Paul Gambaccini joins Villiers Quartet as host of VQ New Works Competition Final

April 25, 2016

 

The Villiers Quartet, the Oxford University Faculty of Music Quartet-in-Residence, will be joined by outstanding music presenter and Oxford alumnus Paul Gambaccini, as host of the final round for the international 2016 VQ New Works Competition Final. The Villiers Quartet will perform the works of the three finalists, Andrew Guo (USA), Ian Munro (AUSTRALIA), and Kristina Wolfe (USA/DENMARK). The concert will take place on Friday, May 27th at 7:00pm at the Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building. The concert will also be livestreamed. The winner will be determined by audience vote. Tickets can be purchased at the JDP Music Building website.


 

Programme:


Andrew Guo (USA) – Fantasy

Ian Munro (Australia) – String Quartet No. 1 'from an exhibition of Australian woodcuts'

Kristina Wolfe (USA/Denmark) – Planctus


with special guest host,

BBC presenter Paul Gambaccini


 

 

 

 



SOMM Records releases World Premiere recording of David Matthews Piano Quintet

April 21, 2016

SOMMCD 0157Céleste Series
First Recording of Piano Quintet Op. 92 by DAVID MATTHEWS
Piano Quintet Op. 57 by DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH
Release date: 1 April 2016

VILLIERS STRING QUARTET
(James Dickenson, Tamaki Higashi violins, Carmen Flores viola, Nick Stringfellow cello)
MARTIN COUSIN
piano

This new release brings an exciting world premiere recording to the SOMM catalogue – the Piano Quintet Op. 92 by David Matthews coupled with an ideal companion piece, the Piano Quintet by DmitriShostakovich. David Matthews wrote his Piano Quintet in 2004 as an engagement present for his wife Jenifer, so in his view, its overall happy mood is appropriate.

David Matthews says in the CD booklet notes:"When I wrote a piano quartet in 1995 I called it A Song and Dance Sketchbook because I didn't want to follow the classical formal scheme, but also to acknowledge that each of its six movements was either a song or a dance. In this Piano Quintet I chose to adhere, more or less, to the traditional scheme: four movements, with a scherzo and a slow movement in the middle. The song and dance element, however, remains just as predominant. The outer movements are essentially lyrical while the middle movements are dance movements, with the chaconne third movement a blend of song and dance."

The first movement is based almost entirely on variations of the motif heard in the piano after the opening three chords. The second movement is a Tango, a form that has come to interest David Matthews a great deal. This one, his fourth tango, is in some ways the most traditional, since the tango seems particularly suited to the medium of piano and strings. The third movement Chaconne is in agiocoso mood with an arresting Finale which grew out of a walking holiday in Italy in the spring of 2004 on an Easter Sunday morning. Matthews heard the bells of the nearby town of Montefalco and they appear at the centre of the movement as he notated them, with the rest of the thematic material derived from them.

The Shostakovich Piano Quintet is considered one of his finest works and one of a small handful of great piano quintets written in the 20th century. There is a certain affinity between the Quintet by David Matthews and that of Shostakovich - similarities in pace and mood as well as the special interaction between piano and strings and also the appearance, in the first movement, of a tiny three-note cell begun by the piano that in the Shostakovich, can be traced all through the work. Shostakovich began work on the Quintet in the summer of 1940 and completed it in September. It was premiered in November 1940 by the Beethoven Quartet for whom he wrote most of his string quartets, with the composer at the piano. It was a great success and was awarded the Stalin Prize of 100,000 roubles, a gesture which seemed to confirm the complete public rehabilitation of the composer following the regime's blistering attacks on his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.


For more information and review copies please contact:
John Cronin at Music & Media Consulting

[email protected]



VQ New Works Competition 2016 Finalists Announced

April 16, 2016

 

The Villiers Quartet announces the 3 finalists of the VQ New Works Competition 2016. The finalists were chosen by public vote after an online semifinal round. (Names in alphabetical order):

 

Andrew Guo (USA)
Fantasy

 

Ian Munro (AUSTRALIA)
String Quartet No. 1 'from an exhibition of Australian woodcuts'

Kristina Wolfe (USA/DENMARK)
Planctus


The Villiers Quartet will perform these works live in the final round at the Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building, Oxford University, on May 27th. The concert will be livestreamed, and the audience will vote for the winner. For more information, visit www.villiersquartet.com/competition2016

 

Congratulations to the finalists!

