Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A direct line to Britten

Saw the superb young Kamus Quartet playing at the Chapel invitation concert in Norwich on Sunday. The Kamus are four students from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki who are making quite a name for themselves on the chamber music scene.

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The Kamus Quartet show that chamber music
doesn't need to be stuffy and boring....

Why do so many brilliant musicians come out of Finland, a country of just five million inhabitants. Coming to that why do so many other important developments like the Linux operating system (first developed by Linus Torvalds) and Nokia mobile phone technology come from the same small country? Presumably it is connected with the fact that the Finnish education system is consistently rated as one of the best in the world? ( In the OECD's international assessment of student performance, PISA, Finland has consistently been among the highest scorers worldwide; in 2003 Finnish 15-year-olds came first in reading literacy and science, and second in mathematics, worldwide).

The commitment and energy of these young musicians was awesome, and it was supported by an equally outstanding technique. The sheer vitality of these players (and that of the Sacconi String Quartet (see my post Laminar Flow region) made me wonder whether some of our main stream quartets aren't becomong a little 'routine' in their performances(thiis a subject tackled by Susan Tomes in her excellent new book - see my post Brain Food 2), or is that inevitable when you are on the road week after week? (Sorry to name names, but a concert by the Allegri last autumn was one of the most routine I have ever attended).

The high spot of the Kamus' outstanding concert was their playing of Britten's First Quartet. The Kamus have had a four week residency at Snape for the second year in succession, and their teacher during the residency, Hugh Maguire, gave an brief introductory talk before the Britten. As leader of the Allegri Quartet (which was then at the peak of its powers) Maguire made the first recording of the Britten, in the Maltings with Britten himself at his elbow throughout the sessions.

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Hugh Maguire

Judging by the playing of the Kamus Hugh Maguire has clearly been able to pass the inspiration down from Britten himself to a new generation of string players. The performance was quite remarkable as this young quartet had learnt the quartet during this residency, and the concert we attended was only their second public performance of the work. How pleasing it is that Maquire is continuing to inspire young players in his role as Director of String Studies at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies at Snape. His pre-performance comments were also perceptive. the first half of the concert was Sibelius' Intimate Voices, Maguire commented that although it was a fine quartet Sibelius did nothing in it that hadn't been done before, unlike the Britten.

And in one of those odd occurences of serendipity we hear the Britten First Quartet again this Saturday in Norwich, this time played by the Carducci Quartet. But before that we have The Sixteen performing Tallis and Tippett in St Peter Mancroft on Friday as part of their Choral Pilgrimage - will the riches never cease?

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Benjamin Britten outside Snape Maltings
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