September 6, 2016
As I write this we are on our way back from attending the final weekend of the 2016 BISQC (Banff International String Quartet Competition). Every three years 10 string quartets from all over the world are selected to compete in what is one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind in the world. Having attended once before, I was even more excited at the opportunity to be immersed in string quartet music with other chamber music lovers.
Over the week the quartets had performed works in the Haydn, Contemporary, and Romantic rounds and we arrived in time to hear each of the 10 quartets perform the newly commissioned work “Quartet #1” by Zosha Di Castri. What a great experience for the audience and I can only imagine the thrill for the composer, who was in the audience to hear 10 unique interpretations of her 9 minute work.
The Alumni Gala that evening featured the 2013 BISQC winners, the Dover Quartet, performing Smetana’s Quartet #1 and Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor with Jon Kimura Parker at the piano. It was exciting to see how the quartet has grown and matured musically over the past three years of 120 – 140 concerts per year, one of those in the Cecilian Chamber Series this past season. Their presence on campus over the weekend meant that there was ample opportunity to hear more from them in personal chats as well as in an interview about “Life after a First Prize Win”. The musical and personal commitment of the Dover Quartet has made it possible for them to able to take full advantage of the career development offered by the BISQC competition and a bright future lies ahead for these four musicians!
The final adlib round on Saturday gave all the quartets a chance to show their strengths in repertoire as well as innovative programming. It was in that round that it was especially interesting to hear Jorg Widmann’s “Hunt Quartet #3“, a unique work that will be performed by the Ariel Quartet in the Cecilian Chamber Series in November 2016. Conversations amongst audience members during intermissions, between concerts and over the fabulous meals provided in the dining hall emphasized the fact that opinions about sound, interpretation and repertoire selection are very personal and we each hear things in or own unique way.
It was the job of the seven member jury to select the three finalists and then after an exciting final round on Sunday, with performances of quartets by Beethoven and Schubert, the winners were announced. The all Canadian Rolston Quartet took the top honors followed by the Tesla Quartet from Russia/South Korea/USA and the Castalian Quartet from the UK. For those who are interested in much more information about the 2016 BISQC experience check out https://www.banffcentre.ca/bisqc which includes archived performances of all the rounds of competition.
Besides being a personal lover of chamber music, in my role as Artistic Director being at BISQC provides me with the opportunity to have the ultimate experience of musical window shopping. The high standards of the performances and the opportunity to interact with the artists around the campus, makes it possible to get a clear sense of the uniqueness of each quartet. Stay on the lookout for string quartets that will appear in upcoming Cecilian Chamber Series seasons. They may very well be ones from BISQC 2016!