Grace Notes: A Memorial Concert with Shostakovich and Barber

Last Friday my quartet (Horizon String Quartet) and pianist Alvaro Siculiana put on a concert at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel in remembrance of all those who died during World War I.

We opened with the Adagio from Samuel Barber’s string quartet Opus 11. This very popular movement was turned (by Barber himself) into ‘Adagio for Strings’ for a string orchestra and this Adagio  version has also been used in many films including ‘Amelie’ and ‘Platoon’. It is very chorale-like and the harmony moves slowly with lots of suspensions before the phrases finally resolve. This tempo was difficult for us because every part in the quartet is very exposed and intonation can be a problem. We worked very hard this and built up a lot of the chords (starting with the cello and then going round to the first violin) so we could be sure we were exactly in tune in the rich  harmonies that Barber wrote. We also found that following the phrase through was difficult (again due to the slow tempo), so we practiced a few times playing it much faster and this helped us get a sense of where to aim for.

The rest of the concert was Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and we were joined by Alvaro on stage. We worked on this piece a lot last year, as we played it in a concert in Leeds, so the challenge was picking it all back up after a summer off! I love this piece (as I’ve said in a previous blog, Shostakovich is my favourite composer). It was written in 1940 for the Beethoven Quartet with Shostakovich himself at the piano. As with many of his pieces, the mood may seem cheery and light, but there is an undercurrent of grief and anguish always drifting close to the surface.  My favourite movement is the 3rd, a Scherzo (meaning ‘joke’) which is very wild and gallops along (a total contrast to every other movement which seem more guarded).  The main challenge here was to blend our quartet sound with the piano, so we became 5 equal instruments, still respecting when one of us had the tune. It was a lot of fun working together as having the extra musician added a new dynamic to the group.

The concert was a success and we got a great response from the audience. The acoustics really helped us project the quietest and most poignant sections of the pieces. We’d all love to play there again. Now we are looking forward to learning some new repertoire and preparing for future concerts.

Horizon String Quartet

Horizon String Quartet

If you’d like to find out more about Horizon String Quartet, we have a website and Facebook page. Thank you for reading and looking forward to seeing you all next week!

*Note: I do not own any of these videos and they are not the Horizon String Quartet performing.

If you are interested in listening to Horizon Quartet, here are a few tracks that we did in a recording session earlier in the year. These are the sorts of pieces we use at weddings and other functions, and there are so much fun to play. We also arrange a lot of our own music. I hope you enjoy!



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