Notes from the 11th London International String Quartet Competition
Audience opinion once again differs from that of the judges
Arcadia, a remote area of Greece, is a metaphor for an idyllic place, a paradise, in British composer Thomas Adès’Arcadiana—the compulsory work, along with a Haydn Op. 64 or Op. 76 quartet, a Mozart quartet, and a post-1915 modern work, in the 11th London International String Quartet Competition. Adès was only 22 years old when he wrote Arcadiana for the Endellion String Quartet in 1994. This remarkably confident work turned out to be an early milestone in what has become a major compositional career. Recalling the genesis of Arcadiana in a lecture, Andrew Watkinson, violinist of the Endellion, said, “We asked Adès to write a piece that wasn’t so serious, something with short, highly characterized movements.” The result, he said, exceeded the Endellion’s expectations.
Every morning I enjoyed my own little Arcadia as I walked in April through Hyde Park to the Royal College of Music (RCM), where the preliminary rounds were held. Signs of spring were everywhere in the park: the profusion of daffodils, the chatter of the birds, and the grunts of an exercise group as their coach barked orders at them.
Perhaps because they’d been listening closely to Watkinson’s lecture the night before, the KNUA Quartet from Korea was the first ensemble of the week to offer a persuasive performance of the Adès. Even forgetting the fact that it was the youngest quartet at the competition, the KNUA’s playing was very accomplished. The Danish String Quartet showed it also had the measure of Arcadiana, with a particularly moving “O Albion” movement. The Danish also offered a very muscular performance of Haydn’s “Fifths” quartet.
Two German quartets, the Signum and the Amaryllis, showed promise, too, with an exciting Janá?ek “Intimate Letters” from the Signum and a refined Mozart “Prussian” quartet from the Amaryllis.