May 8, 2014
Born out of a long and flourishing relationship with Southern Sinfonia cellist Nick Stringfellow, the orchestra is pleased to announce a new affiliation, with the Villiers Quartet. The quartet combines musical excellence with an open mind, freshness of approach and creativity, thus making it a perfect collaboration with Southern Sinfonia.
The quartet will be working in close association with the orchestra in the coming months, so make sure to keep abreast of these events as they are announced. They are also hosting the forward-thinking, digital VQ New Works Competition in the coming months.
More information can be found here:
2012 VQ New Works Competition
St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, London, UK
29th April, 2012
by Edward Clark
Tucked away in suburban west London, in a recently restored church of great beauty, was a string quartet concert containing works of truly international, contemporary dimensions. This was the climactic concert of an innovative venture launched by the enterprising Villiers String Quartet, the quartet in residence at St Andrew’s Church.
A press release was released on-line calling for composer submissions from around the world. The upper age was 35, the piece had to be less than twenty minutes long, it had to be unpublished and it had to be for a classical string quartet. Fifty four submissions were sent in before the deadline of 5th January. All were read through by the quartet and six were chosen for the semi-finals. One movement of each work was uploaded onto You Tube and over the next thirty days people could vote on their favourite. 1200 votes were cast and three finalists were thereby selected for this concert. The winner received £500 plus a recording of his work and a performance next season.
First to be played was the longest work, by Riho Esko Maimets, a Canadian national of Estonian descent. His works opens with soft, mysterious sounds, a lament appears on the cello being joined by other instruments playing harmonics. A viola pizzicato heralds the main musical material which retains a ritualistic flavour throughout, drawn from various religious traditions.
Regression to the quiet opening merely confirms a desire for nonconformity towards usual expectations of even a modern string quartet. The audience should be congratulated on maintaining absolute silence for the ethereal end which quietly descends into a peaceful close.
The second performance by the American Henry Stewart is written about two images, the first a photograph by Gary Goldberg found in The Family of Woman. This begins with a drone on cello, joined by a solemn melody on viola with high support from the two violins; lyricism appears that has a post-Barber intensity. This then dissolves back into the opening refrain. The end is sudden and laconic.
The second movement is about a hallucination the composer had as a child. His vision was a great, terrible black fire on the horizon of an empty plain. It opens has the two violins competing for attention through the use of various string devices. Like in the first movement a kind of modernism gives way to a more lyrical approach, though this time of an urgent nature. Adams replaces Barber as the main influence here. There is a thrusting quality that generates genuine excitement. Calm descends into a stoic coda. Calm after the storm perhaps.
Chris Roe was inspired to write his Jetez! (French for Throw) after seeing a couple of local French people amusing themselves by throwing stones and various projectiles off the edge of a high cliff near to the small French village of Auvillar.
Hence the opening possessed a busy, somewhat threatening impulse which barely relents throughout its very short time span. There is little content as such, more music for effect which is perhaps the main point of the inspiration. For our age of short attention spans it is undoubtedly effective.
And so to the judging by both the listeners at the well attended venue and on-line, the concert having been streamed on the internet.
It is hardly surprising not to find influences in each work: Arvo Part’s mysticism is clearly evident in Maimets's work; I have alluded to Barber and Adams in Threnody/Images by Stewart. No direct associations are to be heard in the final piece but it is so brief I was not really involved.
Maimet’s Sanctus was the deserved winner. It had a greater depth and sincerity than the other two works. It demonstrated an ability to work with original material and keep the attention of the audience, as shown by the rapt silence at its end.
The qualities of the Villiers Quartet were well shown in the performances, with evidence of careful preparation and excellent execution. No more so than in their buoyant and felicitous playing in the marvellous Haydn quartet which ended the concert in suitable style.
It's been an incredible season of music at St. Andrew's - we thank everyone for their support, especially the team at St. Andrew's as we have grown and transformed with them alongside the renovation works! Here are some photos from our Haydn, Delius & Bush programme from May 27, 2012. Photographs taken by the lovely Charles Gervais of Both Hemispheres Photography.
Photographs by Charles Gervais, Both Hemispheres Photography
VQ Composer Spotlight: Riho Maimets & "Sanctus"
Sanctus is a quartet in five movements, and takes musical influences from a wide range of religious and ethnic musics, including Eastern Orthodox chant, Renaissance motets, and Yiddish song. Over the course of the competition, we received many compositions which used musical influences other than the "western classical music idiom" as their source of inspiration, particularly folk or ethnic influences. From such a wide field of international composers, it was fantastic to receive string quartets written in the style of Egyptian music, Irish donegal fiddling, Mexican music, American bluegrass, and Chinese music, for instance. Sanctus particularly struck us, not only for the way Riho successfully transferred folk and ethnic music into the genre of string quartet, but also for the overall mood of mysticism and spirituality he created.
For the recording, we chose to perform the second movement of Sanctus, which actually seems to be the least "mystical" of the movements in the quartet, instead reminding us of a spirited klezmer scratch band. After a mesmerising cello solo in the first movement (written in the style of Ashkenazim liturgical singing), the cello then leads into the second movement, starting with its 3/4 dance meter. Throughout the dance, short solo melodies pass between instruments, and we all get a chance to have our klezmer moment!
A composer of Estonian and Canadian background, Riho attended both the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, where he currently studies under Christos Hatzis. Having taken lessons and masterclasses from Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki, and R. Murray Schafer, he continues the exploration of mysticism in his music. He is the winner of the 2011 Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music.
Riho Maimets Q&A
Where are you from?
VQ Composer Spotlight: Chris Roe and Jetez!
