally. After introductory chords the waves slapped so gently and the trills were really unmeasured and brilliant. It was all very Ravelesque. The Heterophony chant did sound unmeasured and disparity among the players did happen. It was all a Piacere and free. Simon Roturier, violin 1, had an unparalleled musical moment at measure 99. The emotion was introspective and granted us entry to their persons. It was rare and beautiful to the end. It was my favorite.
Correction: In an earlier version of this blog, the Anima Quartet was incorrectly reported to have performed the Britten Quartet no. 3.
When Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was born J.S. Bach (1685-1750) was still alive and Beethoven (1770-1809) was soon to arrive. Include Mozart (1756-1791) for an intersection of musical magnificence. Haydn lived to the, then, ripe old age of 77 (Schubert died at 31). Hence Papa Haydn was so named, not only for longevity, but for inventing the string quartet and developing a symphonic form that survives to this day.
Because of this grand and far reaching effect, Haydn is held in high esteem and is much beloved by musicians, including me.
Yes, there were compositions for two violins, a viola and cello by others (i.e. Ordonez, Pleyel, and Richter). Haydn, however, recognized it as a golden equation, fertile ground for legion compositional possibilities. I picture an explosion of imagination as he contemplated this grouping and followed his daily routine of sketching a composition each morning after shaving and before breakfast.
Director Barry Shiffman gave notice of the new R.S.Williams & Sons Haydn Prize ($3,000 CAD) and Esterhazy Foundation Prize. This is representation of the groundswell from BISQC supporters for more emphasis on Haydn.
Round Two, the (be still my heart) Haydn Round started with Quatuor Cavatine (France) performance of Op. 50 No.1. For the opening Allegro they took off at quite a pace putting their classical mastery to a thorough test. The persuasively styled middle movements led to Finale. The vivace marking allowed a dignified stampede to the finish bringing cheers for Cavatine and Haydn.
Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/the Netherlands) chose Haydn’s final quartet Op. 77 No. 2. Their classical style leaned more to the dramatic, especially in the first, Allegro moderato, movement. The liltingly lovely third movement, started by a violin one and cello duo, was spellbinding. A BISQC moment to cherish.
Attacca Quartet (USA) chose well and wonderfully the “Emperor” Op. 76 No. 3. Its majesty was their success. The second movement Poco adagio: cantabile was a highlight of the day. Each variation was lovingly embraced. For me the solo moment for viola, Luke Fleming, was especially tender.
Noga Quartet (France/Israel) came first for the afternoon session with Op. 33 No. 5. This quartet (circa 1785) came exactly from the most purely classical period for music and for Haydn (age 53). Noga affected as authentic a classical style as we can discern, now far in the future. It was crisp and had precise rhythmic integrity. There was plenty of gusto and little rubato. It was a Haydn meal to be savored.
Schumann Quartett (Germany) (the brothers 3 +one) brought the penultimate Haydn Op. 77 No. 1. Allegro moderato was suitably so and attention was strictly paid to each expressive marking. The second movement was an absolute love song. This high emotion in a Haydn score is still a surprise. The Schumann Quartett has proved a powerful vehicle for such ardent effect.
Dover Quartet (USA) chose Op. 76 No.4 “Sunrise.” They made the most of the opening theme turning it into the musical vision that inspired the title. Haydn’s well constructed Finale was moderato at first but gathered a head of steam for a Doveresque exclamatory finish.
Evening arrived for us as Anima Quartet (Russia/ China) took a stand for Op. 20 No.2, a work of shifting mood. Almost as an introduction the moderato first movement opened onto the Capriccio: Adagio. The curtain rose for drama which Anima seized for maximum impact. A brisk ending Fuga teased, flirted and won.
Linden String Quartet (USA/Canada) brought Op. 76 No.5 to the stage in beautiful style. The Allegretto was very charming in clean classical style that belied what lay ahead. But between that and the concluding storm was the Largo: cantabile, a bouquet of sound handed graciously for us to enjoy. The conclusion was a fiery wonder, a great showing for Haydn and Linden.
Gémeaux Quartett (Switzerland) turned to Op. 20 No.3, a rare gem that rests in the Haydn catalogue. The Allegro and the Minuet were wonderfully spirited leading us to the heart of this jewel, the Poco adagio. Here Haydn crafts a defining moment, expanding the role of the cello and adding a more richly textured voicing. A sterling moment for Gémeaux and for this Round Two.
