Fitzwilliam String Quartet

 The Fitzwilliam String Quartet, in my opinion, is, and has been for many years, Britain’s premier string quartet ensemble ... a flagship British ensemble that should be the pride of that nation.  Jerry Dubins, Fanfare
The programme:
Schubert – Sehnsucht, D.636
Quartettsatz in C minor, D.703 – with Andante realised by Brian Newbould
Shostakovich – Quartet No.14
Schubert – Quartet in G major, D.887

Fitzwilliam String Quartet beginnings
The founding members of the FSQ first played together as undergraduates during their inaugural term at Cambridge University in autumn 1968. Their first concert appearance took place in Churchill College, Cambridge the following March, before their public debut at the Sheffield Arts Festival in June. After graduating in 1971 they accepted their first professional appointment, as Quartet in Residence at the University of York, following the eminent Amadeus Quartet.

It was only a year into their residency at York University that Dmitri Shostakovich travelled to York to hear the British première of his thirteenth quartet and this musical friendship (the composer’s own word!) prospered through correspondence, and the presentation of his final two quartets that he wrote in the years following. A planned visit to spend a week with the composer in Moscow however, was abandoned when he died in August of 1975. He entrusted them with the Western premières of the last three, and before long they had become the first ever group to perform and record all fifteen. These discs, which gained many international awards, secured for them a worldwide concert schedule and a long-term recording contract with Decca.

Repertoire, old & new
The FSQ is proud of its reputation for exploring less familiar repertoire, something that can give its concert programmes and discography a recognizably unconventional look. It has always been enthusiastic about promoting music of its time and the hotbed of new music at the University of York proved an inspirational starting point in its early years. Later, it was the University of York’s reputation for historical performance studies which encouraged the group to perform its earlier repertoire on period instruments.

It remains one of the few prominent quartets to play on historical instrument set-ups, but has simultaneously brought about the addition of over 50 new works to the repertoire.

The last two or three years have witnessed an increase in their presence on the British festival scene during which time they have also been granted their very own chamber music festival in the prestigious “town of books” – Hay-on-Wye. Similarly, they have become more prominent once again in London, notably at King’s Place, Conway Hall, and St John’s Smith Square.

2018 began with the realisation of a long-term ambition to record Beethoven and Schubert quartets on gut strings, following the success of previous recordings on historical instruments beginning with a CD of the former’s Opp.74/95/135.

Lucy Russell (violin)

Lucy was born in Germany of Scottish/Norwegian origin, but has lived mainly in London. While still a student she was invited to play with London Baroque and the English Baroque Soloists, and by the City of London Festival as a solo violinist in their production/recording of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea.

She has been a member of the Fitzwilliam since 1988, becoming leader in 1995; with them she has played all over Europe, North America, and South Africa, as well as making recordings. She has also recorded with other ensembles, having been leader of ensembles such as Florilegium, Classical Opera Company and the King’s Consort, as well as a director of the Scottish Early Music Consort and a solo violinist in the New London Consort. A CD set of the complete Bach Obbligato Sonatas, with eminent harpsichordist John Butt, has recently been released by Linn, and in 2017 she presented a late-night performance of the Bach solo Partitas at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester Cathedral.

She has taught and given masterclasses all over the world.
She plays on a violin by Ferdinando Gagliano, made in Naples, Italy, in c1789.

Marcus Barcham Stevens (violin)

Marcus first played with the Fitzwilliam in September 2012 and joined them as 2nd violin five months later. He received a starred first class honours in Music from Cambridge University and then studied with David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has broadcast as a soloist and chamber musician on BBC Radio 3 and live in recital on Classic FM, as well as at the Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room in London (with the Park Lane Group). Marcus held the position of Principal First Violin with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 2000-2002; he has recently been appointed co-leader of the Britten Sinfonia, and principal 2nd violin in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

He is a member of the chamber ensemble Chroma (with whom he has played for over 10 years), Ensemble Cymru, and the contemporary ensemble Plus-Minus. As a composer his “Dhyana” for soprano and ensemble was described by George Hall (the Guardian) as “hugely impressive”, and he was a finalist in 2012 in the New Music for St. Paul’s Cathedral competition.

Alan George (viola)

Alan comes from Cornwall. In 1968 he won an open scholarship to King’s College Cambridge, where he became one of the founder members of the Fitzwilliam, remaining as its only viola player for all 49 years of its existence (so far…). Indeed, he is now the longest serving quartet player in Britain!

Since 1976 he has been actively involved with the period instrument movement, including eleven years as principal viola with John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Until 1988 he was lecturer in music and director of the chamber orchestra at the University of York, and is the author of four studies of Shostakovich’s chamber music, as well as numerous articles and programme notes; he has also presented talks on BBC radio and at various festivals and concert venues throughout Britain and America. He is a trustee of the registered charity Jessie’s Fund – a memorial to his daughter Jessica, who died of a brain tumour in 1994 – which helps sick children through the therapeutic power of music, and which the Fitzwilliam has supported in its concerts and recordings. His viola was made in Cremona (Italy) c1740/41, possibly by one of the Guarneri family, and his other instruments include one made for him in 1995 by Roger Hansell.

Sally Pendlebury (cello)

Sally grew up in Manchester and attended Chetham’s School of Music. She went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music, and during that time she won the Capital Radio Prize and was a Shell/LSO competition prizewinner. A member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Sally has performed and recorded with many of the great soloists and conductors of today.
She was also a founder member of the Vellinger String Quartet, which won the 1994 London International String Quartet Competition and toured regularly throughout Europe, Japan and the USA.
Sally is regularly invited to perform in festivals internationally, and this year will participate in chamber music series in New York, San Francisco, Nürnberg and Graz. Sally often appears as guest principal cello with many British orchestras, such as English Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia, and she has been principal cellist with Opera North.

 Bravi tutti ... truly wonderful. It’s these transformative moments that make the work we do so worthwhile.  Peter Hewitt, CEO Benslow Music

Fitzwilliam String Quartet has a Website

[Picture credits: Peter Searle]