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New Quartets at Benslow

It’s a near mathematical certainty that if you are musician and have months of clear space in your diary, this space will include one day on which all your big concerts happen at once. So it was last weekend, when I attended a US premiere, thus missing a World Premiere in the UK on the same day, but also another event I’d long looked forward to; the finals weekend of Benslow Music’s Young Composers’ Competition.

In the previous months I’d been reading new string quartet scores submitted for the award, and more courageously, the Coull Quartet had been playing them through to give their more practical viewpoint. Last weekend the Coulls, plus eleven shortlisted composers gathered at Benslow’s campus (in Hitchin) to workshop all the scores and nominate the two winners. Congratulations to them, Joe Berry from Bournemouth School and Luciano Williamson of RWCMD. Their work will be played again at Benslow in November.

I have sometimes found writing for string quartet problematic, and it’s interesting how gingerly even Beethoven approached the task, writing quite a few string trios first, to be on the safe side. But visiting A-level classes, I often find the students are busy with string quartet composition, and this must partly explain the healthy send-in that we had for the Benslow competition. In fact this medium, which some might possibly associate with eighteenth century men in wigs, has again become very prominent amongst high-end composers (thanks largely to the tireless work of the Arditti Quartet). For instance, the last time I looked, Brian Ferneyhough had completed his Sixth Quartet, James Dillon his Ninth, and Kevin Volans a Twelfth.

If any composer of whatever age out there needs some string quartet inspiration, I heartily recommend a recent Delphian disc of Lyell Cresswell’s quartets (and a duo) played by Red Note Ensemble. This includes Capricci, a fantastic suite of far-fetched dances; the Zortziko, the Sprocket, the Taramasonata (“ a salty energetic Greek dance in 4/4 time”.)




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