The evening waxed, but did not wane because Calidore String Quartet (USA/ Canada) was the final ensemble of the day. “Emperor” Op. 76 No.3. Before the first note Calidore and “Emperor” were already collectively favorited. They did their best to hold on to that favor with plenty of virtuosic pull strong enough to even out any rough going. The second movement spoke gently and reverently. But, of course, for Finale: Presto musical fireworks, at the ready, were launched with triumphant fury.
The challenge for “The Ten” in Round One of the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), the Recital Round, is to tread the peaks and valleys of the two-century journey of musical style: Schubert/20th century. In contrast to the early Romanticist, Franz Schubert, the Modernists and their 20th century descendants worked deliberately, to purge their music of Classical Romanticism.
Schubert, expansive and lengthy in expression is known to expound and linger-but, oh, how sweet the lingering! And then there is the repeat sign. That is something string players and music lovers, of a certain age yearn for. Schubert can be lengthy and repetitive. Some from the current generation may regard such length and cultural singularity tedious.
Immediately after Schubert, each quartet performs a work from the 20th century. Here they put the pedal to the metal. This is music they grab on to with energy, creativity and, seemingly, more comprehension.
The Anima Quartet (Russia/China) was first on show at 2:00 pm on Monday. Everyone was so thrilled for the listening to begin that the elegant opening Schubertian phrase of the Op. 168 by violinist, Zhi-Jong Wang was warmly welcomed. They performed standing except the cellist who sat facing his three colleagues. They got the most audience approval, however, for Quartet No. 11 “Kreutzer Sonata ” by Janacek.
Quatuor Cavatine (France) took the stage next and opened Schubert No. 9 in G minor with energy and large ensemble sound. They then offered Quartet “Ainsi la nuit” (1976) by Henri Dutilleux. They embraced every detail of this exquisite work, offering acceptance by any remaining skeptic of the Dutilleux language.
Noga Quartet (France/Israel) opened day two of round one on Tuesday morning. The Schubert No. 9 in G minor was a merry 19th century ride. How they managed such jollity in the minor key is a mystery. They handed us the Ligeti “Metamorphoses nocturnes” clearly relishing every stylistic quirk of each variegated episode.
Gémeaux Quartett (Switzerland) made their Banff debut with Quartet No. 11 in E Major Op. 125. They firmly established themselves and proceeded to Bartok No. 5. For this, the most dense of Bartok’s scores, they put their virtuosic skill on full display. I was thinking during the Adagio molto how perfectly it gave voice to Bartok’s love of nature and suited this Banff setting.
Tuesday morning the Calidore String Quartet (USA/Canada) gave a performance worth calling home about. Quartet No. 11 in E Major lifted us from our seats. The sound is strong individually and together. Cellist Estelle Choi was a propelling force that allowed her colleagues firm footing. Violinist Jeffrey Myers was free to soar. And they all did. Hindemith Quartet No. 4 gave them the breadth to further show their range of expertise.
The Attacca Quartet, much anticipated, presented next. An elegantly phrased Schubert No. 10 was a fine start and warmly applauded. Then by way of a perfectly honed Bartok Quartet No. 6, they showed how decisively they are projecting a bright future in the quartet world.
Navarra Quartet (UK/Ireland/The Netherlands) started the afternoon concert. Schubert Quartet No. 10 was again the opening work. We refreshed our listening palates to make acquaintance with yet another quartet determined to win the day. They distinguished themselves most effectively by their performance of Britten No. 3 (1975). It was a tender and emotional reading of Britten’s last musical words and marked the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Linden String Quartet (USA/Canada) was the show for the afternoon’s conclusion. Schubert Quartet No. 10 this time was wired with high current energy blowing away every particle of dust. It had a very dramatic almost operatic quality. Then Linden turned to the precisely wrought Bartok No. 3. It’s a wondrous work and they infused it with decisive rhythmic pulse and explosive power.
To start the evening Schumann Quartett (Germany) took the stage. It must be noted Schumann is the surname of three of the members. Once again the program started with Schubert Quartet No. 10, but defined this time by elegant austerity. They were so evenly matched in tone and gestures that, particularly in the third movement, there was organ-like sound. With Bartok No. 3, they showed far less restraint breaking free to spin Bartok’s more earthshaking tale.
Dover Quartet (USA) took center stage to end the evening and the Round. This time Schubert No. 9 was the program. They took it for a fast ride on an eight-legged machine. Momentum created by fearless virtuosity and laser sharp focus describe these four players. Shostakovich No. 3 brought delight, irony, and anger; but most importantly a dynamic, ovation-worthy conclusion to Round One.