BRETÓN STRING QUARTET
The Bretón String Quartet, one of the quartets with the most projection in our country (Spain)[i], has developed a very diverse and intense musical activity beginning in the year 2003. It started as a project for the defending and the promoting of Spanish repertoire, not only performing known Works by historically recognized composers, paying special attention to lost or forgotten repertoire, but as well focusing on contemporary Works of newer production, but without ignoring the great masters such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc… In a way, they were inspired by the efforts and programming of the Cuarteto Francés (1903-1915), whose viola was Conrado del Campo, a Madrid composer who wrote 14 numbered string quartets, some of which were premiered by they themselves.
The Bretón String Quartet focused on the rediscovering of repertoire by Spanish composers such as Jesus Guridi, Tomás Bretón and the aforementioned Conrado del Campo, premiering and bringing back to the stage forgotten Works a hundred years after their composition. They were involved in the publication of the String Quartet nº2, New Edition by the Bretón String Quartet by Jesús Guridi (UME-Music Sales Group), and they have edited music like the String Quartet nº1 “Oriental” 1903 and the String Quartet nº8 “…at the death of his mother” 1913 by Conrado del Campo. Based on his work, the Bretón String Quartet´s cellist, John Stokes, was invited to an International Conference on Spanish string quartets at the University of Granada, with a presentation of his Critical Edition of Conrado del Campo String Quartet No. 8, which will be published by Editorial Peter Lang, an international academic publishing group. In recent years, the BSQ had dedicated much time and effort to the repertoire of renowned international composers from the second half of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, such as Crumb, Saariaho, Görecki, Gubaidulina, Reich and Glass.
Critics have written that they have …demonstrated not only as individuals but as a whole, their impeccable musical level,[ii] and that …the prestigious Bretón String Quartet, one of the most consolidated and active groups in the recovery of Spanish music for string quartet.[iii] Regarding their CD´s, it was said that they had …an immaculate preparation… and that their …recording is outstanding, and I would recommend the disc to you as a release that has given me tremendous enjoyment and pleasure.[iv] Christopher Webber, in his review of their Jesús Guridi String Quartet CD, praised that the Breton String Quartet …are much more directly heart-on-sleeve, characterful and engaging, with a more finely-honed sense of Guridi´s structures and dramatic contrasts. Their recording is closer, more detailed and satisfyingly ripe. The Bretóns pungent advocacy leaves us in no doubt that Guridi´s pair deserve a place in the pantheon of great string quartets. This is the disc to have.[v]
The Bretón String Quartet came to be when John Stokes, violoncellist, and Iván Martín, violist, began conversations about the possibility of forming a new Spanish string quartet in 2003. The two had already had contact playing chamber music together since 1999 in Sartory Cámara, a string sextet, and decided to convince Anne-Marie North (first violin of BSQ), who had been first violin of the Leonor Quartet, and Antonio Cárdenas (second violin of BSQ), who was a member of the Rabel Quartet, to participate in this project together.
The group developed within the bosom of the Fundación Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid (ORCAM), being that three of its four members occupied important posts within the ORCAM- Anne-Marie North (Concertmaster), Iván Martín (Principal Viola) and John Stokes (Principal Cello) –and were being nurtured by their close relationship with José Ramón Encinar, Music Director at that time of the ORCAM, who frequently programmed chamber music repertoire by Spanish composers at the Residencia de Estudiantes and the Aula 400 (CDMC) in the Museo Reina Sofía. The fourth member of the Breton String Quartet, Antonio Cárdenas, is a First Violin in the Orquesta Nacional de España.
Another essential figure, at the beginnings of the Bretón String Quartet, was the composer Alfredo Aracil. Due to his recommendation, the group received an offer to play in the VII Semana de la Música de Ronda under the title, A tour of 20th Century music, where they performed Five Pieces op.5 by Anton Webern, String Quartet by Ernesto Halffter, String Quartet nº4 “The disasters of War” by Tomás Marco, and String Quartet nº3 by Alfredo Aracil himself, that took place in the Sala Biblioteca de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, in Ronda, Malaga, with the presence of Tomás Marco and Alfredo Aracil. This was a decisive concert that marked the future direction of the quartet: to always be at the edge of contemporary music, defending Spanish repertory of today. When Alfredo Aracil planned and coordinated the II Festival Iberoamericano in 2008, he again counted on the Breton String Quartet with their interpretation of the Concerto Grosso for string quartet and orchestra, by Julián Orbón, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, in the Auditorio Nacional de Madrid. He always gave encouragement to the ensemble to continue in its path, even composing and dedicating his fourth quartet, Cuarteto 4 (Figure before the mirror) in 2010 to them, a work that they recorded, with his presence, that same year for VERSO, in a monographic disc of Aracil´s quartets with the financing from the Fundación BBVA.
