7th July, 7.30pm
The Brompton Quartet
St John the Baptist Church, EN5 4BW
Joseph Haydn, String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2
Caroline Shaw, Entr’acte
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in Bb Major, Op. 130
we spoke to the quartet...
How did the quartet start playing together?
Wallis: Maja and I met and played together at a chamber music festival in 2018 while we were still at the RCM. We formed an immediate friendship and musical connection and wanted to start a string Quartet straight away! As is usual in chamber groups, the inner players have changed over the past almost five years. Esther joined us in the Spring of 2021 and Edward is the newest addition, having joined us this May.
What’s been your favourite musical experience as a quartet? Concerts, coaching, pub trips, anything!
Maja: It has to be our recent concert in Keswick, Lake District. It was the perfect 24hr trip. We did a lot of preparation for the concert, rehearsed in depth and had a wonderful coaching with David Waterman so we felt comfortable and secure with our repertoire. We were all on time for the train (just..) reached our destination and got picked up in cars which for once didn’t smell of wet dogs. Great start!
We then arrived at our venue which was next to a stunning lake, had a quick coffee and stroll in the sun, had a productive but relaxed general rehearsal, got familiarised with venue rules and what was available (such as a mental health aider on site). Before the concert we had an amazing meal at the restaurant, then took some jumping photos in the field and Maja stepped in poo. Got ready, played the concert and it went well.
Afterwards, we were driven to a stunning house on the peninsula where we were greeted with bottles of champagne and the most delicious mezze prepared by our lovely hosts. Then it was off to our separate (!) bedrooms with views over the lake where we slept in nice fresh linen. In the morning we had a scenic taxi drive back to the station and returned to London. It was perfect.
The Beethoven quartet you’re playing is one of the all-time masterpieces in the quartet repertoire. His so-called ‘late quartets’ are generally held up as some of the pinnacles of Western cultural achievement. What’s it like taking on a piece with such a reputation?
Edward: Taking on a piece with the reputation of Beethoven's late quartets is a truly remarkable challenge. This music is among the most rewarding you can ever play, and as performers, we feel privileged to engage with it.
The way Beethoven writes for each voice is simply sublime. The intricate interplay between the instruments, the rich harmonic language, and the profound emotional depth of the music all contribute to its timeless appeal.
Of course, the work comes with myriad challenges. By this stage, it is clear that Beethoven didn't care much about the comfort of the performers, and the technical demands are formidable.
There is also an immense emotional depth that Beethoven explores. Compared to his early quartets (which aren't exactly straightforward), this quartet is a juggernaut. The questions the piece raises through its individual movements are significant—what is he trying to share with us? The movements are all vastly different—what connects them? Why did he arrange them in this particular order? Why was he so willing to displace the grosse fugue with a new and distinct finale?
Answering these questions becomes even more challenging because we know Beethoven. We are aware that there is a profound intention behind all his answers, and it is our job to express our understanding of these answers as best we can.
Despite these challenges, the effort put into playing this music is incredibly worthwhile. We have all been overjoyed to immerse ourselves in Beethoven's vast and extraordinary world. The experience of studying and performing these quartets has been profoundly enriching and, like all great music, continues to be life-changing.
The reward for immersing oneself in Beethoven's extraordinary musical world is immeasurable. So, while it may initially seem daunting, we prefer to embrace the challenge and enjoy the journey. We hope you do too!
If our audience wanted to listen to some music related to your programme, what would you recommend?
Esther: Hans Keller said about Haydn’s String Quartet Op.54 No.2, that ‘it can be safely suggested that there is no more original Haydn quartet, nor any that contains more prophetic innovations.’
Perhaps the 2nd movement, Adagio, is the most surprising out of all - Haydn brings the characters of gypsy music to a slow movement for the first time in his musical writing. This reminds me of the Adagio of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, where there are also resemblances of Brahms’s wild ‘Gypsy’ style on the clarinet part, juxtaposed with intense beauty in the string writing.
For Entr’acte, I would definitely recommend listening to Haydn’s String Quartet Op.77 No.2 and particularly the Minuet, as it’s the piece which Caroline Shaw’s inspiration of the piece came from. The abrupt transition from the minuet to the trio is what caught her ear - Entr’acte is also structured as a minuet and trio.
To finish the programme, we will be playing Beethoven’s String Quartet No.13 in B Flat Major, Op.130. As we will be playing the alternate finale, not the Große Fuge, I would recommend listening to Beethoven’s final String Quartet No.16 in F Major, Op.135. The alternate finale feels much closer musically to the Op.135 as it’s the last piece of music he ever wrote, with all the struggles between unrest and order in the previous movements accepted, finding a way to move forward.
And as a more light-hearted way to get to know you, if you were a pizza, what toppings would you have and why?
Maja: The Brompton Quartet is a pizza all together. Wallis represents a sourdough base that will be there to hold all your toppings no matter what they are. Ed is a very well seasoned tomato base (made from fresh tomatoes obviously). Esther is the kind of mozzarella that gives you the perfect cheese pull when you take a slice. Maja is probably ham and pineapple on top - you either love it or hate it.