Guest Blog - Jose Gonzalez Granero, 2014 VQ New Works Competition Winner

October 24, 2014

 

From the First Note to Competition Winner

Jose Gonzalez Granero

 

I first heard about the Villiers Quartet New Works Competition through the internet. I was just finishing my first string quartet around March 2014. The timing couldn’t have been better.


I had started to write my string quartet around January 2014, but it took me several months to decide if I was going to write the first note, or even write the piece at all. The initial thought of composing for string quartet is rather intimidating and scary. One cannot avoid looking back in time at the amount and quality of the quartet literature already written. In addition to this, I felt that as a wind player, the pressure upon me to write skillfully for string quartet was multiplied.


My first project was to study other compositions by great composers (Beethoven, Ravel, Bartok…). I spent hours listening and following the scores. The more I listened, the more scared I became about starting my own composition...but I kept learning about strings. I am fortunate to play daily in an orchestra that gives me the advantage to be surrounded by great string players. I asked questions of my colleagues, and I read about string technique. After a few months of debating whether or not ‘bother’ composing yet ‘another’ string quartet, I finally had the determination to start the first notes.


When I approached the piece, I visualized it as a whole picture before starting. I based the quartet on a motive that would repeat during the whole composition. This motive, based in ten notes, would pass through every instrument, and I used it to explore different colors and characters. I took inspiration from a short poem by Garcia Lorca.


When my piece was finished, I had the chance to have it played by some of my colleagues and friends, and I liked what I heard. After this long process, I was determined to submit my composition to the VQ New Works Competition. The composition was advertised around the internet, and by coincidence I came across the call for new works on Facebook.


After sending my piece by the deadline, I learned that the amount of applicants was near 150. A few months passed and I forgot about the competition. Around July, the Villiers Quartet announced the 6 semifinalists. I woke up to an email informing me that I had been chosen to be a semifinalist.


The Villiers Quartet competition is a different competition. They encourage the audience to be active in the process of deciding, and the audience actually decides! Anyone could vote for any of the 6 semifinalists. I had a few weeks to promote my piece around the internet and encourage people to vote for my work to be a finalist. The few weeks of the online voting round went by, and I couldn’t believe I was in the final.


The live final round took place in London at Kings Place, and my piece was going to be performed by the Villiers Quartet along with the other 2 finalists. It was a compelling occasion to attend, so I decided to travel all the way from San Francisco to London. I had never been to the UK, so this was the perfect excuse to take a trip.

 

The night of the final I was as nervous as if I was performing. Beautiful hall, great musicians and very talented finalists. I enjoyed the night, sitting in the audience, listening to my music and listening to the other great new compositions. The competition was organized in an innovative and excellent way, giving a new perspective to classical music, and I was involved with it. Nothing could have gone better, and I won the competition thanks to the audience members who voted for me. I enjoyed the process from beginning to end, and now I am more motivated than ever to keep composing. Thank you to the Villiers Quartet!

 

Guest Blog written by Jose Gonzalez Granero, Winner of the 2014 VQ New Works Competition

http://www.josegonzalezgranero.com


Guest Blog - Edward Clark: Robert Still and the VQ

October 5, 2014

 

 

Guest Blog on Robert Still

 

By Edward Clark, President of the Sibelius Society

 


Sometimes when you get a feeling in your head about something or someone you have to do something at some time!


 I first heard the music of Robert Still in the late 1960’s when the Third Symphony was released on the SAGA LP label. It was conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens, who had premiered it at the Royal Festival Hall and was then asked to record it by the composer (who funded the recording). Goossens sadly died three days after the recording.


I felt an affinity with this music, the slow movement has an understated beauty, very English. You can buy this recording coupled with the more assertive Fourth Symphony on the Lyrita label. Well worth a tenner.


Many years elapsed before I could help spread the message about Still’s music. I gradually entered the world of classical music as an amateur producer of concerts (whilst pursuing a business career now over thank god). This extended my contacts no end and I met members of the Villiers Quartet four years ago. A more willing group of delightful musicians is hard to imagine.


Meanwhile I had discovered the Still archive was at Trinity Laban library in London. My friend, Graham Musto, had tipped me off. He knows more about Still than anyone. Much of the music was/is in manuscript but, being a violinist manqué, I first looked at the unperformed Violin Concerto. A long story later this was premiered by Efi Christodoulou with John Gibbons conducting, in London in 2013.


The four string quartets were all in manuscript and needed a lot of attention. I consulted with James Dickenson, leader of VQ and he volunteered to edit the scores and arrange publication.


VQ gave the premiere of the Third String Quartet at St John’s, Smith Square, three years ago; then the First Quartet at the Barnes Music Festival in 2014. By this time I had joined the British Music Society committee and persuaded my fellow members to record the cycle of quartets with VQ.


