Balmy weather on Oxford Street with pre-Olympic construction in the background

London is almost balmy in these late dry and sunny March days. Many if not most school children as well as college and university students have either already begun or are desperately anticipating their spring term break – (usually 2 to 4 weeks here) and peeling off the layers to soak up some healthy rays. Easter – a huge deal in the UK, if only for chocolatiers, confectioners and milliners is close to hand and shops everywhere are frantically peddling eggs, cards and anything remotely related to a retail opportunity – but we should expect no less from a justifiably self–respecting “nation of shopkeepers”

It’s quietly thrilling to observe the massive infrastructural projects under development and to sense the palpable excitement as the City anticipates the onslaught of the 2012 Olympics. The subway (tube), roads, sidewalks (pavements) and virtually anything moveable and otherwise that can be upgraded, widened or replaced is apparently fair game.

In the midst the dust and structural upheaval surrounding the reinvention of London future, 10 string quartets carefully screened and invited from 21 applicant ensembles from 11 countries (24 nationalities) have gathered to celebrate the transcendent power and beauty vested in one of the most vaunted and established musical forms in our western traditions. In reminding us through perhaps the most revered and enduring genres of chamber music forms – arguably a spectator team-sport in its own right, some of the best playing by some of the world’s finest young and emerging ensembles today are on hand for the Twelfth London International String Quartet Competition.

The proceedings over the next few days be keenly observed and cheered by experts and enthusiasts alike. I look forward to sharing some of my own thoughts and impressions in these blog pages as the competition advances toward the finals on Sunday.

My own perspective is informed as a veteran of 30 years as a quartet cellist, co-founder of the Alexander String Quartet. The ASQ played our own London debut 27 years ago as First Prize and Audience Prize winners at this legendary Wigmore Hall in 1985. I trust it may prove at least diverting and hopefully even insightful.

London, Wednesday March 28th, 2012

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