DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Banff Day 1: Old speaks to new as 10 string quartets begin competing this afternoon

By John Terauds on August 26, 2013

The Banff Centre hosts the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, starting today.
The Banff Centre hosts the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, starting today.

There are 10 string quartets from around the world gathered for the 11th triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition starting today. All play on modern instruments, yet one of the jury members is a period-instrument specialist. Why?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Torontonian Tamara Bernstein explains it all in an essay included in the competition programme, where Banff competition director Barry Schiffman recalls the day when he and fellow St Lawrence String Quartet founding violinist Geoff Nuttall listened to a recording of quartets by Joseph Haydn performed on period instruments by Austrians, the Quatuor Mosaïques.

Both violinists were struck by the the heightened sense of musical rhetoric in the music. The sound from period instruments — string or wind — is less homogeneous from highest notes to lowest, imparting a particular texture to music that modern instruments can’t produce.

But the secret of period performance is not in the physical differences (such as a different bridge, or gut strings or a different sort of bow) or in tuning to a lower pitch. Rather it is in how each note gets along with its companions, on how, together, they make a story worth listening to.

As Bernstein writes: “The interpretive practices of period performances, Schiffman said, ‘are not add-ons. They are core musical values.’ ”

As this year’s historically informed judge, cellist Richard Lester of the London Haydn Quartet, said to Bernstein: “Gut strings make a tremendous difference to the articulation, colour, and the amount of sound that you produce. If you play to the full extent of their capacity, you get this wonderful sense of struggle without [the sound] being out of scale.”

What Lester and anyone else familiar with period performance practices will be listening for is these modern musicians’ ability to blend the spirit of times past with our need to be moved by the music we hear.

The first round of competition, today and tomorrow, pairs Schubert quartets (the competitors have chosen Nos 8, 9 10 and 11, making for easy comparisons) with 20th century works. These programmes bridge the unforced type of sound of the early 19th century with some much more modern struggles.

Wednesday is an all-Haydn day, which will really put the spotlight on these young musicians’ historical awareness.

It will make for fascinating listening at an event that prides itself on being one of the most significant of its kind in a world awash in competitions.

All of the music is being streaming live, thanks to a partnership with the CBC, beginning today at 4 p.m. Eastern. You’ll find all the details here.

And here is an illustration of what I’ve been writing about, using the very familiar second movement of Haydn’s “Emperor” quartet, starting with the period instruments of Quatuor Mosaïques from an album recording, followed by a 2011 concert performance by the Attacca Quartet, which is competing in Banff this year:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

CLASSICAL 101 | How Can Violins Sound So Sad?

By Anya Wassenberg on July 25, 2019

There is no doubt that there is something about the achingly sweet sound of the violin that makes it the ideal means of expressing sorrow and sadness.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

SCRUTINY | NYO Canada Raises The Roof At Koerner Hall

By Holly Harris on July 31, 2019

To paraphrase a pithy bon mot popularly attributed to Walt Kelly, “We have seen the future of Canadian classical music, and it is the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.”
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

THE SCOOP | Canadian Violinist Makes Sexual Assault Allegations Against Curtis Institute Teacher

By Anya Wassenberg on July 25, 2019

Lara St. John has gone public with sexual abuse allegations against a former teacher while studying at the Curtis Institute of Music when she was 14.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.