Their first official concert took place during the 2003-2004 Season of concerts in the Auditorium of the Conde Duque, with a monographic program, Homage to Jesús García Leóz (1904-1953). This program was repeated at the Fundación Juan March, under the title García Leóz in his centenary. Three days later, they played for the first time in the Residencia de Estudiantes, Portrait of Julio Gómez, a monographic concert of the composer, playing his Plateresque Quartet.
From its beginnings, the Bretón String Quartet dedicated a lot of effort and a significant amount of its programming, not only to well-known Spanish repertoire such as the works of Arriaga and Turina, but also bringing back lost or forgotten works that had not become part of regular programming of chamber music concerts. Works such as those by Tomás Bretón, Julián Bautista, Conrado del Campo, Manuel Canales, Julio Gómez, Enrique Granados, Jesús Guridi, Ernesto and Rodolfo Halffter, Jesús García Leóz, Julián Orbón, Father Antonio Soler and Usandizaga.
Also, they programmed works of living contemporary Spanish composers of the last three generations. Such well-known names as Cristóbal Halffter, Tomas Marco, Alfredo Aracil, Zulema de la Cruz, Antoní Parera, Agustín González Acilu, Juan Alfonso Garcia, Ramón Paus, Agustín Charles, Jesús Villa Rojo, Emilio Calandin, Eduardo Morales-Caso, José Luis Greco, Mario Carro, Juan José Colomer, Eduardo Soutullo, Gabriel Loidi, José María Sánchez Verdú, Javier Quislant, Antoni Mairata and Mario Diz.
In recent seasons, they have dedicated entire programs of works to internationally recognized non-Spanish composers of the 20th and 21st Centuries, such as Philip Glass´s Quartet nº5 and Quartet nº6 (Spanish Premiere), Quartets nº2 and nº3 by Sofia Gubaidulina, Quartet No. 1 Already It Is Dusk by Henryk Gorecki, Black Angels by George Crumb, Nymphea by Kaija Saariaho, Different Trains by Steve Reich, and works by Xenakis, Mario Lavista, Mathias Müller, Webern, Shostakovich, Bartok, Bloch, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Barber and Sibelius, whilst always performing the repertoire of the pillars of the repertoire: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Dvorak, Borodin, Debussy, Respighi…
It is worthwhile mentioning specific cases of their work bringing forgotten quartets to the stage again: their work as researchers, in recovery and editing. In chronological order:
- Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987):
In 2006, José Ramón Encinar, Music Director of the ORCAM, developed a series of concerts at the Residencia de Estudiantes, programming the complete chamber music Works of Rodolfo Halffter, in which, the Bretón String Quartet played all of his quartets. These three quartets were recorded by the BSQ in 2007, which came out as RODOLFO HALFFTER, Chamber Music · 3 on the NAXOS label in 2011.
- Jesús Guridi (1886-1961):
In 2005, John Stokes, the cellist of the Breton Quartet, investigated the whereabouts of the music of the two quartets of Guridi as they were not available at that time for purchase. They were found in ERESBIL, a documentary institution dedicated to Basque music, where it preserved the individual manuscript parts of the String Quartet nº1 in G Major and the individual published parts, out of circulation, of the String Quartet nº2 in a minor. He was given photocopies of the parts with permission for their study. In 2006 they were given permission to perform the Second Quartet for the first time, but it was not until 2012 that they played the String Quartet nº1 (CM-ediciones 2006) in public. The disc for NAXOS of the quartets of Jesús Guridi was recorded by the BSQ in 2011: an incredibly difficult undertaking as no score existed for the Second String Quartet. Based on that recording experience, Anne-Marie North, the first violin of the Bretón String Quartet, decided to pass the music on to computer and created the score and parts that were later to be published and presented in 2014 as Jesús Guridi Quartet nº2, New Edition by the Bretón Quartet, by UNIÓN MUSICAL EDICIONES of The Music Sales Group. It has been on sale since 2016.