The result is the splendid CD now issued on Naxos and sponsored by the BMS.    

 

-Edward Clark

 



James's Blog: This Monday

October 4, 2014

James's Blog:

So Monday is an exciting day.....our long awaited release launch of the Robert Still Quartets. I received a very nice email from a composer this week about our CD, apart from being complimentary he was delighted that we chose an unknown composer for our debut CD.  Quite unusual he mused, true, but not accidental.....

The job description for musicians is a little amorphous, but is it really to regurgitate the same old pieces over and over again?  Does the world really need another Beethoven 18. 6 recording,  as great as that maybe? Chris Rowland my teacher often complained of new recordings that said nothing new, "what's the point!?" In the same way as he often moaned at me for playing repeated music exactly the same.......... "why?"

Well there can be no criticism here of plagiarism as this is the only recording, in fact Quartets 2 and 3 have never had a performance.

 

Available on Naxos a very reasonable £5.99.

Jd 


Naxos/British Music Society: Robert Still, Complete String Quartets CD - World Premiere Recording

October 3, 2014

 

Released this week - The Four String Quartets of Robert Still.

 

We are pleased to announce the release of our debut CD for Naxos and the British Music Society, the Four String Quartets by English composer Robert Still.

 

The Official Release Party is Monday, October 6th, at the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place (off Villiers Street).  For more information about the event, visit http://www.villiersquartet.com/upcomingdates


Celebrating Creativity

September 24, 2014

 

 

Tamaki's blog

The Villiers Quartet with Simon Parkin, Jose Gonzalez Granero, and presenter Matthew Sharp. Photo by Adrian Lowdon

 

 

Wherever a musical concert takes place in the world, there are lots of discussions by organisers of what to put on the programme. Often there are differences between what the musicians want to play, what the organisers want to promote, and what the audiences want to hear. And it is alright to say that nowadays, we are still very conservative when it comes to putting new music into a concert programme. We might get more people if we play the Dvořak "American" quartet, or Haydn "Fifths," rather than composers whose names aren't instantly recognisable.

 

But I am sure the audiences who came last Sunday to Kings Place, and listened with open ears to the grand final of our new music competition, would agree with me that the new music heard that evening had just as much power as the "old masters" to evoke an emotional message, and touch your heart.

Matthew Sharp, presenter, with the Villiers Quartet. Photo by Adrian Lowdon

 

I think it is brilliant that everybody there, including the VQ, shared three amazing new works with total open-mindness and allowed these composers to reach out to our individual hearts. It was amazing. For the us, it was simply an evening to once again recognise the power of music, and to celebrate the creative mind. Thanks to our finalists Jose, Simon and Matthew. And thank you once again to all the composers from all over the world who were brave enough to join us and take part in the 2014 VQ New Works Competition. The buzz we had at Kings Place was only the part of all the creative energy sent to us, the Villiers Quartet, this year. We are so grateful. What a successful ‘Game of Tones!’ To be continued…..

 

With love,

Tamaki

 



Congratulations to the 2014 VQ New Works Competition Winner

September 23, 2014

 

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER OF THE 2014 VQ NEW WORKS COMPETITION

Jose Gonzalez Granero

Quartet no. 1, "Noche del Amor Insomne"

decided by the live audience vote from Kings Place, London, and online vote.


And to our fantastic finalists

Simon Parkin and Matthew Browne


The Villiers Quartet with Jose Gonzalez Granero, Winner of the 2014 VQ New Works Competition, and Matthew Sharp, presenter. Photo by Charles Gervais

 

About the 2014 VQ New Works Competition

From the concert programme note, September 21, 2014

Today you are witnessing the culminating event of the 2014 VQ New Works Competition, a journey that began over 9 months ago when we placed the call for new works for string quartet. We invited composers to submit original pieces for string quartet, written in any form, with a time limit of 20 minutes. In all, we received 147 entries worldwide, including entries from China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, and all across Europe, among others.

 

We meticulously read through each quartet and had several discussions, debates and arguments over who would be included in the semifinal round of 6. This process always transforms the VQ and how we feel about contemporary music. For the 6 pieces we chose, we video recorded one movement and posted the performances on our website for an online public vote. Visitors could listen to each video and vote for the piece they wanted to advance to the final round. Vote they did, and today we reach the final stage of our competition featuring the three finalists: José González Granero, Simon Parkin, and Matthew Browne. Each piece has a unique sound and individual voice, and we are honoured to be performing their works today.

 

The winning composer will receive a prize of £1000 and a studio recording of their piece. As the VQ, we will also include their composition in our repertoire to perform for upcoming seasons. This evening, you will be joined in your vote by both our live audience at Kings Place in London, and by our online viewers across the world.


