Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Banff: the repertoire

As I've alluded to, I'm going back 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.

Yesterday they've announced the competing quartets and what they'll be playing.

Usually at BISQC, one or two of the quartets are repeats from the previous competition - you're allowed two goes, unless you're one of the top two winners. Last time, unusually, everybody was new. This time there are two returns whom I heard last time, the Omer Quartet (whom I've also heard at Stanford in the interim) and the Ulysses Quartet. Neither have had any changes in personnel, I'm pleased to say, and I'm looking forward to hearing both again.

The Omer have been together for ten years; all the others have 3 to 6 years experience as groups. Their origins are mixed, almost all European or North American. So what are they playing?

Haydn - A gratifyingly varied list, and 4 of the quartets are from Opp. 20 or 33, which particularly pleases me.

Modern - Seven Bartoks. Last time eight, this time seven. Still, the folks who come here are really good at Bartok. Two Ligeti Firsts, a work I could live without, and one Szymanowski Second, which at least is different.

Romantic - Four Mendelssohns (3 Op. 80 and 1 Op. 13, my favorite); one Brahms, one late Dvorak, two Debussys, two Ravels.

Schubert - For one concert they're required to begin with the opening movement of one late Schubert quartet. We're getting 4 from the G Major and six from Death and the Maiden. Six renditions of that powerful movement. From six quartets. In one day. That'll be worth the trip all by itself.

Ad lib - And the rest of that concert they can fill with anything they want. We're getting quite a mixture here, including full quartets by a couple of composers I don't know, Salvatore Sciarrino and Thierry Escaich. Plenty of stuff I do know, though: Thomas Adès and Lera Auerbach among the living, and a few older famous names including one bit of Shostakovich.

Finals - The three groups that make the final round have to play one of the eight big Beethoven quartets, but all ten have picked their item, and eight of them have taken one of the same two, Op. 59/2 or Op. 132, wouldn't you know it. We could easily wind up hearing three performances of just one of those. Make it 59/2 in that case; Op. 132 is just too intense to listen to 3 times in a row.

So I'm looking forward to this, even if we only get one movement from a quartet by Shostakovich (and it's the Tenth).

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