SQBA Residency – a creative hub for young string quartets

Training | December 16, 2023

With this summary, the team of the String Quartet Biennale Amsterdam would like to introduce the SQBA Residency to all MERITA partners. We are really excited that our Residency is now part of the MERITA platform. Our topic is ‘Disabilities and social hardship’. Six of the 38 MERITA quartets have chosen this topic and are participating in our programme.

Since the first edition of the String Quartet Biennale in 2018, we have welcomed young string quartets to the festival and our masterclass programmes. We saw that their encounter and work with older colleagues from other quartets has a huge impact, and is inspiring and enriching. So, in 2022 we decided to create a tailor-made, in-depth programme for young string quartets, called the SQBA Residency. Usually, three quartets participate in one cycle of the SQBA Residency. For MERITA, we have added three other quartets who will follow our programme.

The SQBA Residency consists of four separate weeks spread over a period of one-and-a-half years. The participating quartets are about to embark on their professional careers: the musicians are all between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age. They are subjected to an intense programme and they are given their own say in the composition of workshops and masterclasses. The tutors, all experienced musicians, professionals and speakers, come from a string quartet background or from other disciplines and professions, such as dance, embodiment and outreach.

The SQBA Residency offers young string quartets a space to tap into their own creativity; to explore, develop and define a perspective which reflects the unique identity of the individual players and the ensemble. Musical performance is more than the technical mastery of one’s instrument. Not until the individual persona of each member can develop freely and the whole person behind the musician can connect with the ensemble, will the quartet organically develop its own identity.

Disabilities and social hardship, our topic for MERITA, is a very important part of our work. Mark Withers, one of our main tutors, explains:
“Concert halls can be places of inspiration and beauty, but they also have big limitations. Concerts need to fit formulas and schedules. Adventurous programming ideas can often be abandoned due to practical reasons. But their biggest limitation is who we don’t find inside. Vast areas of society don’t feel that concert halls belong to them, and they don’t come to our concerts. The reasons for staying away are many and varied, but for many people staying away is not a choice: the way our concerts are organized creates problems of accessibility. Patients in hospital, the very young and sometimes the very old, people living in poverty, parents of young children, those in prison, those living with a disability. For many the barrier is just too big to cross.”

So, within this year’s Residency, we will work with amateur singers with a visual impairment. Together with our partner Koninklijke Visio, we have found a group of people who love to sing, who love music and want to work with young string quartets.

In October 2023, we had the first Residency week in a wonderful place called Akoesticum, in a quiet Dutch town called Ede. Two of the participating quartets – Kleio Quartet, Atenea Quartet –arrived on the Sunday evening; the Dutch Viride Quartet, coming from closer by, arrived on Monday morning. The first encounter is always exciting: who are the other two quartets, who are the tutors, what are we going to do during this first week…?

But our three main tutors are fully aware of this excitement, so we always start with some funny exercises to break the ice. Away from the buzz and hectic of their daily lives, the three participating quartets can fully focus on the journey they are going to share together during four weeks.
The workshop with the people from Visio was scheduled for the third day. Just after breakfast, the first guests started to arrive. Most of them travel by train, some came by car with a partner or friend who brought them to Akoesticum. It is always exciting to meet a group of visually impaired people; most of us are not used to having so many of them around us. But it is amazing how confident and easy going they all are!

After a short round of introduction, we got to work. Mark and Jorien (a wonderful music therapist who works for Visio) suggested some warming up exercises and very soon everyone felt comfortable and relaxed. Our Visio guests each had brought a text or a poem with which they wanted to work. The singers were divided in pairs between the three quartets. Mark had already explained some do’s and don’ts and so they started to explore how they can create a work of music together.
The result was really overwhelming! Only after two hours of improvising, listening to each other, sharing their skills and ideas, the three groups had a beautiful work to present.

Have a look here:
Elisabeth Gierveld, project manager SQBA Residency / MERITA
Yasmin Hilberdink, artistic director SQBA