- Tomás Bretón (1850-1923):
In 2010, John Stokes visited the music archives of the National Library of Spain (BNE) to see the manuscripts of the string quartets of Tomás Bretón and to decide on the feasibility of performing them. Soon after they obtained the music parts of the String Quartet nº1 in D Major To Her Majesty the Queen Doña Maria Cristina, which they played in 2011 and discovered that the Documentation and Archive Center (CEDOA) of the SGAE werecreating their own edition of these string quartets. In preparation for their album with NAXOS, they were given permission to use the new edition of the CEDOA, playing the String Quartet No. 3 in e minor in public before recording the Master of Quartets nº1 and nº3 in 2013. They are awaiting the release of the CD.
- Conrado del Campo (1879-1953):
Definitely, the project with the largest scope taken upon by the BSQ, would be the recuperation and performance of the string quartets of Conrado del Campo. It all began with a visit, by John Stokes, to the CEDOA to review all the remaining materials pertaining to his legacy, which contain 14 numbered quartets, not counting other smaller or incomplete works written during the Civil War. This research took place starting in 2002, but it was not until 2011, with the help of their then new representative, Carlos Magan of ACM Concerts, and with the permission of the daughter of Conrado del Campo, that John Stokes could start working with the materials of the String Quartet No. 8 in E Major in 2012. This quartet was premiered on 13.02.2013 at the Fundación Juan March, 100 years after its composition.
As a result of his work on his Critical Edition of Conrado del Campo´s String Quartet nº8, John Stokes was invited to the International Congress The string quartet in Spain from the late 18th Century to the present day at the University of Granada with his Paper Critical Edition of the String Quartet nº 8 of Conrado del Campo: balance between rigor and pragmatism. This paper was expanded and in 2017 will be published, along with articles by other speakers from the same Congress, with the title A Critical Edition of Conrado del Campo’s String Quartet no. 8, “…at the death of his mother” (1913): defining the scope of the critical process through the creation of a musically viable score for interpreters by the Editorial Peter Lang, an international academic publishing group.
Following the premiere of String Quartet nº 8, in 2014, they played the String Quartet No. 5 Caprichos Románticos by Conrado del Campo, published in 1924 by the UME. In the meantime, Anne-Marie North had edited Conrado del Campo´s String Quartet nº 1 Oriental, and in March 2015, again at the Fundación Juan March, the Bretón String Quartet performed this work for the first time in modern times. With the help of Carlos Magan, the BSQ is looking for funding from Foundations and Institutions to be able to continue their work of recuperation and editing of this important cultural legacy.
There are plans for the publishing of the Piano Quintets of Conrado del Campo and Tomás Bretón to be played on the same program in February 2018.
- Padre Antoní Soler
After several collaborations with the renowned pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo, which included playing the Shostakovich Piano Quintet at the Fundación Canal and giving performances at the Encounter with Rosa Torres-Pardo, Editions XIV and XV, in Robles de la Laciana, León, in the years 2011 and 2012, the BSQ sat down with her to discuss about possible interesting Works beyond the standard piano quintet repertoire: Works not only of interest for the public, but of cultural interest as well. From a suggestion by Rosa, they began to discuss the possibility of playing the Six quintets with violins, viola, cello, and obliged organ or harpsichord, from 1776, of Padre Antonio Soler. After investigating the possibilities of playing these quintets, they found a manuscript facsimile, not apt for concert use, and a general score published in Barcelona in 1933, but no longer for sale. Fortunately, they came upon the music through a friend who had studied in the U.S.A. and their teacher, by coincidence, had played the six quintets by making their own parts: some by computer, others by hand. In fact, some parts were so difficult to read and so edited, that the BSQ cellist had to rewrite the music parts of the first two quintets out by hand. In 2012, they played, for the first time, two of these quintets in the cycle of concerts Música Antigua Aranjuez in the Capilla de Palacio Real, Aranjuez, Madrid. Soon afterward, they played other quintets of Soler’s, until in August of 2012 they recorded his six quintets in the Conde Duque in Madrid for the label COLUMNA MÚSICA, financed by the Fundación BBVA.