 




VQ Composer Spotlight: Kristina Wolfe

April 12, 2016

 

Our final VQ Composer Spotlight features composer and sound artist Kristina Wolfe. Kristina is a PhD candidate in Multimedia and Computer Music Experiments (MEME) at Brown University. Her music often bridges the chasm of time across two worlds, between the historical and the contemporary, and her interests run the range of electronic music, spectral music, medievalism, lutherie, and musical scoring techniques. Kristina plays the Viola da gamba, Electric Bass and Double Bass. Her work Planctus for quartet uses scordatura tuning, which was often used in Renaissance viols and lutes, to create special timbres and chords between the players.

 

Where are you from?

I am from Denmark and the United States. I grew up spending summers in the Mols Bjerge area of Denmark, and its history and beautiful scenery really inspired me and my compositional practice. I currently live with my husband in Florida.

 

 

What got you interested in composition?

I think I have always been interested in composition. When I was very young, I was driven to try to compose music but I felt like I didn’t know what to do. I was very interested in sounds and I would try to work with them using tape recorders, keys on the piano, poetry singing - anything I could find. I would also try to record my proto-compositions using invented notations that I could never remember how to use. Eventually I began formal musical training but my interest in writing music was present long before that time.

 

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

Guillaume de Machaut, Giacinto Scelsi, John Jenkins, Pauline Oliveros, Jonathan Harvey, G.F. Haas, Liza Lim, and Horatiu Radulescu.

 

I am also heavily influenced by atmosphere: environment, time, space, place, etc., and many of the influences on my work have come from wandering through locations I find ghostly or inspiring.

 

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

My favorite aspect of writing for string quartet is the opportunity to work with subtleties of timbre. Voices can blend into a single sound and then immediately leap out into diverse registers and textures such as the sound of wind, scratching, the sounds of metal, wood, or an ethereal harmonic. Also, I love the intimacy of a string quartet. Every member is equally important and equally beautiful. No one player can hide or be hidden by any other.

 

 

Anything else you wish to say about Planctus?

Planctus is special to me. I began to compose this lament after hearing the hollow, ancient, almost AM radio-like timbre high above the 4th position on the Cello’s lowest string. It spoke to something I was thinking about at the time. Once I began, I became very devoted to finishing the piece and did nothing else until it was written down. I generally try to pace myself when composing, but this time I could not. Afterwards, I reworked the score numerous times to communicate the textures of the work in the notation.

 

Visit the VQ New Works Competition Page to hear Kristina's piece.

 

Kristina Wolfe - photo credit Arvid Tomayko-Peters

www.kristinawolfemusic.com

 




VQ Composer Spotlight: Ian Munro

April 10, 2016

 

For the Villiers Quartet, running the VQ New Works Competition is like leaping into a pool of endless creativity. The musical experimentation and insight from composers we receive is always electrifying. The result is that we too are encouraged to experiment, and push beyond our comfort zone as a quartet. The fundamental relationship between composer and performer is reinforced.

 

The international scope of our project is also significant. This year, we received entries from composers across 34 countries. Today we welcome our first semifinalist from Australia, composer Ian Munro. In 1987, Ian won 2nd prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition, launching his career as a concert pianist. After many years performing and recording, he became Head of Principal Studies at the Conservatorium of Music of the University of Tasmania, where he began composing. In 2002, Ian's first major work 'Dreams' for piano and orchestra won the Premier Grand Prix at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels.

 

Ian is a member of the pioneering chamber group the Australia Ensemble, and he has forthcoming commissions from the Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras. His String Quartet No. 1 'from an exhibition of Australian woodcuts' is inspired by the work of Australian artists.

 

 

Where are you from?

My home town is Melbourne, Australia, where I was born but where I have not lived for thirty years, despite its remaining my favourite city. Fortunately, I travel there fairly often.

 

What got you interested in composition?

