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Sunday Concert: Fitzwilliam Quartet
Sun 21 May 2017, 18:30 – 20:30 BST
Lucy Russell (violin)
Marcus Barcham-Stevens (violin)
Alan George (viola)
Sally Pendlebury (cello)
Bach Contrapuncti 1, 9 & 11 from The Art of Fugue BWV1080
Liz Johnson Tide Purl
Shostakovich Quartet No.13 in B flat minor Op.138
Schubert Quartet in D minor D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’
Special pre-concert event at 5.30pm in the Brockway Room:
Petroc Trelawny interviews Alan George of the Fitzwilliam Quartet about their forthcoming 50th anniversary celebrations and their special connection with the music of Shostakovich.
It was only a year into their residency at York University that the much documented association with Dmitri Shostakovich first catapulted the Fitzwilliam Quartet into the public eye. The composer travelled to York to hear the British première of his thirteenth quartet (which will be played in this evening’s recital) and this musical friendship (the composer’s own word!) prospered through correspondence, and the presentation of his final two quartets that he wrote in the years following. A planned visit to spend a week with the composer in Moscow however, was abandoned when he sadly died in August of 1975. Benjamin Britten afterwards reported (just before his own death) that Shostakovich had told him the Fitzwilliam were his “preferred performers of my quartets”. Having premiered his last three quartets in Britain, the group soon became the first ever to record and perform all fifteen quartets; complete cycles were given in a number of major centres, including London, New York, and Montréal.
The Fitzwilliam is now one of the longest established string quartets in the world: founded in 1968 by four Cambridge undergraduates, the quartet quickly achieved international recognition as a result of its members’ personal friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich and their subsequent championing of his string quartets. He entrusted them with the Western premières of the last three, and before long they had become the first ever group to perform and record all fifteen. These discs, which gained many international awards, secured for them a world wide concert schedule and a long term contract with Decca – all of them are newly available on their London or Eloquence labels.
Since 2000 their recordings have been produced by either Linn Records or Divine Art, the most recent being the Bruckner String Quintet/Quartet, and a jazz fusion collaboration with German saxophonist/composer Uwe Steinmetz and former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Mads Tolling. A new Liz Johnson complete edition follows the four quartets of eminent geologist John Ramsay and a compilation of chamber works by the South African Michael Blake. In 2017 a more long term ambition to record Beethoven quartets on gut strings – following the success of previous recordings on historical instruments – will be set in motion with a CD of Opp.74/95/135. Indeed, the Fitzwilliam remains one of the few prominent quartets to play on older set-ups, but has simultaneously brought about the addition of over 50 new works to the repertoire.
Having been Quartet-in-Residence at York for twelve years and at Warwick for three, their university work continues at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, at Bucknell (Pennsylvania), and latterly at St Andrews – where they run an annual quartet course (“Strings in Spring”), alongside their regular coaching weekend for Benslow Music in Hertfordshire. Just before Easter this year they arrived in Cambridge more or less straight off the plane from New York, and from there went on to their other British university at St. Andrews, with the second Fitzwilliam Hay-on-Wye Festival squeezed in between. Another busy clutch of festivals followed soon after, including Beverley Early Music, the English Haydn, and Swaledale. The 2016/17 season began with an exceptionally busy September, which included London concerts in Southgate, Copped Hall (Epping), Stow Festival (Walthamstow), St John’s Smith Square, and King’s Place.