Thursday, January 20, 2022

no banffing

In 2016, I went to Canada for the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition. I had a fabulous time: "Bayreuth for string quartet lovers," which was a line in the brochure, was not off the mark. I'd thought this would be a one-off, but other 2019 plans having proved unfeasible, I went again that year as a consolation prize to myself, and again had a great time.

When the pandemic arrived, I figured that it'd be over by the time the competition rolled around again in 2022, and I might consider a third visit. Now the brochure for this year's festival has arrived, with the usual tempting priority features for returnees, but I'm not going to go.

Two reasons. First, the isolation of the past two years has been hard on my physical health, and I don't think I'm still up to a schedule of two or three two-hour string quartet concerts a day for a week.

Second, despite past hopes, the pandemic is still on, and not only does this increase risk, the complications attendant on that are enormous. What if the program is cancelled, what do I do with my plane reservation? Canada requires not just vaccination but testing before, during, and after your arrival. Where do I get all these tests? What if I test positive? The only way to avoid risking being quarantined and missing the program is to arrive two weeks early. Not doing that, and not wishing to spend a quarantine stuck in a hotel room in a strange city. Info on the site reveals that their fabulous buffet restaurant, whose food is as great an appeal as the music is - really! - is closed, and that take-out meals will be available from the bistro, whose offerings I never found much to my taste on past visits. That also puts paid to the group meal conversations with other attendees, so enormous a part of the experience.

So, no. I think they livestream their concerts - at least they're available afterwards - and I may watch those, though you don't get anywhere near as clear or vivid an experience of the individuality of the performing groups that way as you do in person. What does interest me is the change made in the repertoire. In past years, participating groups have been instructed to choose one Haydn quartet, one Romantic-era quartet, and one 20th-century quartet. Usually for the last they pick Bartok, and we've had vast waves of Bartok in the previous two festivals, despite the fact that the winning quartet at the festival before that had played Shostakovich, which you'd think might be a clue. Superbly-played Bartok, most of the time, mind you, but maybe somebody decided enough was enough, because this year the 20th-century quartet has been replaced by a 21st-century quartet. It'll be really interesting to see what they play and what it's like. If they want to play Bartok they'll have to fit it into the free-choice round. Each group is allotted 35 minutes for this round, which is enough time to play any Bartok quartet of your choice.

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