Join the VQ at St. Andrew's Church, Fulham on Sunday March 24 at 3:00pm for a programme featuring Mozart's String Quintet in G minor, K. 516 with guest Charles Sewart on viola, and the Elgar Quartet in E minor, Op. 83. Writer and broadcaster Roderick Swanston will give an informative talk on Elgar's music.
"In many ways, performing as a soloist is easier than performing chamber music. Chamber music is complex. There are so many possibilities in terms of ensemble and balance. Musicial choices and interpretations can change how you approach something in any given moment. Playing secondary and then all of a sudden shifting to playing a solo can be nervewracking - coming to the forefront and then sinking back into the texture of the piece is not easy. You are always adjusting sound, vibrato. Playing solo offers possibly more technical demands, but, it is your sound, your voice, your personal interpretation, your projection - it’s very self-involved. You always have to maximize bow, vibrato, sound projections, etc. This is, of course, not the case in a string quartet because you have to be thinking of three other people and what they are doing."
-Larry Dutton, violist of Emerson Quartet
Boris Tischenko - String Quartet No 5 Op 90 (1984) UK premiere
Dmitri Shostakovich - Piano Quintet Op 57
Pushkin House, London
October 30, 2012
Review by Edward Clark
Boris Tischenko was, for 50 years, a major figure in St Petersburg’s musical life. After his student years he continued studies with Shostakovich and reputedly became the great composer’s favourite pupil.
Tischenko remains little known outside of Russia, despite the accolade from Shostakovich. He has left a large legacy in a musical catalogue embracing seven symphonies, six string quartets, numerous concertos, ballets and lots of chamber/instrumental works.
It is a generous catalogue too, displaying the key elements of his musical style that he gradually developed from his early years under Khrushchev to his last period under Dmitri Medvedev. His work emanates from the tradition of Shostakovich and investigates further the idioms of parody, irony, anarchy often expressed with a sardonic smile.
Certain works, mainly in the symphonic cycle, have an epic sweep but generally Tischenko was a commentator on the human condition in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. He learnt from Shostakovich how to stay sane within an insane system and how to protect his integrity when so many others were losing theirs.
This is by way of an introduction to the UK premiere of the Fifth String Quartet, a mature work, written in 1984. It contains all the elements mentioned above within a classical model, even to the point of an exposition repeat within a sonata form first movement.
The beguiling opening melody gives way to the harshest dissonances. Contrast is very much sought throughout the whole work and, for whatever reason, he delegated the writing of the tune that begins the finale to his young son! Phrases are constantly repeated, melody is heard then obscured; there are abrupt changes in dynamics and between the highest and lowest registers of the quartet tonal spectrum. After all this deviation in mood and temperature the enigmatic, quiet ending causes puzzlement. It seems to encapsulate the composer’s desire to camouflage his sense of truth from the society around him, where hidden eyes and ears were always seeking examples of subversion.
In the same way we know little about Shostakovich’s true intentions in many of his major works, Tischenko’s art hides behind a mask of inscrutability. Many Russian artists, such as the film directors Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexander Askoldov share this quality of enigmatic meaning.
The Fifth String Quartet proclaims Tischenko as one of the most fascinating and enduring musical figures among recent Russian composers. No wonder Shostakovich came to admire him.
The successful impression left by this work was in no little due to the masterful playing of the Villiers String Quartet. Using parts supplied by the composer in 2007, the quartet gave a searing performance of a work of wide ranging contrast. Admittedly the acoustic was cramped and muddy but the ear adjusted to allow the separate stands of sound to become distinct and clear. Each player rose to his or her own challenge of interpreting music of great diversity that was, nevertheless, embraced within the composer’s carefully constructed web of collective sonority.
The second work was by the master himself. A major composition, the Piano Quintet, written in 1940, does not follow the rules handed down for such a combination from the classical and romantic eras. Opening with a long piano solo, elsewhere there are long stretches where the piano is silent. In many ways it is an awkward work because of its own idiosyncrasy; the musical challenges for sustaining a mixture of extreme astringency with almost naive simplicity are abundant in the score.
Julian Gallant and the Villiers String Quartet rose to these tasks with a wide ranging employment of skill and understanding. The thundering third movement scherzo duly delivered its intended mark and the other, outer movements were held together with poise and refinement.
Today’s audiences have learnt that the heart of Shostakovich’s achievement may well lie in his chamber music. His reaction to the hurt and suffering he endured throughout his life is superbly captured in these intimate, powerful works, not least in this great piano quintet.
