The Bloomsbury Quartet offer a programme entitled Wartime: Before, During and After for the Royal Academy of Music lunchtime series at this year’s Petworth Festival (Friday, July 20, 12 midday, Leconfield Hall, Petworth).
Eva de Vries, Janell Yeo (violin), Rachel Maxey (viola) and Felicity Smith (cello) will highlight music inextricably linked with times of war.
Just before the outbreak of The Great War, Stravinsky wrote Three Pieces for String Quartet. A century earlier Beethoven was living in Vienna when the city was invaded by Napoleon and responded in music. In 1945, Benjamin Britten and Yehudi Menuhin went to Germany to perform to concentration camp survivors. On their return Britten composed his String Quartet No 2.
“Obviously for the concert we were very influenced by the centenary of the end of the First World War,” says Felicity. “We are looking at pieces written around the time of war. Especially the last two wars had such an enormous impact on all art and a devastating effect on the way that we all look at society. It is difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like when Napoleon was trying to invade Europe, but it is quite easy to imagine the profound impact that the last two wars had. As well as innovation and change, I think the wars made us all address our roots and almost want to go back to a simple life.”
The Bloomsbury Quartet are postgraduate students at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone. As Eva says: “We have been together since October/September. It is quite recently. There was a speed-dating session at the Academy so that you get to play in groups. You have to sight-read for a few minutes and then go to another room where you sight-read with other people. I was playing with Felicity and I felt that she was such a sensitive player. I thought she must be playing with lots of other people. I sent her a message afterwards saying ‘I would love to play with you, but you must be very busy.’ She said she wasn’t playing with anyone. She knew Janell and Rachel and we first got together in late October.
“It was instant. I just felt that everyone in the group has the same ability to listen to each other and the same feelings about the music and the same mutual respect, that someone would suggest something and the others would follow… or would challenge it positively.
“And also the girls are so funny! They make me laugh! And I think it is the most positive experience I have ever had of rehearsing, not just someone saying ‘Oh, that’s really bad!’ or ‘I don’t really like that!’ It is much more ‘Have you thought of doing this or this?’ It is all very positive and open. Everybody is trying to improve, and that is very rare. It is important to be open.”