The Belenus Quartett won the 1st Prize (category: String Quartet) and the Audience Prize at the FS&MM 2015.
Seraina PFENNINGER – Violin (Switzerland)
Anne BATTEGAY – Violin (Switzerland)
Esther FRITZSCHE – Viola (Germany)
Jonas VISCHI – Violoncello (Germany)
Live recording during the 2015 (You can find out more information about the competion’s audio CD HERE.)
Franz Schubert: String Quartet in G Major, D 887. 4th Mov.: Allegro assai
Seraina Pfenninger (P), Anne Battgay (B), Esther Fritzsche (F), Jonas Vischi (V)
Interview: Klaus Aringer (KA), Lucia Agaibi (A), Daniel Revers (R), Peter Zottr (Z)
“Belenus is the Celtic god of the arts.”
Zotter: First, I‘d like to congratulate you on winning first place. We are happy to have you here!
All: Thank you very much!
Z: How did you become aware of this competition?
Pfenninger: We were here three years ago and our chamber music teacher recommended participating one more time.
Agaibi: Did you perform with the same formation last time?
Vischi: I wasn‘t part of the ensemble yet back then.
A: How long have you been playing in this current formation?
Fritzsche: The fist violinist and I have been playing together in quartets for about ten years, the second violinist and I for four and a half years – and the cellist has been part of our ensemble for roughly four and a half months.
Revers: Did you prepare for this competition with a special ensemble coach or any other person supporting you?
F: Isabel Charisius of the Alban Berg Quartett is our maininstructor at the moment; and Claudius Herrmann of the Gringolts Quartett also supported us during our preparations.
A: Where does the name of your ensemble come from?
Battegay: Belenus is the Celtic god of the arts.
Z: How long have you been preparing for this competition?
P: That‘s diffilt to say. We have played all our pieces before without our cellist – except Schnittke.
Aringer: So you prepared Schnittke specifially for this competition?
P: Yes, but usually you develop pieces over a number of years. Schubert in particular takes time.
F: Actually we started to focus on the competition in the summer, right?
F: And then came the surprising change with the cellist – a spontaneous decision, which in the end paid of and ended well. (laughs)
R: I‘m sure that was quite a busy time for you.
All: Defiitely, especially for Jonas! (laughter)
A: Do you have one common favourite piece?
V: I believe we like most of the pieces in our repertoire,but while I personally like Schnittke very much and am not such a great fan of Janáček from the fist round, she (Seraina) is really enthusiastic about Janáček – and doesn‘t like Schnittke all too much.
Z: Talking about the programme you performed – how did you select the pieces? Did you agree from the beginning on the repertoire you chose to perform in the end?
F: We did plan to select pieces that we had played recently. For a short while we thought about adding “Intimate Letters“ by Janáček because we had already rehearsed it with another formation before. In the end, we settled on Janáček‘s “Kreutzer Sonata“. We weren‘t very sure about the contemporary piece (by Schnieder) because it is a little “jazzy“ and we feared that we might
be risking our heads with it.
V: That piece is highly polarising. But even if not knowing how the audience and the jury would take it gave us headaches at fist, it worked well in the end.
“Playing standing up is very liberating.”
KA: How about playing standing up? After all, you were the only ones to perform this way. Whose idea was that?
F: I came up with the idea after we had been advised to make more of our potential. At fist the others rejected the idea, but then we realized how much freedom you gain from this arrangement and in the end we didn‘t go back to sitting because it actually doesn‘t feel comfortable for us anymore. For me as the one playing the middle parts, it feels great that I can move. If I have to play together with the second violin, I move a little to the right side; if I play together with the cello, I move to the left. That wouldn‘t be possible sitting on a chair, so I feel that it‘s very liberating.
A: And what is this situation like for the cello player?
V: To me playing standing up isn‘t uncomfortable either. Of course I had to get used to it – after all, I have worked with other ensembles in the past which all played sitting down and so the situation was new to me, too. But when you rehearse once every other day and see each other a lot, you grow accustomed to it rather quickly. Now I also fid it great that the girls are so flxible and mobile that way. Moreover, the clothes are showcased better.
F: However, the competition was the fist time that we played with the cello on a podium. We had never tried that before.
V: Unfortunately, the podium was positioned too far in the back in the second round, so I could hardly make contact with the others.
A: Did you use the podium for acoustic reasons?
V: It‘s more about being at the same eye level to be able to interact better, and this new experience has proven successful. I suppose we will play this way from nowon. After all, the whole thing is a process and you‘re, of course, always trying to make improvements by asking yourself what makes sense and what doesn‘t. I think that especially in a competition situation you see rather quickly what actually works in practice: When you‘re under pressure or tense, apparent weaknesses are
revealed particularly quickly, so from that point of view, the competition was a great success.
“We don‘t focus on one particular category.”
R: The competition is entitled “Schubert and Modern Music“. How do you, as a quartet, view the modern repertoire?
B: I regard the Schubert quartets – along with the Beethoven quartets – as the essence of string quartet music. Both the early works as well as the later ones from this category. That‘s why you can learn a lot and grow from it. There are always new worlds opening up.
A: Will you keep the newly rehearsed piece (Schnittke) in your repertoire?
All: Yes, defiitely!
V: However, we have to note that we do not specialise in new music.
F: That‘s true, we don‘t focus on one particular category like some other ensembles maybe do.
B: Still, you should always be able to present something modern.
F: Yes, and to do so you sometimes have to get a little creative.
Z: As a fial question I would like to know whether you were happy with the support and organisation at the competition here in Graz?
All: For the most part we were very satisfid.
F: The only minor point of criticism concerns the courseof events in the second round, when two movements from the romantic piece had to be cancelled all of a sudden for time reasons. We found out by pure chance from the livestream and only had a little time to adjust to the situation. But apart from that, everything was fantastic!
P: Yes, the atmosphere was really very pleasant. We were given a positive feeling throughout the competition and the assistance was very personal and friendly.
Z: Thank you very much for this interview and congratulations once again!
Feel free to download the interview as PDF.
For more interviews with the our laureates check out the documentation of the competition!