Chris Roe Q&A
I live in London now, and grew up in a town near to London called Sevenoaks. However, I also lived in Manchester for three years whilst at university there.
I always enjoyed improvising at the piano (usually very slow, atmospheric Debussy imitations!) and sometimes would write them down. But my first taste of composition as I now know it (ie working on a piece past these initial stages, writing it down, giving parts for other people to play etc.) was when I wrote Millennium Swing for the New Beacon school big band! I'm not sure it actually had anything to do with the Millennium, unless its minor key was an attempt to comment on the Y2K panic gripping the world! But hearing something that I had imagined in my head being played by other people instead of just by me sitting at a piano or computer screen was a great experience, and one of the main things that drove me to keep composing throughout my time at Sevenoaks School then onto Manchester University and now the Royal College of music.
Of course there are too many influences to mention here, and I'm sure that a lot are subconscious, but I was always drawn to the music of Debussy and Ravel, particularly by the harmonic colours that their work brought into focus. Then, struck by its connection with the 'French' harmonic language, amongst other things, I started becoming more interested in jazz, particularly the piano playing of the legendary Bill Evans. His characteristic voicing of altered seventh chords, carrying on from the French tradition, continues to influence my approach to harmony today.
Another recurring feature of my music, I think, is its dynamism and rhythmic energy. My biggest influence for this side of my music is probably Stravinsky, with jazz musicians from Charlie Parker to the Brecker brothers also influencing the shape and momentum of a lot of my musical ideas.
Though it can be challenging writing for a group of instruments with such a legacy of great pieces written for it, and perhaps a more limited palette of instrumental colour available than other ensembles, I think the main advantage of the string quartet is the similarity between the instruments. This is unlike any other established type of ensemble that I can think of (except maybe the piano duo) and in Jetez! I tried to use this to my advantage by rapidly passing lines and gestures (often descending glissandi) around the quartet without changing the quality of the sound between instruments. In this way, each player can quickly switch from taking the lead to an accompanying role, without affecting the overall balance.
The programme note goes into more detail about the ideas behind Jetez!, but the most important idea that I want to come across in the music (helped by the intensely energetic playing in this performance) is the physical action of throwing an object into the wind; stored up energy (like a coiled spring) which is suddenly released to disappear over the edge. As a good friend recently summed up, Jetez! - 'a piece inspired by some French blokes throwing stones.'
VQ Composer Spotlight: Henry B. Stewart and "Threnody/Images"
Whenever we learn a new work from the great quartet repertoire, we always look forward to finding each composer's signature voice--the way they create melodic lines, or end cadences, or have distinctive rhythmical patterns. It's also fun to discover how composers influenced each other, and to hear references made to their teachers or colleagues. Which tricks did Mozart learn from the Haydn quartets, for instance? Or how did Shostakovich create his rhythmic pulses differently to Bartok's? For young composers, finding one's individual voice takes years of practise and experimentation. From all of the entries we received, we were impressed by how much we could learn about the composer's personality through their music.
The quartet Threnody/Images came to us from Henry B. Stewart, a student at Goshen College in Indiana. Written in two movements, Henry sent two images to accompany his score. These two images were central to the inspiration for his piece. The first movement, "Threnody I" was accompanied by a photograph of a woman. Photograph by Gary Goldberg:
The second movement was based on a hallucination of a fire that Henry experienced during a state of delirium as a child. Henry explains of his experience, "My vision was of a great, terrible, black fire on the horizon of an empty plain. The [second] movement begins by falling into delirium, then the unsettling plain is heard in the syncopated section, followed by the building intensity of the fire to its full, raging power." Digital sketch by Mohammad Mahdi Rassoulipour:
In Henry's music, we found much of this intense power as part of his composer's voice. His music immediately captured our attention not through loud noises or musical pyrotechnics, but rather through an uneasy quietness and sense of foreboding in his piece. We recorded the first movement of Threnody/Images with its quietly dramatic opening. The cello begins with a low C drone, followed by a haunting viola solo that takes shape over tremolando effects in the violins. The opening of this movement reminded us of Shostakovich, sparse and cold, before warming up and developing into an angst-ridden climax of chords in the upper registers of the strings.
Henry is a sophomore at Goshen College, where he is dual major in biochemistry and music composition. He is a composition student of Dr. Jorge Muñiz of Indiana University South Bend. Threnody/Images is his first work for string quartet.
Henry B. Stewart Q&A
I was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It was writing a piano trio in my freshman year of college (under the instruction of Dr. Jorge Muñiz) that consummated my love for composition. After writing the trio, and now Threnody|Images, I understand that I compose because of the fundamental power of sharing an idea, aesthetic or emotion with others through music.
I grew up listening to Rachmaninoff, Dvořák, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and the Beatles. Penderecki, Schönberg, Sibelius, and Shostakovich have been recurring influences for the last two years. Also, I tend to derive a lot of influence from film scores, such as Johnny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score for The Social Network.
As a chamber group, string quartets have impeccable control over corporate expression. I think both my greatest fascination and the greatest challenge for quartet writing is incorporating and balancing polyphonic and symphonic textures.
Threnody|Images was written about two images. I have found that these images are very central to the perception of the music. They are viewable here: http://imgur.com/a/WrVRB.
We've taken the plunge and are streaming our next rehearsal online. Be a fly on the wall and watch us rehearse the finalists for the VQ New Works Competition. Click the link below.
1) Riho Maimets (Canada) - “Sanctus” - (b.1988) Masters composition student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Canada
We are pleased to announce that we have been selected as Featured Artists for the 2013 - 2014 Making Music Concert Promoters' Group (CPG). This is an annual scheme of artists & ensembles throughout the UK who have been specially chosen for the CPG guide.