No Strings Attached

Written by: Colin Anderson

This Sunday, 6 February, finds the Wigmore Hall bringing together Stradivarius violins and new music…

You are invited to a book launch and a concert at the Wigmore Hall, Sunday the 6th at 5 o’clock. No strings attached – except for those on the violins being played by three hugely talented musicians: Nicola Benedetti (Young Musician of the Year 2004) and the two violinists of the Belcea Quartet, Corina Belcea and Laura Samuel. Stradivarius, that most famous of violinmakers, is the concert’s focus (except that Nicola will be playing her Guarneri!) and features a cross-section of contemporary violin music, including premieres by Sir John Tavener, Joby Talbot and Judith Weir. There’s also works by Lutoslawski and Richard Rodney Bennett, and should the pill need sugaring then both Saint-Saëns and Massenet are on the menu. Another string to this concert’s bow is the Wigmore Hall New Music Fund, a healthy initiative.

Laura Samuel, second violin of the Belcea Quartet, says that Stradivarius violins “vary a great deal. Corina plays on a very early one, right at the beginning of his making time, and mine is 1731, which is right at the end; they are hugely different. Strads are so responsive and each has its individual character. Mine is the ‘Payne’ Strad and it’s the violin that belonged to Siegmund Nissel who played second violin in the Amadeus Quartet; it’s got an extremely rich lower register so it’s a perfect bridge between the first violin and the viola. Corina’s fiddle is very bright, soprano; that’s the role she plays in our quartet.”

At the Wigmore concert Laura and Corina premiere Judith Weir’s new duet and Laura plays Joby Talbot’s Vanishing Point (for violin and piano). Laura describes the Talbot as “extremely effective – Joby will tell you more – and based on something vanishing, so the sound often goes to nothing at the end of my long notes. It’s soothing to listen to. Joby knew that I’m also playing Lutoslawski’s Partita, so I asked him for something that could complement it. I haven’t played the Partita before; it’s very challenging and great fun to get to grips with.” Laura started playing the violin “when I was six. Both my parents are violinists and I desperately wanted to do anything but play the violin! But during my teens I decided not to fight it.” The Belcea Quartet’s “core repertoire is the Viennese classics.” The group plays at the Wigmore on the evening of the 5th (Haydn, Schoenberg and Beethoven), once more on the 16th as one of the beneficiaries of EMI’s Debut CD label, and has recorded Benjamin Britten’s three quartets for release on EMI in March.

The composer of Vanishing Point, Joby Talbot, says there are two definitions of the title, “either the point where lines come together and vanish or, in quantum mechanics, it’s something that ceases to be. I’ve been fortunate to have my music played by violinists who play Strads and I’ve tried to capture those things; somehow the acoustics of the instruments are that you can play incredibly quietly and yet fill the room with sound. For Laura I’ve been trying to exploit that, the beautiful, resonant lower register and the amazing ethereal quality that the instruments have. The piece itself is kind of complicated but I’ve tried to write something beautiful for her. I love the violin but I don’t play it, so it’s a test as an ex-woodwind player to write something violinistic. There’s lots of good new music being written; a lot of people think that classical music is something that’s happened – but, rest assured, it’s still happening.”

  • Wigmore Hall, 6 February at 5 o’clock
  • Wigmore Hall
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 2 February 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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