Fitzwilliam String Quartet

Alan George is the only founding member remaining of the FSQ, who all met as Cambridge undergraduates in 1968. He is here tonight, with a younger generation of players, celebrating their 50th year.  Tonight’s programme will include composers Bach, Delius, Glazunov, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Praetorius and Brahms.

 
Lucy Russell – Violin                                                                                         
Marcus Barcham-Stevens – Violin                                                                           Alan George – Viola                                                                                               Sally Pendlebury – Cello___ The original members of the FSQ first sat down together in the Gaskoin Room at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge in October 1968 – as undergraduates during their inaugural term. Their first concert appearance took place in Churchill College the following March, ahead of their public debut at the Sheffield Arts Festival in June – making the Fitzwilliam now one of the longest established string quartets in the world and possibly unique in having reached a half-century with an original player still on board! The current line-up combines founding member Alan George with a younger generation of performers: violinists Lucy Russell (herself celebrating 30 years in the group) and Marcus Barcham Stevens, along with former Vellinger Quartet cellist Sally Pendlebury.International recognition came early for the FSQ, as the first group to perform and record all fifteen Shostakovich string quartets, drawing on the players’ personal connection with the composer. The quartet has since appeared regularly across Britain, Europe, North America, the Middle and Far East and Southern Africa, as well as making many award winning recordings for Decca, Linn and Divine Art: perhaps the most novel so far has been a jazz fusion collaboration with German saxophonist/composer Uwe Steinmetz and former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Mads Tolling. A return to more traditional fare then saw Bruckner’s String Quintet coupled with his early Quartet – begun while Jonathan Sparey was still second violinist but delayed by his retirement, eventually released, thanks to generous sponsorship by the Bruckner Society of America and the Bruckner Journal (UK).Also now available are the complete chamber works (so far!) by award winning English composer Liz Johnson – including a new quintet which requires five different clarinets! Finally, a long term ambition to record Beethoven and Schubert on gut strings – following the success of previous recordings on historical instruments – was finally inaugurated in July, with sessions for the latter’s “Death & the Maiden”. Thus does the Fitzwilliam remain one of the few prominent quartets to play on older set- ups, yet simultaneously bringing about the addition of over 50 new works to the repertoire.After graduating from Cambridge in 1971 they accepted their first professional appointment, as Quartet in Residence at the University of York, succeeding the celebrated Amadeus. There the group built a niche for itself in concert venues around Yorkshire and the rest of the United Kingdom and at the same time joining a select company of quartets to have emerged under the guidance of Sidney Griller at the Royal Academy of Music. It was only a year into that residency that the much documented association with Dmitri Shostakovich first catapulted the Quartet into the public eye. The composer travelled to York to hear the British premiere of his thirteenth quartet, and this musical friendship (the composer’s own word!) prospered through correspondence and the presentation of his final two quartets, which he wrote in the years immediately following that visit. Sadly, a carefully planned trip to spend a week with the composer in Moscow was necessarily abandoned when he died in August 1975.Benjamin Britten reported afterwards (just before his own death) that Shostakovich had told him that the Fitzwilliam were his “preferred performers of my quartets”! Complete cycles were given in a number of major centres, including London, New York and Montreal. Having been Quartet-in-Residence at York for twelve years, at Warwick for three and at Bucknell (Pennsylvania, USA) from 1978, their university work continues at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge and now at St Andrews – where they are also proud to run their own annual quartet course (alongside their regular coaching weekend at Benslow Music, Herts). The current season began with an exceptionally busy September, which included six performances in just one week: a concentration of events to herald the quartet’s 50 th anniversary season, which included a concert back in Cambridge on March 2 nd – 50 years to the day after that debut public performance!Further information at www.fitzwilliamquartet.com                                                                                

 

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