July 10, 2014



Composer Spotlight: Matthew Browne - String Quartet no. 1, "A Penumbral Eclipse"

It has been an incredible journey for the VQ these last few months, as we connect with composers from all over the world. If there's one thing we've learned from this year's competition, it's that new music for String Quartet is alive and thriving, and composers are fervently creating new works that provide a voice for the genre. Here we are with the new batch of 2014 semifinalists, all of whom have participated in the VQ New Works Competition. We are thrilled to be playing their music.

The biggest impact we felt when reading these works was learning about the musical personalities from each composer. These days, it's easy to glean insights into personalities of the great composers from the works themselves: Beethoven's Grosse Fugue reveals a master composer who, late in his life, knew how to push the boundaries of string quartet and wasn't afraid to do it; Elgar's String Quartet in E minor, shows a more intimate and wistful Elgar who is different from the public "Pomp and Circumstance" persona he came to be known for.


Coming across Matthew Browne's work, String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse," we were intrigued by the various sources of inspiration he used for this work. Remembering an experience he had while watching a total lunar eclipse, Matthew's thoughts focused on shadows - the "grey areas" - we often overlook in our lives. Taking his inspiration from the penumbra - the moment in an eclipse either just before complete darkness or complete illumination, Matthew's quartet explores how we tend to cast these shadowy moments aside and instead use black and white moments in our lives to define our purpose.


The fourth movement, "Horror Vacui" ("a fear of empty spaces") is a brilliant use of two musical elements - a fugue, and a tongue-in-cheek syncopated melody in the manner of Scott Joplin and American ragtime. As the movement progresses, the quartet creates a range of different textures and sounds which fluctuate between these two elements. Near the end it becomes clear how the satirical melody resolves, before the quartet erupts into a volcano of manic tremolo. As Matthew explains, "satire" was the key to this movement, and the fugue is served to the listener with a wide sardonic grin.


Matthew is a DMA Composition candidate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studying with Kristin Kuster and Michael Daugherty. His previous awards include the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the Maurice Gardner Composition Award from the American Viola Society.




Matthew Browne, String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse"


Where are you from?

From Monument, Colorado.  Currently live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


What got you interested in composition?

I got interested in composition mainly from playing saxophone in my high school band, as well as having an affinity for film music.  I decided to start writing music after watching the “Rite of Spring” sequence in the film “Fantasia” for the hundredth time, something finally just clicked.


Who have been your biggest musical influences?

I have many musical influences, and they change constantly.  I generally get excited (and a little obsessed) about whatever I am listening to at the moment.  To name a few influences: György Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, John Corigliano, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Queen, Buddy Rich, and Frank Zappa.


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

Some advantages of writing for string quartet are that it is a very well established ensemble with an immense and diverse repertoire to learn from.  It has been the “go to” chamber ensemble for composers to write for for hundreds of years.  This is also the challenge for writing for string quartet, I think.  Because there are so many fantastic and diverse pieces for the ensemble, it is very difficult to make your mark on the genre, to really do something new and unique.


Anything else you wish to say about your piece String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse"?

This piece was written for and in collaboration with the Tesla String Quartet.  I’d like to thank them for their input and suggestions, many of which make the piece what it is.


The Villiers Quartet will perform Matthew Browne's String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse" 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


Matthew Browne's website: www.matthewbrownecomposer.com


July 1, 2014

I like the moment of guessing game, like when I was a child as I sat down on a seat at the cinema, or opened the page of a new novel just picked up from the station, thinking "What’s this?" and "What’s next?"


Reading all the compositions sent to the New Works Competition from across the world was just like that, for me personally. Constantly thinking "What’s this?" and "What’s next?" I am genuinely amazed at how everyone’s creative mind works - NEW ideas, experimentation, texture, feeling, drama, etc.


We are all personal, and therefore the way we connect to the music is also personal. You either write music, or play it, or listen to it - there is no right or wrong way of connecting to the music. For me, it all comes down to knowing the person and their personal creative mind. It is same for new music, for traditional music from Bach to Bartok, and when collaborating with other genres of artists.  As I go deeply into the centre and insight of this new music from the competition, it gives me the sensation of getting to know that composer. And that is my root of fascination for playing music - finding out the creative source on paper (music) and creating it in a space as a moment-to-moment work of art.


I am sure that you will enjoy listening to our 6 semi finalists of this year's competition. Each piece had something which fascinated the Villiers Quartet. Having said that, many other entries also had great things. It was difficult to choose our six semifinalists. I do truly appreciate all the applicants’ creative energy itself. Thanks for being part of 2014 competition. Here is a new chapter. You choose the finalists, so vote in the semifinal round.



June 4, 2014

Busy busy times,  as ever with this job it's truly relentless. Quartet is slowly making its way through the many many entries we received, all very interesting and varied, quite different from last time which is intriguing. Results soon........watch out for a new video out later this week and we are asking for everyone you either entered the competition or would like to to tweet Facebook it!!!! Thanks JD

January 2, 2014

We're looking for your words of wisdom. Share on our Facebook wall!

January 2, 2014

The Villiers Quartet announces the 2014 VQ New Works Competition. This competition is open to an international field of new and emerging composers writing for string quartet.

The field will be narrowed to 6 works, which will be recorded and posted on the Villiers Quartet website for online audience vote. Three finalists will be chosen via online voting and have their works performed at Kings Place, London, UK by the Villiers Quartet on September 21st, 2014. The winner will receive the prize of £1000 and a studio recording of their piece, plus inclusion of their work into the Villiers Quartet repertoire for upcoming seasons.

For more information and entry requirements, visit


October 25, 2013

Images to illustrate the composition Threnody/Images by Henry B. Stewart:

Movement I

Movement II

July 26, 2013

We're fans of Veronika Hagen, violist of the Hagen Quartet.  Here are some words of wisdom, taken from Strad Magazine, July 11, 2013:

"Great musicians dispel their own ego and give themselves up completely to the composer in order to recreate his music.

Every member of a quartet must be prepared to listen. They must also be curious, disciplined and have a sense of humour.

How players get on with one other is the greatest challenge for a quartet. One needs to learn both how to criticise and how to react to criticism oneself.

Almost all music is chamber music – even a solo sonata – because it is a constant exchange of voices and instruments.

I always look forward to going on stage. I imagine the expectation of the people in the audience, who are prepared to leave their everyday life for a while to experience something special. I am very touched that I am able to move something in them.

With teaching it is very important to decide whether or not, in addition to passing on technical and artistic skills, one also wants to be a psychotherapist.

People’s preconceptions of the viola have changed a lot in the past twenty or thirty years. Thanks to some magnificent performers, it has freed itself from a Cinderella-like existence. Anyone who doubts this cannot be taken seriously.  

The members of a quartet must have respect for one other – accept your colleagues as they are and work on yourself instead."

March 26, 2013

On May 26, 2013, the VQ perform the hauntingly beautiful Sanctus, by Riho Esko Maimets, winner of the international VQ New Works Competition.  They are joined by cellist Jamie Walton for a performance of Schubert's masterpiece, the String Quintet in C Major, D. 956.

February 25, 2013

Visit us on Facebook for all of our upcoming events. We also have a YouTube channel.

February 22, 2013

Join the VQ at St. Andrew's Church, Fulham on Sunday March 24 at 3:00pm for a programme featuring Mozart's String Quintet in G minor, K. 516 with guest Charles Sewart on viola, and the Elgar Quartet in E minor, Op. 83. Writer and broadcaster Roderick Swanston will give an informative talk on Elgar's music.