My experience of the Banff International String Quartet Competition.

A contingent of CMK patrons and board members were in heaven September 1
through 5 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in the glorious Rocky Mountains,
with old friends and new acquaintances with a love of chamber music as a
commonality. We attended the final four days of the 14th BISQC, the Banff
International String Quartet Competition.

My first impression was amazement and awe at the talent and dedication of the
young musicians comprising the nine quartets who competed. They were all gifted,
had practiced thousands of hours individually and had rehearsed intensely for the
event. The competition included a Haydn and 21st century round, a Romantic round, a
Canadian commission round, a recital round in which they could design and play a
program of their choice, and the final Beethoven round for three finalists.

All of the quartets had to prepare their music well in advance of the competition, and
had to get through the taped competition which came first, at the end of which 10
quartets were chosen. One quartet dropped out, so there were 9 competitors, all
stellar. I agree with Bartok that “competition is for horses, not for artists”, so I couldn’t
have chosen one quartet to win since they were all amazing. I saw the competition as a
chance to hear string quartets, which are often considered the purest form for a
composer’s voice since the sound of the strings blends and yet there are a range of
colours available.

In addition to the competition rounds there was an Alumni Gala on September 1 with
BISQC’s winners in 2019, the Viano String Quartet of Canada/USA and the Marmen
Quartet of the UK playing Johannes Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18 and Franz
Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. After Intermission we heard James Ehnes and
Marc-Andre Hamelin perform the Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, Op. 21
by Ernest Chausson. As well, on September 2 there was a Special Event Presentation
by PUBLIQuartet called MIND THE GAP: “Reflections on Beauty”, which chronicled the
story of Madam C.J. Walker. The second half of the program was Recital No. 1: MASS,
a composition by Tyshawn Sorey and Caroline Shaw performed by bass-baritone
Davóne Tines. These works brought us into the present time with all its beauty, tragedy
and hope.

The winners of BISQC 14 are the 1. Isidore Quartet, 2. Opus 13, and 3. Balourdet
With the app The Violin Channel you can listen to the entire competition. In
fact I’m still in Banff virtually, listening to the rounds I missed and to some for a second
time! My personal favourite was the Beethoven round, since all three finalists chose a
late quartet: Number 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130 and 133 (Opus 13), 14 in C-sharp
minor, Op 131 (Balourdet) and 15 in A minor, Op. 132 (Isidore). In these late quartets
Beethoven takes us into the Romantic era and hints of the 20th Century, which I
believe is the reason for Beethoven being the final round. The quartets of Haydn are in
the first round because in these compositions one can observe the development of the
string quartet from its beginnings in the Baroque Era to the Classical Period.

Be sure to put August 24-31, 2025 on your Calendars for the 15th BISQC!

Karen Krout is a retired violinist and teacher who is fortunate enough to continue playing
chamber music with friends, truly the highlight of every week. She is inspired by the high
quality performances of internationally known musicians like the Viano String Quartet featured
by Chamber Music Kelowna and other arts organizations in Kelowna and the surrounding area.

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