Essentially, the music I was playing as a small boy had such an effect on me that I saw no earthly reason why I shouldn't have a go at making some of my own. What I learned very quickly was that writing ones own music is a special way of experiencing music that all musicians should feel able to try, because it's rewarding in ways that are hard to articulate but also deep and satisfying. I also learned that it's a lot harder than it looks.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

My piano teachers, clearly, all with their special understandings, musical heritages and feelings. The composers I play and love, from Mozart to Debussy, Grainger and beyond. Being a pianist with a career in chamber music, I find myself influenced and shaped by my playing colleagues, more and more, rather than less as the years go by. Primarily, though, I'd say it was my dad, an amateur pianist who taught himself from a book and who would play Beethoven down the other end of the house as we were going to sleep. He, more than anyone, passed on a love of playing the piano for which I'm very grateful.

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

For a pianist like me, the obvious challenges remain those of a non string player attempting to get to grips with idiomatic writing for instruments I don't play myself (although I was a cellist in the distant past). On the other hand, my colleagues in the Australia Ensemble and the Goldner Quartet never fail to be generous in fielding my relentless questions about bowings, harmonics and double stops, so I am lucky to have experts on hand to help with advice. Nevertheless, the string quartet is possibly the perfect ensemble, with a repertoire that embodies the deepest and finest thoughts of many of the deepest and finest minds, so the inspiration from the past in this genre is as breathtaking as that of the piano or the orchestra. That said, it can be rather daunting to consider contributing to that overflowing treasury.

 

Anything else you wish to say about your piece?

The piece carries the subtitle 'From an exhibition of Australian woodcuts' which I should explain a little. A visit a few years ago to the art gallery of Ballarat in country Victoria with my mother brought me into contact with the collection held there of early twentieth century woodcuts and lino prints, which were evocative of a period in Australian art which has fascinated me since childhood, when I was a keen painter. I liked the idea of responding to those often strikingly simple but textural renderings, in music, trying to capture the moods and questions that they prompted. Studying and contemplating them, it seemed that I was most intrigued by their evocation of aspects of Australian life that are now gone.


For the information of those who do not know Sydney, it has not seen a tram for many decades now, but the Bondi tram was probably the most famous one in the country in its heyday. Melbourne, by way of contrast, kept her trams, and has felt superior about it ever since.

 

Visit the VQ New Works Competition Page to hear Ian's piece.


Ian Munro

www.ianmunro.net.au


Australia Ensemble

http://www.music.unsw.edu.au/australia-ensemble/season-2016

 




VQ Composer Spotlight: Teodor Nicolau

April 6, 2016

 

Teodor Nicolau was born in Romania, and studied violin at the Bucharest Music Academy. As a violinist, he joined the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra in Bucharest, and later played in the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland, where he was a member for 36 years. During his time in Helsinki, he studied conducting with Jorma Panula, and composition with Einar Englud. As a composer, Teodor's works have been performed in Finland, Estonia, Germany, Russia, Romania, and the Netherlands. Distant Echoes was written to commorate the reunion of his string quartet, the Athenaeum Quartet of Bucharest, which disbanded in 1975 after members emigrated to join orchestras around the world. The quartet reunited in 2015, and Teodor wrote Distant Echoes to commemorate their reunion after spending 40 years apart.

 

Where are you from?

I was born in a small town, in the middle of the Transylvania plateau, in Romania. At the age of 29 I moved to Finland, and after 40 years I’m still living here.

 

What got you interested in composition?

I played the violin all my life: in some orchestras, in some quartets, in some chamber ensembles, and I enjoyed playing a lot. But the real thing for me happens when I’m writing music, when I’m modifying, shaping, editing and developing my own musical ideas until I feel that my work is ready.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

Romanian folk music… George Enescu… Bela Bartok… Nordic composers… and many, many more…

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

Writing for a quartet teaches you to be very critical with the musical material you use to build your work. Every sound and pause, every line, texture, every rhythm etc., has a very own specific task.

 

Anything else you wish to say about Distant Echoes?

I think the title and the music say all. I was so happy to hear my piece played by your quartet, even an excerpt of it! We have to remember that a composition it is not born when the composer finishes it, but when it is played.