Among the varied and interesting projects they have done since 2004, it can highlighted the Madrid Premiere in Madrid in 2008 of La Cuzzoni, esperpent d’una veu, chamber opera by Agustín Charles, for three voices and string quartet and their participation in the Festival Iberoamericano of 2008, with the interpretation of the Concerto Grosso for string quartet and orchestra, by Julián Orbón, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, in the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid.
World Premieres (WP), Spanish Premieres (SP), Re-exhibition (RE) and other Premieres:
- 02/01/05 La ciudad del espejo by Eduardo Morales-Caso (WP)
- 22/02/09 Hacia la transparencia, with soprano, by Emilio Calandín (WP)
- 30/05/10 …es que se acaba tan pronto, String Quartet nº 3A by José Luis Greco (WP)
- 07/02/11 The Trouble with Happiness, String Quartet nº 2 by José Luis Greco (SP)
- 07/02/11 Figura ante el espejo, String Quartet nº 4 by Alfredo Aracil (WP)
- 29/05/11 Les fleurs du mal by Mario Carro (WP)
- 05/08/11 Heart on Hold, String Quartet nº 3B by José Luis Greco (WP)
- 02/02/12 Les fleurs du mal by Mario Carro (Premiere in France)
- 31/10/12 Tiempos by Juan José Colomer (WP)
- 13/02/13 String Quartet nº 3, in e minor (1909), by Tomás Bretón (first interpretation in modern times)
- 13/02/13 String Quartet nº 8, in E Major (1913) by Conrado del Campo (WP, 100 years after its composition)
- 31/08/13 Quartet nº3 by Alfredo Aracíl (Premiere in France)
- 31/08/13 String Quartet nº 8, in E Major (1913) by Conrado del Campo (Premiere in France)
- 23/10/13 String Quartet (2012) by Eduardo Soutullo (1968) (WP)
- 11/12/13 String Quartet nº 3 (2012) by Gabriel Loidi (1967) (WP)
- 11/12/13 Paraiso cerrado, String Quartet nº 9 (2012) by José Maria Sánchez Verdú (1968) (SP)
- 15/05/14 Oriental, String Quartet nº 1, in d minor (1903), by Conrado del Campo (first interpretation in modern times)
- 29/06/14 Mediterránea, String Quartet nº 3 (2014) by Antoní Parera Fons (WP)
- 11/12/14 Outer Limits, String Quartet nº 3, for string quartet and pre-recorded electroacoustics by Zulema de la Cruz (WP)
- 09/02/15 String Quartet nº 7 (2014) by Agustín González Acilu (WP)
- 09/02/15 Cinco pensamientos para Patricia for piano quintet (2014) by José Luis Greco (WP)
- 18/01/16 De ultramar (2015) by Ramón Paus (1959) (WP)
- 20/03/16 Shadows of a Requiem (2016) by Antoni Mairata (WP)
- 30/08/16 String Quartet nº 4 de Gabriel Loidi (WP)
- 11/10/16 String Quartet nº 3 by José Luis Greco (WP). World Premiere of String Quartet nº 3 in its entirety (String Quartets nº 3A and nº3B together). In Vienna, Austria.
Works dedicated to the Bretón String Quartet:
- Alfredo Aracil String Quartet nº4 Figura ante el espejo (World Premiere 07/02/11)
- Mario Carro Les fleurs du mal (World Premiere 25/05/11)
- José Luis Greco Heart on Hold (String Quartet nº3B, World Premiere 05/08/11)
- Juan José Colomer Tiempos (World Premiere 31/10/12)
Composers that have had Works premiered by the BSQ and have won the National Prize in Music in Spain:
- Antoni Parera 2016
- Alfredo Aracil 2015
- José María Sánchez Verdu 2003
- Agustín González de Acilu 1998
- José Román García Román 1997
Composers that have had Works played by the BSQ and have won the National Prize in Music in Spain:
- Tomás Marco Aragón 2002
- José Román García Román 1997
- Jesús Villa Rojo 1994
- Cristóbal Halffter 1989
- Rodolfo Halffter 1986
- Ernesto Halffter 1984
- Spanish Classics: RODOLFO HALFFTER Chamber Music·3 (NAXOS) 2011.
- Fundación BBVA: Alfredo Aracil Cuartetos de cuerda (VERSO) 2010.
