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Shanghai Quartet

On a rare free evening this week I had the unusual pleasure of dinner with two busy musician friends. We agreed that a drawback of our work is that we so rarely go to other people’s concerts. We’re away, we’re filling in a grant application, we’re booking train tickets and regrouping before the next trip, and meanwhile all sorts of fantastic stuff is passing us by.

So I especially welcomed the obligation to turn out to the Wigmore Hall this week and hear the Shanghai Quartet in a charity concert presented by the Royal Society of Musicians. The obligation part was that I’d written three minutes of music at the RSM’s behest. This was a March, observing a 250-year tradition that composers have gifted Marches to the Society since Haydn himself began the practice in the late 18th century. My own, titled Turkish(ish) March was based on a distant memory of Turkish or maybe Serbian music on an old LP which I can’t find now and must have thrown away. It was an incredible sonic experience, at a last minute runthrough, to stand right next to the Wigmore stage and experience the sheer power of a world-leading quartet (all armed with Strads, Gofrillers and Amatis) giving my deliberately short and slight item ‘the full welly’. They had, typically, given the music a lot of thought and imagination, occasional piece or not.

Having supplied this material based on punchy, abrasive folk traditions, I was glad to hear that by accident the new piece fitted plausibly into a sequence of Haydn op 20/4, Beethoven op 95 and some lovely Chinese folk arrangements by the Quartet’s leader, Yi-Wen Jiang. But with the start of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (and the sweet, elegant sound of Michael Collins) it seemed to me we’d turned some significant musical corner, or perhaps pulled a gorgeous curtain of sound across the stage.




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