Visit the VQ New Works Competition page to hear Teodor Nicolau's piece.

Teodor Nicolau



VQ Composer Spotlight: João Pedro Oliveira

April 6, 2016

 

 

Our next VQ Composer Spotlight features João Pedro Oliveira, who lives in Brazil. Oliveira has won composition prizes at the prestigious Bourges Electroacoustic Music Competition, including the Magisterium Prize, the Giga-Hertz Special Award, and 1st Prize in the Metamorphoses competition. He is Professor of Music at both the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, and at Aveiro University in Portugal. His music includes one chamber opera, several orchestral compositions, a Requiem, 3 string quartets, chamber music, solo instrumental music, electroacoustic music and experimental video. His piece, Labirinto for String Quartet and Tape, features string quartet played against an added landscape of electronic sound.

 

 

Where are you from?

I was born in Portugal (Lisbon). Six years ago I moved to Brazil, now I live in Belo Horizonte.

 

What got you interested in composition?

Several things. I started a career as organist, but my main interest changed to composition, as it is a form of expression that connects my inner thoughts to a more "physical" result. It is also an "ephemeral" form of art that has the capacity of shaping the listener's perception of time as if it was a sculpture.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

In music, I recognize Beethoven as my major influence, specially through the violin and piano sonatas.

 

But I also have influences from other arts, specially painting. Durer's engravings and some of Vasarely's optical illusions are some examples.

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

The main challenge is to relate with one of the most important and significant genres of music in all History, with a long and rich past of masterworks by great composers, and still be able to express something interesting and with a specific musical identity.

 

Anything else you wish to say about Labirinto?

In a labyrinth there are many paths and passages. They all look similar, but they are all different. One person can remember a place he was before, but he is never sure that he will return to that same place, and even if he does return, there will always be a doubt if it is really the same place he was before. And many times, when a person thinks he found the exit of the labyrinth, he actually returns to the place where he started his journey.


In this piece the musical gestures try to describe this process. The dialogues between the tape and the instruments are always different, but they always remind gestures that appeared before in the piece, so that there is an illusion of repetition, and variation.

 


Visit the VQ New Works Competition page to hear João Pedro Oliveira's piece.


João Pedro Oliveira

www.jpoliveira.com

 

 




VQ Composer Spotlight: Anthony Iannaccone

April 5, 2016

 

Our next VQ Composer Spotlight features Anthony Iannaccone for his work Memories for String Quartet.  Anthony attended the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School of Music, studying with Vittorio Giannini, Aaron Copland, and David Diamond. He was conductor and Professor at Eastern Michigan University, establishing the school's electronic music studio during his tenure. He taught at Eastern Michigan University for over 40 years.

 

Where are you from?

I was born in New York City, where I lived until age 24. After living in Rochester, NY for three years, I moved to Michigan, where I have lived and worked for the past 45 years.

 

What got you interested in composition?

As a youngster, I was fascinated with the way harmonies and melodies moved and interacted in both popular sheet music that my father gave me and in the pieces, especially Bach and Mozart, that I played for my lessons. I experimented with the writing of simple little pieces, based on my sheet music models, for either unaccompanied violin or piano, and brought these juvenile efforts to my violin teacher and my piano teacher, both of whom gave me some guidance to improve my crude creations.When I became a teenager, I was able to take the subway to Grand Army Plaza, where the central Brooklyn Public Library opened a whole new world of classics and modern music through its collection of scores and recordings.The resources of that library planted the real seed that eventually grew into a desire to be a composer.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

The insightful and constructive criticisms, observations, and music of Vittorio Giannini, Aaron Copland, and David Diamond, while substantially different in orientation, certainly provided formative influences on my development as a composer. Equally formative were the diverse influences from works by Brahms, Debussy, Barber, Berg, Bartok, and especially Stravinsky.

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

The greatest advantage for me, personally, in composing for the string quartet is that I simply love the medium. For me, it is the most expressive, flexible, and balanced chamber music combination of instruments, and the one that allows my imagination the greatest freedom of expression.

 

Anything else you wish to say about your piece?

Memories was, in part, a reflection on some valleys and peaks in my own life.

