Formed in London in 1994 when its members were studying at the Royal College of Music, the Belcea Quartet returns to the city at the end of the April to perform as part of the International Chamber Music Series here at Southbank Centre.
Guided by violinist Corina Belcea, the Quartet - which also features Axel Schacher (violin), Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola) and Antoine Lederlin (cello) - have been described as ‘technically accomplished and uncommonly probing’ by The New York Times. Ahead of their performance in our Queen Elizabeth Hall, for which they’ll be joined by the popular Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski, we spoke to Chorzelski to get a flavour of the Quartet and their repertoire.
Why did you choose the pieces on your Southbank Centre programme, and why do you think they work well together?
Each of the works we chose for this programme hold a special place in our repertoire. Haydn’s ‘Fifths’ Quartet is one of our favourites - definitely from the pinnacle of his achievement in the genre. His wealth of invention and imagination is particularly striking here. This music is always fresh. It constantly surprises us with its unexpected twists and turns.
Janáček’s Intimate Letters is an emotional outpouring full of the rawest of energies - absolutely unique in the string quartet repertoire. The Shostakovich Quintet opens with a grandiose neo-baroque overture and yet the fugue that follows feels like an intimate confession, fragile and lonely in its quiet concentration.
The mood is broken again by a brash parody of a Soviet circus. Then a haunting aria with a slightly sinister walking bass leads us to the most enigmatic of finales… the whole piece seems to be searching for the truth hidden behind a succession of masks, only now and then revealing itself to us. It is a work we have played many times over the years together with Piotr, one of our dearest friends and musical partners.
And as a delicate underlying thread, all the works in this programme share a certain Eastern European flavour which we hope will be felt by the audience.
How has your quartet evolved over the years?
Our quartet has developed a style which originates from the diverse cultural backgrounds of its members. We try to strike a balance between the freedom of expression of individual voices forming the score, and a strong, homogenous voice of the whole group adapting to different styles of the music we play.
In the coming two seasons we return to our favourite challenge: the complete cycle of Beethoven’s quartets. This is really the most character-building experience for any string quartet. We do try to introduce works that are entirely new to us in between revisiting music that we have been playing for many years. They include new works written for us, most recently a beautiful piece by Joseph Phibbs, but also new discoveries: Ligeti’s First Quartet has been one of those lately - an absolute masterpiece.
As a Quartet you tour a lot, what's the secret to a happy life on the road?
A good sense of humour is perhaps the most essential quality necessary… a love of good food makes it a lot more enjoyable too.
What is the best about playing in a quartet?
The best thing about playing in a string quartet is the love we share for this wonderful repertoire.
And the worst?
The sound of an alarm clock in the middle of the night followed by the sight of a half-packed suitcase.
Who is the single most influential string quartet composer?
Ludwig van Beethoven
How do you think the string quartet as a genre will evolve in the next 100 years?
Hopefully the string quartet won’t ‘evolve’ too much in that time. We very much wish that it remains the preferred medium for composers and for string players to find their most intimate and ‘private’ expression. And we hope this type of music-making will continue to hold a special place for the audiences of the future too.