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INTERVIEW | Catching Up With BISQC 2016 Winners Rolston String Quartet

By Ludwig Van on September 25, 2021

Rolston Quartet
A chat with the Rolston String Quartet about life since winning the 2016 BISQC competition, career impacts, dream collaborations, and future plans. (Photo: Shayne Gray)

The prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC) is held once every three years at the picturesque Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Winning the competition can be a dream come true for a quartet looking to establish itself on the touring circuit. We caught up with 2016 BISQC laureates, the Rolston String Quartet, to see how they have been doing since their win.

Speaking to us on behalf of the quartet, founding member Hezekiah Leung (viola) told us about what it felt like to win the competition, career impacts, releasing their first album, dream collaborations, and future plans.

The Rolston String Quartet had one of our favourite classical ‘MIC DROP’ moments in 2016. After being formed in Banff in 2013, you came back three years later to win first place at the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), blowing everyone away. That must have felt surreal. Tell us about that.

Yes, it was really a dream come true! I remember that 2016 was very tough as we prepared intensely for a few competitions that year, and Banff was the very last one. Although we did set our sights on trying to win the Banff Competition, we really didn’t expect it to happen. And as a Canadian musician, I had always watched the competition online and dreamed that one day I would have a quartet myself to compete. Really, just being able to play on that stage for the audiences and judges already felt surreal.

How did winning first prize at the BISQC 2016 affect your career?

It really launched our careers from having only a few concerts to up to eighty concerts a year. And we are really grateful to have two wonderful managers Andrew Kwan and Andrea Hampl which only really happened because of the competition.

Rolston’s debut recording ‘Souvenirs” (2019) got a lot of buzz in the string quartet world for its unique sound and repertoire. So what makes the Rolston String Quartet sound so different?

As a group, we always love to talk about how we can approach sound production for different passages either based on harmonies, colours or even characters. For example, if there is a quartet chord that is very bright and we want it to sound like brass and horns, we talk about how we can maximize that sound as a group, how much vibrato we use, how we breathe and prepare that chord with our bow arms and also how we decide on voicing the chord really matters. So sound, is a very important aspect to us and we love talking about it!

Despite a change to the line-up in 2018 (Emily Kruspe replacing Jeff Dyrda as the second violinist), the quartet has enjoyed some pretty rare longevity. What has been the key to keeping the group together for the past eight years?

Being in a quartet can be quite tough. The number of sacrifices one has to give can be quite difficult and also travelling all the time can be quite taxing mentally and physically. What has kept us going was really the love for the music and being able to share the music on stage together has really been a blessing.

The quartet has played with some major names in classical music, including Janina Fialkowska, Gary Hoffman, Nobuko Imai, St. Lawrence and Dover Quartets. If you could choose one musician or group to collaborate with next, who would it be and why?

We always love collaborating with new artists as you always learn new things and interesting things. It’s almost like a blind date, of course, you know of their reputation but you never know what to expect! We are really looking forward to touring with David Shifrin in the fall of 2022 both Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets. These two pieces are musical gems in the chamber music world and we LOVE David’s playing especially his sound and musicality.

You’re based in Toronto. What’s your favourite thing about living here?

FOOD! We love that there is so much good food and many options to choose from! We are all big food lovers in the quartet.

With venues and travel just now beginning to open amid the pandemic, what can we expect from the Rolston this year?

We have a bunch of dates this fall in the US and also Canada! We are actually playing in Guelph, ON as well as Prince Edward County. We are also looking forward to a nice European tour next March! We are just super excited to be able to play for live audiences again.


Funding in support of this content has been generously provided by The Azrieli Foundation.

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Ludwig Van
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