 

Visit the VQ New Works Competition page to hear Anthony's piece.


Anthony Iannaccone

www.iannacconeworks.com

 

 

 



VQ Composer Spotlight: Andrew Guo

April 4, 2016

 

This week, as we embark on the third edition of the VQ New Works Competition, we look back on the evolution of our project, and how much we have grown each time we do it. VQ New Works has always been an intrepid journey for us, because we never know what the end result will be. We don't know who will choose to connect with us; we don't know how “the internet” will react to our videos; we don't know which way the voting will go.

But as the Villiers Quartet prepares and observes the process of our competition, we always learn loads - about ourselves, about composers and what must go through their heads, about contemporary music and where it could take us. In many ways, that's the beauty of it – we're curious to try something completely different from our routine concert experience, to connect with composers online (is this like a version of musical internet dating?), to play for the internet audience, and to be open to as many different sounds and experiences as possible.

Our VQ New Works Composer Spotlight is on 17-year-old Andrew Guo, from Chicago, Illinois. Andrew studies piano and composition at the Music Institute of Chicago. He began composition lessons at age 5 with his teacher, Matthew Hagle. He is home schooled in order to provide a flexible schedule to pursue his musical activities. As with all of our composers, we've asked him a few questions to share more insight about his work and his inspiration:

Where are you from?

I am from Chicago, Illinois, United States

 

What got you interested in composition?

When I started the piano lessons at four, I also began to improvise music. I would often ask my mom to name a key for me to improvise on. My mom noticed my love for not only playing music, but creating music, so she took me to study with a music composition and theory teacher. I have been composing since age five.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?

My biggest musical influence is probably my late piano teacher, Emilio del Rosario. He instilled in me a deep passion for the arts. He also made sure to constantly challenge me by assigning repertoire that stretched the limits of my ability. What made him particularly remarkable was his penchant for making music fun. No matter how difficult a piece was, he made it enjoyable to learn and practice.

 

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?

Writing a string quartet was quite challenging for me, especially since I am a pianist. I often compose by the piano, so my writing is usually quite pianistic. Writing arpeggios all over the place for a string instrument is not particularly efficient and writing swarms of octaves is simply cruel (hello Sibelius) and has earned me the (well-founded) animosity of string players in the past. I had to come up with new approaches when I wrote this string quartet.

An advantage for writing for a string quartet (as opposed to writing for the keyboard) is having a widened variety of colors to work with. What a string quartet lacks in brute force and pitch range, it makes up for by its multitude of textures and timbres. I can play with all kinds of combinations of instruments and explore a variety of techniques like pizzicato, sul ponticello, harmonics, and many more.

 

Anything else you wish to say about 'Fantasy'?

In the process of writing this piece, I grew substantially as a composer. The Fantasy is a narrative piece, unlike my previous compositions which were image-based, archetypal, or abstract. The particular narration one chooses to ascribe to this piece should be based on one’s own imagination.

 

Visit the VQ New Works Competition page to hear Andrew's piece.


Andrew Guo

 




2016 VQ New Works Competition Semifinalists Announced

April 1, 2016

The following composers and works are announced as the semifinalists for the 2016 VQ New Works Competition (names in alphabetical order):

 

Andrew Guo (USA)
Fantasy

 

Anthony Iannaccone (USA)

Memories for String Quartet


Ian Munro (AUSTRALIA)

String Quartet No. 1 'from an exhibition of Australian woodcuts'


Teodor Nicolau (FINLAND/ROMANIA)

Lontains Échos (Distant Echoes) for string quartet, Op. 24


João Pedro Oliveira (PORTUGAL)

Labirinto, for string quartet and tape

 
Kristina Wolfe (USA/DENMARK)
Planctus


A video performance by the Villiers Quartet of excerpts from each piece can be viewed online at www.villiersquartet.com/competition2016. Viewers can watch these videos and vote online during the period April 1 – 15. Three finalists from the online semifinal vote will have their works performed live in the final round at the Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building, Oxford University, on May 27th.

The online vote will close on April 15th at 11:59pm GMT. The Villiers Quartet extends its congratulations to the semifinalists.

 




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