- Spanish Classics: Jesús GURIDI String Quartets (Complete) (NAXOS) 2013.
- Fundación BBVA: PADRE SOLER 6 QUINTETOS INTEGRAL (COLUMNA MÚSICA) 2013. Rosa Torres-Pardo, piano.
- Polifonía komponisten de compositores polyphonie nº 8: JUAN JOSÉ COLOMER El Exilio del tiempo (SENDESAAL Y IC, Bremen) 2014.
- Spanish Classics: TOMÁS BRETÓN Cuartetos de cuerda nº 1 y nº 3 (NAXOS): awaiting the release of the álbum.
- Editions 74, 76 y 77 of the Quincena Musical de San Sebastian
- Editions 62 y 64 of the Festival Internacional Santander (FIS)
- 62 Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de Granada
- Musika-Música 2013, Bilbao
- 38 Festival International de Quatours à Cordes du Luberon, France
- Festival Les Cordes en Ballade 2014
- XXV Festival Internacional de Música y Danza “Ciudad de Úbeda”
- 52 Semana de Música Religiosa de Cuenca
- XIX Festival Internacional de Música de Toledo
- 26 Festival de Música Española, León 2013
- 38 Festival de Segovia 2013
- XIV y XV Robles de la Laciana: Encuentro con Rosa Torres-Pardo
- XVI festival de música contemporanea, Córdoba
- V Ciclo de Conciertos de Música Contemporanea Fundación BBVA, Bilbao
- VI Ciclo de Música Actual, Badajoz
- Jornadas de Música Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, 2013 y 2016
- ALICANTE ACTUAL 2013
- VII Ciclo de Conciertos de Cámara, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga
- 5º Festival Internacional de Música de Cámara de Villaviciosa de Odón
- Música española para cuarteto-Clasicos de Verano: Editions XXIV, XXV y XXIX edición (2011, 2012 y 2016)
- Festival de Verano en San Lorenzo del Escorial 2015
- Festival de Semana Santa, San Lorenzo de Escorial 2013
- Música Antigua Aranjuez 2012
Colaboration in Competitions and Prizes:
- I ECA International Clarinet Competition, RCSMM: the Bretón String Quartet was the accompanying string quartet for the competition.
- Concert du Prix de Composition Musicale: Colegio de España/INAEM-Mario Carro lauréat 2009 Colegio de España, Cité Internationale Universitaire, Paris. Performed in concert the award winning Work by Mario Carro.
- 2013-2014 Conde Duque: PROYECTO CONRADO DEL CAMPO, Madrid
- 2014-2015 Real Academia de las Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid
- XIX Cycle of Chamber Music: within the activities of the International Congress The String Quartet in Spain from the end of the 18th century to the present. Gave a concert performing Jesús Guridi’s String Quartet nº2 in a minor and Conrado del Campo´s String Quartet nº 8, “…at the death of his mother” (1913).
- Sociedad Filarmónica de Vigo 2013-2014.
- Sociedad Filarmónica de Oviedo 2013-2014.
- Sociedad Filarmónica de A Coruña 2015-2016, Concert nº 1157.
- Sociedad Filarmónica de Zaragoza, Season 2014-2015, Year 109, 15th Session, Concert nº 1500.
- Sociedad Filarmónica de Valencia: Season 2015-16, Year CV, Concert XXI, concert nº 2333 of the Society.
Cervantes Institute (Concerts):
- Una rosa para Soler (A rose for Soler): a documentary about Father Antoní Soler, directed by Arantxa Aguirre and produced by López-li films and Angela Torres German.
- Documentary about Enrique Granados: title pending (2017)
[i] DOCENOTAS: Mucho Beethoven en ‘Solo Música!’. 30.04.2013.
[ii] PART, José Doménech: Musical Critique La dificíl decisión, 28.04.2016, LEVANTE: EL MERCANTIL VALENCIANO.
[iii] LEONOTICIAS: El prestigioso Cuarteto Bretón se sube al tablao leonés. 19.06.2013.
[iv] DENTON, David: David´s Review Corner, junio 2013. NAXOS Reviews List.
[v] WEBBER, Christopher: Another superb Guridi issue in Naxo´s invaluable Spanish Classics…, 24.05.2013, cdmag zarzuela.net.