Fitzwilliam String Quartet
Founded in 1968 by four Cambridge undergraduates, the Fitzwilliam first became well known through its close personal association with Dmitri Shostakovich, who befriended them following a visit to York to hear them play. He entrusted them with the Western premières of his last three quartets, and before long they had become the first ever group to perform and record all fifteen. These recordings, which gained many international awards, secured for them a world wide concert schedule, and a long term contract with Decca/London which embraced some byways of late Romantic repertoire (including Franck, Delius, Borodin, and Sibelius) before they embarked on a Beethoven cycle. Indeed, the Shostakovich set was included in Gramophone magazine’s “Hundred Greatest-ever Recordings” in November 2005.
Generous private patronage has made possible their current collaboration with Linn Records, which began with Haydn’s Seven Last Words , and has since continued with the Brahms clarinet quintet (Lesley Schatzberger) as well as a disc of 20th cent English songs with James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook (including Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge ) – a finalist for last year’s Gramophone Awards ); the Bruckner string quintet will follow in November, and future plans include Purcell string music and the complete quartets of Tchaikovsky. There are also upcoming releases for Divine Art in the pipeline. The Fitzwilliam was Quartet-in-Residence at the University of York for twelve years and at the University of Warwick for three, as well as Affiliate Artists at Bucknell University, USA, since 1978. Twelve years ago they began a new Residency at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, with similar associations at Bangor and London Royal Holloway following soon after – and St Andrews now under discussion. They are one of the few string quartets in the world using Classical instruments for the appropriate repertoire, and perhaps unique in that they perform on both historical and modern set-ups (sometimes within the same concert!).
At the other end of the musical spectrum, a renewed interest in contemporary music has resulted in nearly forty additions to the new century’s repertoire; as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations they are currently inviting a number of composer friends to contribute to a series of new fantasias along the lines of those by Henry Purcell. This includes the German composer/saxophonist Uwe Steinmetz, with whom they have been collaborating since 2002, working extensively with his jazz group in Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany – where a CD of his Bonhoeffer Suite has been released.
They have just returned from a second trip to Slovenia, featuring festival concerts and a radio broadcast of a programme including a selection of his songs (the accompaniments having been arranged for them by Duncan Druce) as well as two of his most celebrated quartets. Other recent travels have included a weekend in Munich to contribute to an international dance film featuring Shostakovich’s last three quartets. There have also been four visits to Russia, which included concerts in the St Petersburg Conservatoire, Pushkin’s House, the Sheremetev Palace, the Summer Palace at Peterhof, as well as at Agora – former home of Modest and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. For most of their career they have been making regular trips to the USA, one of the more recent including a second marathon three-hour event in Lorin Maazel’s private concert hall at his farm in Virginia. Last year they made their first trip to the snows of Newfoundland, followed by a Martin Randall Travel archeological cruise from Athens to Istanbul – this taking in performances in a number of ancient amphitheatres en route (repeated in October). The Vaughan Williams 50th anniversary figured prominently in their schedule for 2008, with performances of On Wenlock Edge and the second string quartet around the country. In April they contributed the major part of a complete cycle of the Haydn quartets at The Castle in Taunton, featuring ten ensembles from around the world. They have been marking 40 years of quartet playing with celebratory events right across the UK.
Personnel: Lucy Russell violin, Marcus Barcham-Stevens violin, Alan George viola, Heather Tuach cello