Three composers, you decide. We hope you enjoy the journey.


Sincerely,

The Villiers Quartet

James, Tamaki, Carmen, and Nick



Three Composers, YOU Decide

September 10, 2014

4 Reasons to watch the VQ New Works Competition Final!

Tamaki's Blog

 

 

1) Is it another concert?

- NO, it is not just another concert. It is the Competition Final, a totally unique occasion.

You will down with your eyes and ears open, listening to the piece for the first time. It is the same experience for everybody to hear these works together for the first time (including for us, the Villiers Quartet!), and you, as the audience will vote. Three composers, YOU decide!

 

2) Is the music my cup of tea?

-Maybe it will be, or maybe not.  The point is that you will tell us by voting for your favourite piece. These 3 finalists were chosen by online viewers, these are the pieces which attracted the listeners. We are not after the composition which was written by the smartest student from a top university (no offence composition professors!). We are after the music which speaks to you as an audience, so we want you to be there to share in this performance of competition final.

 

3) I only like Beethoven and Brahms, why should I bother?

-I like Beethoven and Brahms too. I like Haydn. I like ….so many composers. Aren’t we lucky to have these great compositions written for string quartet? Why? Because it is string quartet, one of the purest forms of ensemble. That’s why historically all composers studied the previous masterworks of the string quartet repertoire. And I do believe that many of today's composers love the Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms quartets. But life continues on....and we keep creating new music in any form which is a reflection of our own thoughts. It is such a honour to work with composers who come closer to creating their own unique works, and I do truly want YOU to be there.

 

4) Can you give me a sneak preview?

-Simon Parkin’s composition is so unique. His quote of “my aesthetic is the post-modernist one: to make the strange sound familiar, and the familiar sound strange” sums it up. The idea itself could be very straight-forward, but could also get distorted with strange sound as if you are going into the world of Edvard Munch.

-Jose Gozales Granero’s beautiful melody and harmonical landscape sets the scene. It sounds as if you are watching Puccini’s opera.

-Matthew Browne is a clever guy! His composition is skillful. But it is great to find his wit in his composition. Lots of ideas packed in four movements.

 

If you are in UK, come to Kings Place, Hall Two on September 21st at 6:30PM, for tickets click here.

If you live anywhere else in the world, view the event's LIVE WEBCAST HERE on

September 21st 6:30 GMT and vote!

 

-Tamaki

 

 

 

 


Chamber Music

August 8, 2014

How to play chamber music

Tamaki's Blog

 

One of my annual projects each summer is to teach at Grittleton Chamber Music Course. Participants are instrumental teachers or keen amateurs from this country and beyond, and some members have been coming back every summer for the past 30 years. It is always a great joy to see how many people love the chamber music repertoire, the act of music-making, and even the process of rehearsals.

 

While coaching in this course, it always gives me the opportunity to be reminded about the essence of chamber music. In coaching sessions, I try to imagine sitting in the middle of group, and I try to think how I can help to make it better. The process is similar to what we use for our own rehearsals. Here are some of my points for chamber music:

 

1. How to be together

-This refers to how to start together, how to end together and how to be together in the middle of the phrase, in each section and throughout the piece. It requires the decision of whoever is leading or cueing, and the cue needs to demonstrate the tempo and musical ideas precisely.

 

2. How to be in tune

-It is essential to play each part in tune as much as possible, but this intonation requires great listening and understanding of the harmony.

 

3. How to rehearse

-Firstly it requires an amicable attitude from all the players, and it requires a great manner in the way you suggest different ideas. It is also important not to be narrow-minded when accepting other ideas, and it's always good to try the idea before you state your opinions.

 

4. How to listen

-This is not easy to explain, and the only way to develop this skill is to keep trying. But using devices such as audio recording or taking video to get an outside perspective helps develop a good listening skill.

 

5. How to perform

-Performance is not just a reproduction of how you rehearsed. It has another dimension which is added by the live nature. Be in that time, and create it and experience it, and share with the audiences. 

 

6. How not to make a mistake

-I want to know the secret! Well, we are only human and we all make mistakes. Practice hard, but if you make a mistake on the spot, never mind, come back as quickly as you can!

 

7. How to do great music making

-That is a life long endeavour. Always be humble, open minded, ready to be inspired, and keep making the effort.

 

These are some of my answers on how to play chamber music. It is not always straightforward sometimes. It is not easy a lot of the time, but it is always worth it definitely.

 

According to my colleague of VQ (not saying who...), Quartet is not for wimps!

