“No engineer could have suffered more when designing his first suspension bridge than I did as I agonizingly filled the empty pages of my String Octet with notes,” sighed the Romanian composer George Enescu, having decided to write this lengthy work at just nineteen years of age – it should be noted that is in fact his seventh opus! He wrote a work that is amazing not only for its length, but also for its surprising maturity. The piece is permeated with the atmosphere of the magical year 1900, which was expected by many to be a real milestone of history. Enescu’s octet blends the language of high Romanticism with a premonition of the many changes that music would undergo during the twentieth century. One hears the inspiration of Romanian folk songs as well as cosmopolitan motifs. He was surrounded by cosmopolitan influences as a student in Vienna and Paris (he was actually accepted to the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven as a child prodigy, something that was possible only as an exception, such as had been granted in history only to him and, shortly beforehand, to the legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler).
George Enescu’s Octet is one of the masterpieces of the octet repertoire, standing in the place of honor alongside Mendelssohn’s String Octet. That work will open this evening’s programme. It also shares with Enescu’s octet the youth of its composer – Mendelssohn was just sixteen when he wrote the piece as a wedding gift for his violin teacher. The work perfectly weds youthful ardor with an adult feeling for details.
The Two Pieces for String Octet op. 11 also bear witness to the important moment when Dmitri Shostakovich experienced the transformation from a child prodigy into a brilliant composer. He wrote the piece while a student at what was then called the Leningrad Conservatory, at the same time when he composed his First Symphony, which amazed the musical world for its maturity for a work penned by a composer who was just nineteen years old.
The Wihan Quartet is regarded as a world leader of the chamber music genre. International Record Review magazine described it as “one of the best quartets in the world today”. The ensemble has received enthusiastic reviews hailing its interpretation of both the Czech and world repertoires, from the Classical era to modern music. The Wihan Quartet also began to gain international recognition thanks to their success in competition – they won the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 1988, the International Chamber Music Competition in Trapani on Sicily in 1990, and the International Chamber Music Competition in Osaka twenty-one years ago, the latter victory resulting in annual invitations to perform in Japan. In 1991 the ensemble won both the top award and the Audience Prize at the London International String Quartet Competition. Concert tours have taken the Wihan Quartet to the leading festivals in Europe and the Far East. It gives concerts regularly in the USA and has toured Australia and New Zealand. The group travels frequently to England, giving concerts and acquainting young people with the world of chamber music. The ensemble is Quartet-in-Residence at the Trinity College of Music in London. For their commitment to education, the Wihan Quartet has been nominated three times for Royal Philharmonic Society awards.
In anticipation of their Prague Spring debut, the members of the Sacconi Quartet wrote the following brief message of greeting to the Prague Spring public:
“We are very excited to be making our Prague Spring Festival debut this May. The Mendelssohn Octet is one of our favourite works – his youthful energy comes through in abundance and the piece always seems to enliven and invigorate our audiences.
So often this work is paired in concert with two string quartet pieces, but Prague Spring Festival have given us the opportunity to join our old friends the Wihan Quartet to present a full programme of string octets. Enescu’s stunning (and challenging) Octet has been on our ‘wish list’ for over ten years, so we are looking forward to rehearsing and performing this piece with the Wihan Quartet in Prague, in our Sacconi Chamber Music Festival in Folkestone, England, and on tour throughout the UK over the next year.
We first met the Wihan Quartet in 2003 and studied with them over several years on their visits to England and on a summer course in Bechyně. They continue to inspire us by their passionate and committed playing, and sharing the stage with them will undoubtedly be one of the high points of our career so far.”
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