Thursday, 16 July 2009

The art of the quartet

Cheltenham Music Festival is certainly celebrating quartets this year: eight ensembles from round the world are playing for us, and superannuated instruments that have no doubt made up string quartets in the past have been painted for a special exhibition - most of it to be seen in the Summerfield Gallery, part of the University of Gloucestershire's Pittville Campus in Albert Road - round the corner from the Pump Room where the musicians perform.

The brainchild of Festival Director Meurig Bowen, the decorated fiddles and cellos make an appropriate accompaniment for the hilarious Hoffnung cartoons, which form the main show in the Gallery. Some surprising artists have taken up the challenge, including our local MP, Martin Horwood. My illustration shows Bob Devereux's violin on the left, Peter Granville-Edmunds's next to it (his illustration compares the wrecked instrument with a bombed out facade in I think Dresden), and then Mila Judge-Furstova's splendidly adorned cello - even painted on the inside.

But Meurig has run into some flak from the The Strad - see his blog. An interesting question, whether or not painted violins are art! They will be auctioned for charity next year - which doesn't necessarily make them art of course. I would never buy one myself, but they are fun to see exhibited, especally alongside many hundreds of painted violin cutouts, on show in the centre of town in various locations - part of another of the Festival's enterprising education projects.

Yesterday Quatuor Diotima gave the UK premiere of Matthias Pintscher's Study IV for Treatise on the Veil, the most curious work I have heard for a long while: not a single note of music as we know it! In the composer's programme note, he writes intriguingly: "I often find myself wishing that I was able to draw directly onto the sound of the instruments like a painter."

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