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Villiers Competition

The Villiers Quartet New Works Competition is an international competition designed for audiences to interact with contemporary music performance online. Voting in the semi-final round of the 2014 competition closed at midnight on 31 July 2014, and the quartet has announced the finalists - Simon Parkin, José González Granero and Matthew Browne.

The competition was open to composers of any nationality and age writing new music for string quartet. The deadline for entries was 12 May 2014. The field was then narrowed to six composers, whose works were video recorded and posted on the Villiers Quartet website for online audience vote from 1-31 July 2014.

The three finalists will have their works performed live at Kings Place, London, UK by the Villiers Quartet on 21 September 2014. The winner will be chosen by the audience on the night, and will receive the Silva Foundation prize of one thousand pounds, a studio recording of their piece, plus inclusion of their work into the Villiers Quartet repertoire for forthcoming seasons. The concert will be streamed live on the internet, and the evening will be hosted by cellist, bass-baritone and actor Matthew Sharp.

Simon Parkin's String Quartet No 4 has seven movements, each of which is a variation on the original theme that is introduced in the first movement. The fifth movement is the exception - with a simple heading of Senza Tempo, the instruction to the players is simply 'Tune up, starting with the viola, as quietly and as sensitively as possible. Frame as a separate movement, but do nothing theatrical.'

Filled with compact, dense harmonies, Parkin's composition is a quartet mashup of musical styles ranging from Beethoven to Richard Strauss, all tied together with Parkin's own take on variations of his opening theme. Written with flair and panache for interplay between the four instruments, the String Quartet No 4 explores the idea of mixing musical styles and textures.

Simon Parkin studied composition and piano at the University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), studying composition with Anthony Gilbert. He has had many broadcasts on BBC Radio, Classic FM, Channel 4 and ITV, and is a regular pianist with the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove, and the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. He lives in Manchester, UK, and teaches as Head of Musicianship at the RNCM.

José González Granero wrote his Quartet No 1 after recalling a visit he made to the home of Spanish national poet Federico García Lorca in Granada. He took the title of his string quartet from the poem Noche del Amor Insomne ('A night of sleepless love'), a poem from the collection of Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love. Written in one movement, this quartet has a distinctly Spanish flavour, and presents a feeling of beautiful lyrical drama. A lamenting theme is introduced by the cello, and then passed around each instrument. Pizzicati and quick arpeggios serve to emulate notes strummed on a guitar. There is also inspiration from opera here - Granero is principal clarinettist with the San Francisco Opera - and we can find hints of Puccini and La bohème adding to the lyrical flavour of the string quartet.

José González Granero is a clarinettist and composer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated from Granada Royal Conservatory, USC Thornton School of Music, and The Colburn School in Los Angeles. He has also written for the EOS Ensemble and the Granada Brass Quintet.

Coming across Matthew Browne's String Quartet No 1 'A Penumbral Eclipse', The Villers Quartet members were intrigued by the various sources of inspiration used for this work. Remembering an experience he had while watching a total lunar eclipse, Browne's thoughts focused on shadows - the 'grey areas' we often overlook in our lives. Taking his inspiration from the penumbra - the moment in an eclipse either just before complete darkness or complete illumination - Matthew's quartet explores how we tend to cast these shadowy moments aside and instead use black and white moments in our lives to define our purpose.

The fourth movement, Horror Vacui (a fear of empty spaces') makes brilliant use of two musical elements - a fugue and a tongue-in-cheek syncopated melody in the manner of Scott Joplin and American ragtime. As the movement progresses, the quartet creates a range of different textures and sounds which fluctuate between these two elements. Near the end it becomes clear how the satirical melody resolves, before the quartet erupts into a volcano of manic tremolo. As the composer explains, 'satire' was the key to this movement, and the fugue is served to the listener with a wide sardonic grin.

Matthew Browne is a DMA composition candidate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studying with Kristin Kuster and Michael Daugherty. His previous awards include the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and the Maurice Gardner Composition Award from the American Viola Society.

With performances that combine explosive energy and stylistic refinement, the Villiers Quartet has established itself as one of the most charismatic and adventurous quartets of the British chamber music scene. Dedicated to the established works of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, the quartet has also developed a reputation as exceptional interpreters of English composers, including Elgar, Britten, Delius, and Thomas Adès.

More recently the quartet has been involved in a range of groundbreaking cross-genre collaborations, including string quartet projects with Bhangra composer Kuljit Bhamra, jazz drummer Davide Giovannini and music broadcaster Roderick Swanston. The quartet has been featured in numerous music festivals and series including the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, the Brit Jazz Fest, the Barnes Music Festival, and concerts with the British Music Society. Members of the quartet have appeared on-screen and performed on the scores for episodes of the television series Downton Abbey.

Named after Villiers Street in London, other 2014 highlights for the group are the release of the quartet's debut CDs for Naxos of the complete quartets of Robert Still, and a recording of Sanctus for string quartet by Canadian-Estonian composer Riho Maimets.


Posted: 4 August 2014

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