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Ensemble in Residence 2013/14

The Heath String Quartet are a talented bunch, most recently being announced as the winners of the 2013 Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist award. For our Chamber Concert Series 2013/14 they will be Ensemble in Residence, performing three times over the year. We interviewed Oliver Heath who told us what we can expect from the ensemble in the coming months.

Kettle’s Yard: When and how did the Heath Quartet form and where did your name come from?

Oliver Heath: Our quartet was formed when Gary, Chris and I were students at the Royal Northern College of Music about ten years ago. Gary (the violist) and I were put in a group on our first day by the hugely inspiring Director of Chamber Music, Chris Rowland, who had a knack of putting the right combinations of people together. Chris Murray joined us a couple of years later (we were in the same year at the RNCM), and we were joined by Cerys about four years ago. The name of the quartet is taken from my surname…

KY: Congratulations on being announced as the winners of the 2013 Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist award. How does it feel to have won?

OH: It is incredible to have been honoured with this award, it still hasn’t really sunk in. There are so many amazing young musicians around at the moment, we feel very lucky to have been singled out by the RPS. And to be the first ensemble to win this award since the Brentano Quartet fifteen years ago is particularly nice.

KY: The Heath Quartet are the Kettle’s Yard ensemble in residence 2013/14 are you looking forward to it?

OH: We are extremely excited to be in residence at Kettle’s Yard for the forthcoming season. It is always great to build up a rapport with an audience over several concerts, and hopefully with the programmes we are offering there will be a thread for the audience to follow throughout our performances. And it is such a beautiful space to perform in with such a warm, appreciative audience!

KY: Jacqueline du Pré wrote “To play in a beautiful place where Art is a very treasured thing made a great change from the normal run of halls one plays in and we both felt uplifted by this.” She wrote this in a letter Kettle’s Yard founder Jim Ede after playing at the inaugural concert with Daniel Barenboim in the House Extension at Kettle’s Yard. How does it feel to play in different venues, what effect does it have? 

OH: We love the variety we have in our schedule at the moment. We are lucky to perform quite regularly at some of the most beautiful concert halls in Europe, and are very excited to have our Carnegie Hall debut coming up next season. But we also enjoy playing in much more intimate places, small churches, rooms in large country houses, and more unique venues like Kettle’s Yard! I think we all thrive off the opportunity to feel a close connection with our audience.

KY: How do you come up with your programme combinations and can you tell us a bit about your programme for Kettle’s Yard?

OH: We are very lucky as a string quartet to have such a huge array of repertoire at our disposal. It feels right to start performances with Haydn, Mozart or early Beethoven – these works are of course no less profound or great than repertoire from later composers, but the clarity and relative simplicity of the textures and themes display the inner workings of a quartet in a way that prepares audiences for the more challenging, dense works that will appear later in the concert. We usually follow this with a less familiar work, often from the twentieth century, something that is a long way away from what has just been happened. The second half is usually filled with a larger scale composition, for our concerts in Kettle’s Yard these are middle-period Beethoven, Mendelssohn and possibly the most famous of all quartets, Schubert’s Quartet in D minor, ‘Death and the Maiden’. We will also be offering three of the five quartets Michael Tippett wrote, and our residency is book-ended by Schubert, which adds a nice symmetry!

KY: You are recording the complete quartets by Michael Tippett can you tell us a bit about his work and any pointers for a someone who may not know his work.

OH: Tippett is a composer like no other. His music is very ambitious in its scope – his main creative impulses always took place away from his manuscript paper. He would try to impart these extra-musical ideas onto paper once a vision for a piece had crystalized in his mind. So his music is full of ideas that appear and disappear with very little thematic development, which seems to lend his music a transient quality. His music is also filled with strikingly beautiful, long-spun melodies and rustic, energetic dance rhythms. Another strong characteristic that runs through his quartets is a slightly mischievous, slightly quirky sense of fun!

KY: What are your plans for future recordings?

OH: Besides our plans for the Tippett release, we will be making a live recording of the complete Bartok quartets. There are another few ideas brewing, but nothing that is yet finalised.

KY: Many thanks for answering our questions! We are really look forward to your first performance, with a selection of works by Schubert, Tippett and Beethoven on Thursday 28 November. 

You can hear the Heath Quartet perform as part of our 2013/2014 Chamber Music series on 28 November 2013 (at Divinity School, St John’s College), 13 February and 22 May 2014 (at Kettle’s Yard). Tickets cost £15 (£5 full time students) or £150 (£50 full time students) for an annual subscription to all 15 concerts, book online, or call 01223 748100.