Richard Carne Intercollegiate String Quartet Competition
Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival, Saturday 24 April
The Richard Carne Intercollegiate String Quartet Competition occupied a prime position in this year’s Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival. Generously funded by the Richard Carne Trust and offering substantial prizes to the winners of the two categories (best overall performance and best performance of the set work) this event regularly attracts the cream of young string quartets from all major UK conservatoires. This year the ensembles from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama unfortunately had to withdraw at the last minute due to personal circumstances, but all other six schools were represented by their chosen quartet champions.
Receiving its world premiere this year was the set work by Trinity Laban student composer, Will Howarth, winner of the Trinity Laban String Quartet Composition Competition. His quartet, Broken Ride, inspired by the climactic carousel scene at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, Strangers on a Train (reflecting the movie theme that ran through almost all items in the Festival) included a passage in which all four players are required to improvise, adding interest and variety for both performers and audience.
The standard of performance was admirably high throughout the day, and the two adjudicators, Charles Sewart, former member of the London Mozart Trio and Chilingirian Quartet and current Head of Strings at the Purcell School, and Baudime Jam, composer, director and violist in the Quatuor Prima Vista, had praise for the all the young performers. They also provided useful constructive feedback to each of the ensembles, pointing out areas in which there was room for improvement, most notably general points about the need to let the music to breathe, to balance the voices within the ensemble and to exaggerate musical gestures within the score. The panel liked the simplicity of the Ruzena (Royal Northern) Quartet’s Mozart, the passion of the Arcos (Royal College) Quartet’s Mendelssohn, the fullness of tone and sense of commitment of the Halcyon (Royal Academy) Quartet’s Moeran, the quality of sound and improvisation skills of the Kodo Quartet (Trinity Laban) and the expertise with which the Volta Quartet (Guildhall) overcame many of the challenges of Simon Holt’s Two Movements for String Quartet, but in the end, it was the experience, accuracy, balance and polish of the Klee Quartet from Birmingham, the result of seven years of sustained detailed and focused work, that won the day.
A highly enjoyable event with creditable performances from all, bringing students together to compare standards, to compete, but also to make friends and share in the joy of making music together and sharing this joy with a wider audience. The success of this competition shows that string playing and chamber music are alive and well in this country and that future generations will continue this great tradition that occupies such a central place in our cultural heritage.
David Kenedy, Festival Director