I mentioned back in February that I'd gotten myself a ticket to the Banff International String Quartet Competition this summer. Ten string quartet ensembles will give 4 or 5 (depending on whether they make the finalists or not) performances each, grouped into 13 concerts over a week, and then a winner will be named.
There are general instructions as to what repertoire each quartet gets to choose from, but when I booked myself, entrance to the competition was still open and thus no list of specifically which pieces would be played. I rarely do this: I always want to know what's to be played. Now they've announced it.
The rules require all performers to be under 35. Of the 10 ensembles, 8 say when they were formed. One just formed last year, two have been together for 8 years, and the rest in between. 3 are American, 1 Canadian, 1 British, 1 Japanese, the rest mixed nationality. All are of mixed sex (this was true last time as well), a full five of them being 2 men and 2 women. I don't recall having heard of any of them before. I will be digging in their websites for audio.
The first round requires one Haydn work and one 20C work, the latter chosen from a large but specified repertoire that's pretty determinedly modernist; it has all 6 Bartok quartets on it but only 3 by Shostakovich. In the event, it's gonna get pretty crabbed in there: a full 8 of the ensembles are going to do one of the same 3 Bartoks. The other two are both doing Janacek, and both of those have chosen a Bartok quartet for the ad lib round. Man, how cautious: I bet they're all terrified that they won't win unless they scale the Bartok mountain. Last time, only 4 of the competitors did Bartok, and Shostakovich was still on the map; heck, someone even pulled out Hindemith. But who won that time? The guys who played the Shostakovich.
But Bartok is tough. Gotta prove how tough you are. I once heard all 6 Bartok quartets in two days. Now I'll hear 8 Bartok quartets in two days. Yikes. Still, by far the best Bartok I've ever heard was from a Banff winner, and maybe twice will be lucky.
As for the Haydn, 3 have chosen from Op. 33 and 4 from Op. 76 (3 of these the same work), the rest scattered, except nobody picked from Op. 20 which are my favorites. Some did last time.
Next round, one quartet "from the romantic or nationalistic repertoire." We're getting 2 Mendelssohns, 3 Brahms, 1 Dvorak, 1 Sibelius, 1 Debussy, and 2 Ravel. The Ravel and one of the Brahms get played twice. Good stuff here, but not my favorite Mendelssohn works, and I'd have liked to hear more Dvorak, some Russians ...
The only pre-set round will have all ten quartets playing in a single concert the same newly commissioned work by a Canadian composer. I hope it's good. The lucky composer this year is Zosha Di Castri, whose work I've heard and found interesting.
Then there's an ad lib round. I don't think Banff has done this before. Each quartet gets 30 minutes for whatever the heck they want. Besides the 2 Bartoks, there'll be some shorter Beethoven or Schubert works, one sole movement out of Schumann (that's all of him we get), one other standard high modernist program (Webern & Ligeti). 5 are including something more recent, but only one ensemble has had the courage to go for the populist repertoire and play the Italian Serenade and La oración del torero.
The three finalists get to play a monument of the epic Beethoven/Schubert repertoire, but all ten have chosen works: 5 Razumovskys, 3 late Beethovens, and 2 "Death and the Maiden". I only hope I get to hear that last work, my favorite of all string quartets, at least once. If I were the dictator, I'd make all ten of them play it.