VC INTERVIEW | Barry Shiffman on the BANFF Centre International String Quartet Festival

Streaming now from September 2-5, this year's online festival will present a combination of concerts, film screenings, and panel discussions

9
(Photo credit: Nicola Betts)

 

Tune in here to watch the 2021 Banff Centre International String Quartet Festival, streaming live here on The Violin Channel.

Artistic Director Barry Shiffman recently told us more about what audiences can expect from this year's edition.

Similarly to last year, the 2021 BANFF Centre International String Quartet Festival is going virtual, bringing world-class chamber music to the comfort of your home.

 

When was the BANFF Centre International String Quartet Festival founded and what would you say has always been its central mission?

The festival was a natural response to the success of our Banff International String Quartet Competition. With an audience that is so passionate about chamber music, we wanted to offer a festival in the years between our triennial competition.

We launched the festival in 2017 and immediately enjoyed sold-out houses. Banff LOVES STRING QUARTETS!!

 

For the second year now, you’ve taken the festival 100% virtual. Tell us about this and how you were able to adapt in such a way?

The Town of Banff and Banff Centre was hit very hard by the pandemic and it was clear we could not produce an in-person festival either last summer or this year. We were able to curate a festival experience with content created for the festival from around North America and Europe, and we found a wonderful response to the offerings. It was so important to keep musicians working and to continue to engage and inspire our audience.

We have provided the online festival without charge, thanks to the generous support of many supporters — and our partnership with The Violin Channel has proved very important in reaching a wide audience of new followers.

 

You would be forgiven for simply canceling, like some other events have, and waiting another year. Why was it so important for you and your team to charge forward? What message are you hoping to share?

Canceling was never an option. Our mission is to support artists and engage our public. While full of challenges, the joy music brings was more important during this difficult period than at any other time in our Banff Centre history.

During rehearsals yesterday on campus, as we prepared to record our Banff Festival Chamber Orchestra, there was a profoundly moving feeling amongst musicians, recording engineers, production, and other support staff, as we all realized the importance of continuing our work. This chamber orchestra represents the first significant music-making on our campus in over a year!!

 

Your programing is incredibly assorted this year with each of the four days presenting a combination of quartet and quintet performances, film screenings, and panel discussions. Tell us what we can expect?

We wanted to be more than a series of concerts. We all know that a festival has to be about discovery on and off the stage, giving insight into the music, the artists, and their stories. We have included a series of films and interviews with a number of guests so that our audience can have a much more immersive experience than simply viewing a concert.

We meet Denis Brott and hear his uplifting story of recovery and resilience following over a month on life support in the early days of Covid. We discover the stories of celebrated violin maker Gaspar Borchardt from Cremona. We hear concerts from Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, the beautiful Banff Centre, etc...

It is a feast!!

 

We’re captivated to see how you've matched talented young string quartets at the beginning of their careers, like the Viano and Callisto Quartets, with experienced and accomplished quintet partners like pianist Marc-André Hamelin and cellist Desmond Hoebig. What were your thoughts behind these intergenerational pairings?

There is nothing that compares with sharing the stage with experience. In my own career with the St. Lawrence Quartet, I remember how much I learned playing with generous brilliant artists. For a young quartet, the opportunity to discover a masterwork like the Dvorak Piano Quintet or Schubert Cello Quintet with the lifetime of experience these senior artists bring is thrilling.

I have to say that both Desmomd Hoebig and Marc-Andre Hemelin wrote me after the concerts and were so excited by the quality and enthusiasm of our young quartets, so I think each generation benefits.

Our mission is about supporting emerging artists and faciliating these pairings is an important part of that work.

 

Highlights of the current festival include performances by the Banff Quartet Festival Chamber Orchestra, VC Young Artist Viano Quartet with pianist Marc-André HamelinCallisto Quartet with cellist Desmond HoebigDalí QuartetKelemen Quartet, film screenings, and more!