Sandy with the Jubilee Quartet
Sandy with the Jubilee Quartet

The 12th triennial London String Quartet Competition continues today, the third and penultimate day of “preliminary” rounds. The method is painstakingly fair for each of the 10 quartets and while the pace may be very tough on the jurors, it is extraordinarily compassionate for the participating ensembles. The overriding ethos at the London Competition endures, (I fancy part of Yehudi Menuhin and Richard Sotnick’s founding legacy for the LISQF spanning over three decades), and would seem to be that, while competitions on the world’s musical stages may be a necessary evil, they should be respectful, supportive and celebratory of the emerging artists’ expertise and dedication while nurturing of their emerging prospects.

One example of this approach is that the competing quartets perform their prepared preliminary programs well-spaced over two installments on different days. (very considerate of jet-lag, and considerable butterflies for some less worldly ensembles). Meanwhile, the range repertoire and style periods is wide ranging and there is a mandatory imposed work, this year a stunning work by feted Australian composer and violist Brett Dean. It should not be underestimated that performing for London’s discerning concertgoers in these fabled halls can be unnerving for even the most seasoned of professional artists. These jurored preliminary rounds are open to the general public at no charge and extremely well attended. In addition, there is a quasi festival atmosphere curated in the City around the competition with free lunchtime concerts off-site (away from the Royal Academy of Music) in various churches around central London.

We will learn of the jury’s selection of six semi-finalists late Friday afternoon but in the meantime, all things string quartet prevail for students and afficionados of all colours. As if the above offerings were not enough, there are concurrent masterclasses, given for dedicated developing quartets from several UK Conservatories. These too are open and free of charge to the general public both today and tomorrow. Joining me in parallel coaching sessions has been the Quatuor Ysayi’s founding violist, Miguel da Silva. The two of us have been teaching full sessions to very fine and well seasoned emerging ensembles covering repertoire from Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schubert to Webern and Britten.

Attached is a late in the day photograph taken with the Royal College of Music’s fine Jubilee Quartet who like four additional ensembles turned in a very hard but rewarding day’s work. In the background are early photographs of Sir John Barbirolli (Giovani, as was), from his formative years as a fine and distinguished cellist as well as a fine portrait of his wife, the celebrated oboist, Evelyn Rothwell. We spent the entire very warm but memorable day in his former studio at R.A.M.

— London, 3/29/12

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