Take Four…

Written by: Duncan Hadfield

The Belcea Quartet, formed in 1994 and named after its first violinist Corina Belcea, is rapidly gaining an enviable reputation as one of the leading quartets of its generation – it was recently announced that, from this autumn, the Belcea would be ’Quartet in Residence’ at the Wigmore Hall.

Further acknowledgement has come from the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, the foursome securing the prize in the Chamber Ensemble category. The RPS citation read: ’Their interpretations of the quartet repertory have shown a deepening maturity. Their programmes, both as a Quartet and in collaboration with other musicians, have been varied and imaginative. They have established a special rapport with their audiences in the UK and are gaining an impressive international reputation’.

“Corina Belcea founded the Quartet whilst she was a student at the Royal College of Music,” Krzysztof told me. “I think she had the notion that quartet-playing was going to be her musical métier from the first day at the College. Initially the Quartet had some pretty solid grounding, thanks to being taught to some degree by the Chilingirian and the Amadeus Quartets. Corina, and our second violinist Laura Samuel, survive from the Belcea’s incarnation; I joined in 1997 and, from my first days in the Quartet, I realised that this was going to be a serious and time-consuming activity. Mutual respect for the other members, an artistic policy on which we like to think as one, stamina, and a great deal of practice were called for – and still are on a day-to-day basis – but I think it’s the core-values which we share that keep us going.”

“I suppose that, as far as programming goes, we decided not to specialise in any particular segment of the repertoire but rather to embrace as wide a territory as possible – so we play quartets from Haydn right through to the present day. That said, we probably did approach the task somewhat chronologically – firstly familiarising ourselves with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, then adding Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms to the equation, and then looking beyond them to Janacek, Bartok and Schoenberg. I think it’s a method that has served us well. I know singers often say if they can sing Mozart they can sing anything; to my mind something very similar applies to quartet-playing.”

“Of course there are lots of very fine string quartets on the scene and it’s a competitive field in which to get noticed. One way of trying to gain recognition in the early stages of a career is to enter competitions; I think doing so has certainly given our reputation a valuable boost. I don’t really know what I think about music-making as a competition – and who is really to judge if this or that quartet’s playing is in some way superior to other ensembles? We decided not to ponder the ethics of it for too long and just enter and play to the best of our abilities. Well, the annus mirabilis, so to speak, happened in 1999 when we carried off the first prize at both the Osaka and the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competitions – this led to us making our debuts in some of the great concert halls of the world, such as New York’s Carnegie, Vienna’s Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Paris’s Cite de la Musique.”

“On top of all that we’ve now won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Prize and, from October this year, we have secured this very exciting Wigmore Hall residency. So our profile looks good but, naturally, there’s always more to work at. Our first CD of Ravel, Debussy and Dutilleux was well received and we’re already planning a second one of works by Janacek and Brahms. As to the whole process of rehearsing and performing, you might say we get tired but don’t tire of it; and there’s always something to look forward to – such as being part of this New Generation Artists Day at the Wigmore (June 10) where we round the whole thing off by teaming up with the splendid Jerusalem Quartet in Mendelssohn’s great Octet – it should be an exhilarating collaboration.”

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