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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 10

Battle of the Bows

July 13, 2004

Banff International String Quartet Competition

August 31st to September 5th, 2004

Michael Vincent

Since its creation, the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), now in its 8th edition, has established itself as an immensely pivotal event for any young string quartet earning its way to the top four. BISQC was originally created in 1983 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Banff Centre, which is nestled at the foot of Alberta's Rocky Mountains. Surrounded by a strikingly beautiful landscape, Banff has long established itself as a popular location for international artists who come to develop themselves both personally and professionally in an atmosphere congenial to artistic creativity.

As a valued member of the Geneva World Federation of International Music Competitions, BISQC is highly regarded within the international music community, which imposes very high standards upon the competition. The triennial string quartet competition is open to all nationalities. Audition tapes are reviewed by three preliminary judges who systematically narrow them down to 10 semi-finalists. The juries are made of former and current members of some of the world's most prominent quartets, including Colorado, St Lawrence, Orford, Budapest, Juilliard, Prague, Kolish, Takacs, Tokyo, Vermeer, Cleveland, Smetana, Borodin, and Quartetto Italiano. The 10 competitors this year are:

  • Alma String Quartet (Paris, France)
  • Carmel Quartet (Givataim, Israel)
  • Enso Quartet (Houston, USA)
  • Fry Street Quartet (Logan, USA)
  • Jupiter String Quartet (Boston, USA)
  • Matangi Quartet (The Hague, Netherlands)
  • Penguin Quartet (Prague, Czech Republic)
  • Quince Quartet (London, UK)
  • Royal String Quartet (Warsaw, Poland)
  • Tokai String Quartet (Toronto, Canada)

"These quartets represent the finest emerging ensemble talent playing today," says Peter Gardner, executive director of BISQC. "We've spoken to each quartet and they are thrilled at the opportunity to play in Banff. The virtuosity and musicianship of these players will create a competition filled with youthful energy and sparkle--an aural feast for both the BISQC audience and the jury."

To avoid the risk of being overshadowed by more mature quartets, the BISQC requires that all performers be under the age of 35. This requirement has helped young musicians such as Canada's St Lawrence String Quartet (1992 BISQC first-prize winners), who otherwise might not have been given the chance to establish themselves alongside the world's finest ensembles. Incidentally, they now find themselves as BISQC jury members.

The audience can expect to hear quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Ravel, and various other contemporary composers. BISQC has established a tradition of commissioning a new Canadian work specifically for the event. This year the CBC sponsored String Quartet No 2, Banff Variations, by Ontario native and now Pointe-Claire resident Stewart Grant, who will discuss the work on September 3. John Largess, violist with the Miró Quartet (winner of the 1998 BISQC), will provide expert commentary every morning.

After hearing each quartet perform five complete works, the jury will select four finalists. The roster of prizes includes an impressive $75,000 in cash, a Banff Centre residency with the possibility of a CD recording, a set of bows from renowned Canadian archetier Michael Vann, and a recital tour.

During the exciting week-long event, the audience can stay at The Banff Centre along with the competitors. There are a number of resident audience packages available, from the popular "final weekend package" (starting at $452) to the posh "deluxe Stradivari rooms" (starting at $1561–sold out). www.banffcentre.ca

(c) La Scena Musicale