Kreutzer Quartet. New Music and British Music In Tianjin 2016-IN PREPARATION

Posted on October 17th, 2016 by

Kreutzer Quartet in China! On the street in Tianjin. October 2016

Kreutzer Quartet in China! On the street in Tianjin. October 2016

An inspiring project at the Tianjin Conservatory of Music 16-21st October 2016

The quartet was invited by George Holloway, composer and head of the composition department at the Tianjin Conservatory to come to China to lead a weak of concerts, workshops and talks about writing and playing music for string quartet and strings. We focused on British music, and were delighted to be able to play three of George’s pieces- one of them a premiere. George is a wonderful composer and a great teacher, who inspired his students to immerse themselves in this non0-stop week of rehearsal, composition, discussion and performance.

A Tsinjian Conservatory student writes:

Music is the only way of communicating without words, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what country, you just need to sit down and listen.

Listen here!

George Holloway-Birds in Flight

Winter Light


Rising Ground

Continuing Journey

Michael Finnissy-Nobody’s Jig (1981) 

Kreutzer Quartet live in Tianjin 18 10 16

Clifton Harrison & Neil Heyde explore the first page of David Matthew's 8th Quartet. Tianjin Conservatory 21 10 16

Clifton Harrison & Neil Heyde explore the first page of David Matthew’s 8th Quartet. Tianjin Conservatory 21 10 16

We were also to be able to bring works written for us some of our favourite collaborators. Sadie Harrison, Laurie Bamon, Richard Beaudoin,  and to set all these in the context of two classic works by Benjamin Britten and Giacinto Scelsi.

Giacinto Scelsi-Arc-en-Ciel

Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Mihailo Trandafilovski – Violins (19th October Live in Tsinjian)
This piece is very important to us as it offers a the model of an infinite range of colour and harmony, in a tiny space. I quoted William Blake before we played it:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

There was a theme of landscape, wildlife and ‘civilisation’ running through the programmes. It was very exciting to see how the students picked up on these threads and expanded on them. One young composer offered a wonderful description of the second movement of Robert Saxton’s 3rd Quartet as a moonlit seascape, with gentle waves and boats leaving harbour. And all the composers were very excited to see scores of the works new to them. Many of them said these examples had given them powerful ideas as to where to go with their own compositions.

What it's all about: brillian insight from a young colleague.

What it’s all about: brillian insight from a young colleague.

Laurie Bamon-All the Summer Seabirds (2016)

Kreutzer Quartet-Live in Tianjin 18 10 16

The weeks’ work was bracketed by the student’s own work; the very first things and the very last that we played here have been the new works which they have brought to work on with us. A number of them took the opportunity to rework their scores, incorporating ideas which they had gleaned over the week, and the work which they had done, one to one, with Mihailo Trandafilovksi, our resident master composer! It is an enormous privilege for me, to play with, and learn from, one of the most orginal musical minds of our time. Mihailo is sitting where so many composers (Mozart, Hindemith, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Nielsen) have loved to sit, inside a quartet. And is so exciting when we play one of the pieces which he has written for us; this week, his ‘Fibers AND Coils’. Here’s his 2015 ‘Fibers AND Coils, live in Tianjin

Mihailo Trandafilovski-Fibers AND Coils (2015)

Kreutzer Quartet-live in Tsinjian 18 10 16

Mihailo Trandafilovski, composer/virtuoso violinist, on stage at the Tianjin Academy 17 10 16

Mihailo Trandafilovski, composer/virtuoso violinist, on stage at the Tianjin Academy 17 10 16

A Student writes.

Through this week’s workshop, I learnt lots of new things.  I didn’t know about harmonics before, and was confused about them, but through Mihailo’s class I learnt about harmonics on the violin and how to use them.  This week’s workshop was really worthwhile, in my composition it’s given me lots of inspiration, thanks so much to the performers from the quartet, and thanks to George for giving me the chance to have my piece workshopped!  I’ll continue to work hard!


At various points in the week, we all split up and led sessions with smaller groups of students. These included masterclasses, for violin, viola & cello. This always interesting for me. I don’t teach the violin, so the only time that I coach players like this is in masterclass situations. Having given such classes all over Europe, the Americas and Asia, I am always interested by the similarities and differences between the approach to pedagogy, country to country, school to school. I heard Brahms, Bach, Sibelius and Paganini. After the class I was mobbed by students excited to learn how to play WITHOUT a shoulder rest. It’s my pet hate. ‘VIolinists/Violists of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose except your SHOULDER RESTS’.

Clifton Harrison in a workshop with string players

Clifton Harrison in a workshop with string players


Concentration on the Bow. Workshop 21 10 16

Concentration on the Bow. Workshop 21 10 16

It was very interesting for us to lead a workshop with a (growing!) group of string players, introducing them to techniques based around harmonics and ‘scratch’ based effects. Most of the players had not played any new music, were soon producing a wonderful array of colours and harmonics. In addition, word got out, and every minute or so, the door to the rehearsal hall would open and another violinist or viola player would race in with instrument and enlarge the group! Very importantly, composers sat in among the players-it is vital that composers get up close to music being made an see/feel/hear how it works at first hand.

