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BISQC Talks: Dover Quartet

The Dover Quartet, (from left): Joel Link, Bryan Lee, Camden Shaw, and Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, with broadcaster Eric Friesen. Photo, Don Lee.

The Dover Quartet, whose members come from across the USA, but who got together at the Curtis Institute, spoke with broadcaster Eric Friesen earlier in the week. He asked them what made the Banff International String Quartet Competition different from other competitions. Cellist Camden Shaw gave this answer:

I think many competitions are so stressful that no group sounds their best there, but I find the opposite here. I feel that everyone really has a chance to do their best because there’s time to eat well and rehearse well and sleep a lot, so it’s more like a residency than a competition.

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BISQC: What is the jury thinking?

There’s never a shortage of buzz at the Banff International String Quartet Competition about what the jury is thinking, discussing, deciding. Our resident audience members all have their favourite quartets and their favourite performances, but they still want to know what’s going on in that jury room behind the scenes. Getting ready for the announcement of the three 2013 finalist quartets, Riddle Films asked a few questions. Juror Nicholas Kitchen gave a few answers:

We may know a lot of the details about what’s working and what’s not, but it boils down to how much life are they able to bring to us and what we listen to.

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BISQC Talks: The Navarra Quartet

The Navarra Quartet, including (from left) Magnus Johnston, Marije Johnston, Simone van der Giessen, and Brian O'Kane, talk with broadcaster Eric Friesen. Photo: Rita Taylor.

The Navarra Quartet, including (from left) Magnus Johnston, Marije Johnston, Simone van der Giessen, and Brian O’Kane, talk with broadcaster Eric Friesen. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

During their interview with broadcaster Eric Friesen, members of the Navarra Quartet, from the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands, spoke about choosing Benjamin Britten’s Quartet No. 3, Op. 94 for their contemporary piece during the recital round at the Banff International String Quartet Competition. Here’s violinist Magnus Johnston on the effect of playing a late piece by Britten:

I had the good fortune of seeing the manuscript at the Red House, where he worked and lived for much of his life, and the manuscript itself has incredible frailty to it. I think the whole piece has a sense of a man’s journey through life and I think it ends with huge regret and huge sadness in a way, and of course the piece finishes with a question.

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BISQC: The importance of new music

Since its inception in 1983, the Banff International String Quartet Competition has commissioned a new piece by a Canadian composer to be part of the competition. Each of the quartets plays the piece on the same day, so the audience hears ten interpretations back to back. This year, String Quartet No. 3, by Vivian Fung, was commissioned by The Banff Centre and CBC.

Already I see the variance between the quartets, the personalities coming out of the quartet members, and some of them have really personalized it, which I like. It’s not just notes on a page, but something that is living and breathing within the quartet.

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BISQC: “It takes a village”

There is an enormous infrastructure at The Banff Centre that underpins large events like the Banff International String Quartet Competition. In this short video from Riddle Films, we meet Jim Olver, the Centre’s director of Guest Services, and see how more than 500 onsite staff make this happen.

I’ve been here every year that BISQC has been held. It was held first the year I joined, 1983.

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BISQC: Gettin’ crazy at Esterhazy

Among the cornucopia of prizes that first place winners of The Banff International String Quartet Competition will receive this year – including $25,000 cash, North American and European concert tours, and a quartet of bows made by Canadian bow-maker François Malo – is an opportunity to perform at the 13th century Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria.  The Banff Centre has stationed a pared-down replica of the Palace in the MacLab, where chamber music performances have been taking place after the BISQC evening concerts all week.

What our Palace lacks in splendor, it makes up in spirit. Audience members, jurors, members of the competing quartets and anyone ballsy enough hanging around the MacLab are welcome to join members of Thalia Quartet for totally impromptu readings of chamber music classics. Instruments and scores are available for participants’ use, and a bulletin sits to the right of the stage recording the titles of all pieces performed (a lot of Haydn so far). Monday night’s performances were punctuated by players swallowing beer, cursing over missed notes, and by rowdy applause – between movements, no less! While chamber music may be treated as highfalutin stuff today, the MacLab performances recall the lightheartedness that once characterized the form.

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