 

 

-Tamaki

 


New Works Competition Finalists

August 1, 2014

 

 

We are pleased to announce the results of the Online Semifinal Voting Round.  The following three finalists will advance to the Final Round of the competition, which will take place on September 21, 2014 at King's Place, London:


Simon Parkin  (UK)

Jose Gonzalez Granero  (Spain)

Matthew Browne  (USA)

 


Composer Spotlight: Simon Parkin

July 26, 2014

 

Making the strange sound familiar/The familiar sound strange

 

Simon Parkin's String Quartet No. 4 is seven movements long. Each movement is a variation on the original theme that is introduced in the first movement (played in the video by the VQ). The 5th movement is the exception - with a simple heading of "Senza Tempo," the instruction to the players is simply"Tune up, starting with the viola, as quietly and as sensitively as possible. Frame as a separate movement, but do nothing theatrical."

 

Filled with compact, dense harmonies, Parkin's composition is a quartet mashup of musical styles ranging from Beethoven to Richard Strauss, all tied together with Parkin's own take on variations of his opening theme. Written with flair and panache for interplay between the four instruments, the String Quartet No. 4 explores the idea of mixing musical styles and textures. The listener at once hears hints of familiar, recognisable music, which is then turned on its head to a completely different place.

 

Simon Parkin studied composition and piano at the University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), studying composition under Anthony Gilbert. He has had many broadcasts on BBC Radio, Classic FM, Channel 4 and ITV, and is a regular pianist with the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove, and the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. He lives in Manchester, UK and teaches as Head of Musicianship at the RNCM.

 

Simon Parkin

 

Where are you from?

I was born in Manchester, and trained as a pianist at the Yehudi Menuhin School. This was specialised, and intensive, and in many ways composition was a refuge there from the terrors of my piano teacher. The contact there with talented string players, I think, gave me a feel for the medium of the string quartet, as well as exposure to many of the great works written for the medium. My composition at the school was encouraged by, among others, Nadia Boulanger, who visited towards the end of her life, and I was also able to meet Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett.


What got you interested in composition?

It was an easy decision, then, to switch to composition as my main study at Manchester. My teacher there was Anthony Gilbert, a very perceptive and intelligent teacher with, it’s probably fair to say, a modernist aesthetic which I tried to simultaneously accommodate and subvert. After my training, I was employed at my places of former study. I presently head the Musicianship department at the RNCM in Manchester, where we combine aural training with improvisation, and I have taught composition and improvisation at both the Menuhin and the Purcell music schools.

 

Who have been your biggest musical influences?
My style of composition is, to say the least, eclectic. I have always tried to write what is inside my head, and the sound-track to my life is a confused mash-up of everything I have heard. My task as a composer, then, is to try to create some sort of coherence and order to my musical thought, as well as to create some interesting links and connections between styles and ideas. I am not interested in the search for the new as such; new becomes old increasingly quickly! I don’t reject modernism, either—it’s one more ingredient in the mix.

What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?
The challenge, and the pleasure, of writing for string quartet is that it is the perfect medium, beautifully balanced, integrated, with some of the dynamics of the family. So many masterpieces have been written for quartet that it is easy for the composer to be intimidated, or to reject the sounds that string instruments were created to make and treat them, instead, like badly designed percussion instruments. My style of composition, I feel, enables me to exploit, and maybe to extend just a little, the discoveries made by the great composers of the past.

Anything else you wish to say about your piece, String Quartet No. 4?

A brief description of the 4th quartet might give a little more insight into my approach to style: The original inspiration for the piece came from the Philip Dick science fiction novel, Ubik. I had originally planned to write a video opera based on this, but these plans broke down into a series of pieces. The quartet was a character study for Pat Conley, one of Dick’s many brittle and destructive female characters. In the book, she has the power to reset time, and she uses this power to try to create a more favourable outcome for herself. The quartet follows an emotional trajectory. The beginning is brash, overconfident and a bit bombastic (I thought Richard Strauss an appropriate model for this!). It turns out to be a hollow confidence, however, and the first movement (which is the one played in the video) starts to deteriorate and lose momentum. Pat presses the reset button for movements 2, 3 and 4, which make it increasingly obvious that things aren’t going to work out, becoming more fractured and desperate. The quartet then passes through a period of quiet introspection before re-emerging with a new-found inner strength. The use of late Beethoven references in the finale might sound hubristic, but it was the only thing I could think of to evoke the emotions I was after. The style, therefore, is the servant of the feeling.

 

I think that my aesthetic is the post-modernist one: to make the strange sound familiar, and the familiar sound strange.

 

 

 

The Villiers Quartet will perform Simon Parkin's String Quartet No. 4 for the VQ New Works Competition Final Round. Purchase tickets at 

 http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/vq-new-works-competition-2014


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