Here’s Neil Heyde improvising and leading the players laying down a carpet of harmonics.

Neil Heyde/Tsinjian Strings-guided improvisation 



A student writes:

I really gained so much from this festival.  In the open rehearsal, I got to hear not only the string quartet music my contemporaries and students in the years above me, but also of George Holloway our head of department, and of teacher Jia Guo Ping.  I feel like I have so much still to learn, especially to do with instrumental combinations and articulations.  I feel there is so much for me to reflect upon.  The discussions about precise notation, and the effect of different performance techniques, showed me the varied possibilities in music.  Now I really understand the importance of detail in music! I personally prefer music with clear tonality, but I hope I can study more about how to write meaningful atonal music.  The cooperation between the quartet players showed me the importance of collaboration, and I could see in the way the quartet worked hard through the whole week their seriousness and devotion to their metier, and a love for music in which one sees one’s compositions and one’s instrument just like a family member.  The quartet clearly took a delight in sharing with us their knowledge about music, both about how to notate it properly and the process of presuming chamber music, in the hope that we elementary level students might avoid easy errors.  The most memorable piece was Mihailo Trandafilovski’s Fibers and Coils, the connections between the instruments, the sense of breath, the use of different bowing techniques to create a sense of ripping and of atmosphere, all gave me a strong visual understanding of the music.  Perhaps a performer of an instrument is most able to conceive of the sound they want, and write it down accurately.  Music is the releasing of the self, the best expression of the cry within the depths of the soul.  (Li Xin Yu)

Lecture Recital

On Thursday Morning, I gave a lecture recital on the connections between writing for the violin in the Baroque and today’s music.

Opening slide of my lecture recital in Tianjin

Opening slide of my lecture recital in Tianjin

The talk ranged from Marini to Nam Joo Paik, and I played lots of Torelli, Locatelli, Matteis, and new music.

Commemorating the dead a fire at the crossroads. 18 10 16

Commemorating the dead a fire at the crossroads. 18 10 16







Composer Tian Hao Ting, with his score ‘Complex’, in the workshop, 17 10 16

In the afternoon, the workshop took a different turn, as we worked in detail on the score of George Holloway’s new piece for us ‘Tullochgorm’, which we will premiere in our second concert here, on Wednesday. It was, I think, really intriguing for the young composers to see how open their head of composition is, to experimentation and discussion of his new work. The afternoon was graced with a guest from Beiking Central Consevatory, their Composition Professor and head of the Institute of Musicology, Jia Guo Ping. He brought along a work from some years earlier, when he was studying with Helmut Lachenmann in Germany.

Poster for this week's concerts! Tianjin 17 10 16

Poster for this week’s concerts! Tianjin 17 10 16

Although we were pretty jet lagged, today’s work was followed by a rehearsal, of Jeremy Thurlow’s wonderful new quartet-which we will premiere on the 3rd November in Cambridge. Here’s a link to my work with this fascinating composer:

We will play two concerts here  in China. Tomorrow, we will play works including:

Mihailo Trandaviloski-Fibers AND Coils

Sadie Harrison-Broken Wing

Laurie Bamon-All the Summer Seabirds

Michael Finnissy-Nobody’s Jig

Here’s the sculpture (made by Marius Skaerved with me, which inspired Sadie Harrison’s piece)

'Broken Wing' (after Leonardo' -Marius & Peter Sheppard Skaerved

‘Broken Wing’ (after Leonardo’ -Marius & Peter Sheppard Skaerved

Day Two

Our morning was spent in rehearsal, thinking ahead, whilst looking back: Beethoven’s ever-astonishing Op 135 quartet. We have been lent a great teaching studio as our practice room while we are here.

Our rehearsal studio: Tianjin Consearvatory. North Campus

Our rehearsal studio: Tianjin Consearvatory. North Campus

This evenings concert ends with Michael Finnissy’s mind-mending ‘Nobody’s Jig’. This is performed with the quartet in an ‘open’ configuration. It has been a favourite of ours for many years.


Rehearsing Finnissy at Tianjin Conservatory 18 10 16

Neil Heyde is playing a new work by a great friend and collaborator of ours, Richard Beaudoin. Here’s a link to an earlier work for quartet, which we played at the South London Gallery some years ago.LINKimg_0770



Backstage, The Kreutzers with Geroge Holloway 1810 16

Composer George Holloway is the director of the Composition Department at the the Tianjin Music Academy. He translated our intoductions to  the pieces and introduced his wonderful set of canons for two violins. ‘Birds in Flight’ img_0776

Commemorating the dead a fire at the crossroads. 18 10 16

Commemorating the dead a fire at the crossroads. 18 10 16

Working on George Holloway's fantastic solo piece using the'Paganini stance.19 10 16

Working on George Holloway’s fantastic solo piece using the’Paganini stance.19 10 16

Late Nightn supper The Kreutzers with composer George Holloway

Late Nightn supper The Kreutzers with composer George Holloway