British Music to the Fore
British Music Society
June 23rd, 2012
by Edward Clark
....The Villiers String Quartet played a concert including the world premiere of a string quartet by Robert Still, Dialectic for string quartet by Alan Bush, finishing with Cherry Ripe by Frank Bridge. The evening concert gave the world premiere in concert of the Violin Concerto by William Alwyn, sandwiched between two Russian classics.
Robert Still should have had his centenary celebrated in 2010 but even the BBC shamefully neglected this interesting and possibly important English composer and little is heard of his music today. He wrote four string quartets but alas did not date any of them. Two are without key signature and very likely were composed after his studies with Hans Keller in the 1960’s. (He died in 1971).
Still is remembered mainly for two symphonies no’s 3 and 4, which were recorded by Sir Eugene Goossens (no 3 in 1969) and Myer Fredman (no 4 in 1971). Both are available on the Lyrita label and make rewarding listening. The earlier two symphonies remain in manuscript with No 2 yet to be performed.
He composed a substantial a catalogue however with plenty of variety in genres; orchestral, songs, chamber, choral, opera and piano solo. Gibbons and his orchestra perform the world premiere of the Violin Concerto with Efi Christodoulou in May next year.
So some sort of reappraisal is becoming available; the string quartet heard on this occasion is without key so sounds a little different to the usual melodically inspired style employed generally. There is plenty of interest however with a modernist tinge suited to the time (no doubt under Keller’s benign influence). It makes a vivid impression with a final slow movement of limpid subtlety.
The Villiers String Quartet prepared the performance thoroughly and delivered the work with panache and a high degree of confidence in the music’s worth, so important for any world premiere. Dialectic by Alan Bush is an early work but one full of interest in its one movement form. Considered by some as one of the great English quartets it possesses a warmth and expertise that allows it to be so considered; it is a work within the Villiers’ core repertoire and received a superb performance much appreciated by the audience. After the rigours of two contrasting but intellectually stimulating quartets the concert ended with the tuneful and touching Cherry Ripe by Frank Bridge....
2012 VQ New Works Competition
St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, London, UK
29th April, 2012
by Edward Clark
Tucked away in suburban west London, in a recently restored church of great beauty, was a string quartet concert containing works of truly international, contemporary dimensions. This was the climactic concert of an innovative venture launched by the enterprising Villiers String Quartet, the quartet in residence at St Andrew’s Church.
A press release was released on-line calling for composer submissions from around the world. The upper age was 35, the piece had to be less than twenty minutes long, it had to be unpublished and it had to be for a classical string quartet. Fifty four submissions were sent in before the deadline of 5th January. All were read through by the quartet and six were chosen for the semi-finals. One movement of each work was uploaded onto You Tube and over the next thirty days people could vote on their favourite. 1200 votes were cast and three finalists were thereby selected for this concert. The winner received £500 plus a recording of his work and a performance next season.
First to be played was the longest work, by Riho Esko Maimets, a Canadian national of Estonian descent. His works opens with soft, mysterious sounds, a lament appears on the cello being joined by other instruments playing harmonics. A viola pizzicato heralds the main musical material which retains a ritualistic flavour throughout, drawn from various religious traditions.
Regression to the quiet opening merely confirms a desire for nonconformity towards usual expectations of even a modern string quartet. The audience should be congratulated on maintaining absolute silence for the ethereal end which quietly descends into a peaceful close.
The second performance by the American Henry Stewart is written about two images, the first a photograph by Gary Goldberg found in The Family of Woman. This begins with a drone on cello, joined by a solemn melody on viola with high support from the two violins; lyricism appears that has a post-Barber intensity. This then dissolves back into the opening refrain. The end is sudden and laconic.
The second movement is about a hallucination the composer had as a child. His vision was a great, terrible black fire on the horizon of an empty plain. It opens has the two violins competing for attention through the use of various string devices. Like in the first movement a kind of modernism gives way to a more lyrical approach, though this time of an urgent nature. Adams replaces Barber as the main influence here. There is a thrusting quality that generates genuine excitement. Calm descends into a stoic coda. Calm after the storm perhaps.
Chris Roe was inspired to write his Jetez! (French for Throw) after seeing a couple of local French people amusing themselves by throwing stones and various projectiles off the edge of a high cliff near to the small French village of Auvillar.
Hence the opening possessed a busy, somewhat threatening impulse which barely relents throughout its very short time span. There is little content as such, more music for effect which is perhaps the main point of the inspiration. For our age of short attention spans it is undoubtedly effective.
And so to the judging by both the listeners at the well attended venue and on-line, the concert having been streamed on the internet.
It is hardly surprising not to find influences in each work: Arvo Part’s mysticism is clearly evident in Maimets's work; I have alluded to Barber and Adams in Threnody/Images by Stewart. No direct associations are to be heard in the final piece but it is so brief I was not really involved.
Maimet’s Sanctus was the deserved winner. It had a greater depth and sincerity than the other two works. It demonstrated an ability to work with original material and keep the attention of the audience, as shown by the rapt silence at its end.
The qualities of the Villiers Quartet were well shown in the performances, with evidence of careful preparation and excellent execution. No more so than in their buoyant and felicitous playing in the marvellous Haydn quartet which ended the concert in suitable style.
It's been an incredible season of music at St. Andrew's - we thank everyone for their support, especially the team at St. Andrew's as we have grown and transformed with them alongside the renovation works! Here are some photos from our Haydn, Delius & Bush programme from May 27, 2012. Photographs taken by the lovely Charles Gervais of Both Hemispheres Photography.
Photographs by Charles Gervais, Both Hemispheres Photography
We've taken the plunge and are streaming our next rehearsal online. Be a fly on the wall and watch us rehearse the finalists for the VQ New Works Competition. Click the link below.
1) Riho Maimets (Canada) - “Sanctus” - (b.1988) Masters composition student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Canada
We are pleased to announce that we have been selected as Featured Artists for the 2013 - 2014 Making Music Concert Promoters' Group (CPG). This is an annual scheme of artists & ensembles throughout the UK who have been specially chosen for the CPG guide.
Adam Johnson and "Four Artists"
Sometimes inspiration comes in short bursts. Adam Johnson's Four Artists was written in just 2 weeks and was inspired by the colourful lives of four visual artists from the 20th century: American icon Jackson Pollock, Berlin artist George Grosz, British artist Dora Carrington, and Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin.
As a conceptual piece, Four Artists seeks to transform art and the artist's personality into music. This marriage of music + art interested us, because why shouldn't the different creative disciplines inform each other? The opening of the first movement, Jackson Pollock, is an aural "splattering" of notes upon a calm, serene canvas. The lower three instruments play quiet tranquillo sul tasto voicings, while the first violin erupts in a spiccato vigoroso line. Tracy Emin's movement, the one we perform online, displays the growing spunk and fortitude of this celebrated member of the "Young British Artists" and her rise as a media sensation. Starting out with pizzicato playing in the quartet, the movement jumps time signatures and builds to a crescendo that ends in a flourish. Four Artists shows how music can become a representation of what visual artists try to express. And as four musicians within the quartet, we also bring our interpretation into the mix.
Adam is a conductor, composer and pianist living in London. He is Artistic Director of the Northern Lights Symphony Orchestra. He studied composition under Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Adam Johnson Q&A
A lot of the time it was essential to get the music or sounds out of my cluttered head! As a child composer I had no technique and my knowledge of the technical brilliance of Bartok, Stravinsky or Messiaen would be a revelation when I won a scholarship to study with Prof. Anthony Gilbert at The Royal Northern College of Music. I quickly realized that a regular composition "practise" method was not in my system and I could only work well when the music came to me - usually in a noisy night club, surrounded by the clamor of a weekend rave!
When I was studying with the extremely charismatic Prof. Anthony Gilbert, he exposed me to Messiaen, Cage, Janacek, Henze, Saariaho, Dutilleux and I found their musical language extremely powerful. I was (and still am) totally against "squeaky gate" music as it never relates to the regular concert-goer, and the music of Aulis Sallinen, Eduard Tubin, Tauno Marttinen has influenced my relation to the basic requirement of rhythm and emotion. Equally I find inspiration from modern masters such as Björk, Radiohead and Sigur Ros.
What are some of the advantages or challenges in writing for string quartet?
This is my 4th Quartet and I wrote it very quickly. However the same obstacles presented themselves. I was constantly aware of texture (usually by thinking of 3 not 4 players), and allowing the space of pitch-register to resonate over each tone. Another release in this piece is not confining the work to expectation, but a natural and organic motivic progression throughout the strictly structured harmony.
As each movement is dedicated to Four Artists (Jackson Pollock, George Grosz, Dora Carrington, Tracey Emin) one difficulty was to balance mirroring their style musically as well as an abstract comment on their vision.
In the case of the middle movements (Grosz and Carrington) it was inspired by the events in their personal lives, and the outer movements (Pollock and Emin) in honour of their place in society at the time in which they lived.
The artists I have chosen commented artistically on reflection and relation to immediate modern life, which is precisely what I aim to achieve in the musical language of my work.