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FIRST PERFORMANCES

Manchester, RNCM: Robin Holloway's String Quartet, op. 97


Edward Venn 

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The world première of Robin Holloway's String Quartet, given by the Endellion Quartet at the RNCM on 13 October 2003, came in the midst of a number of concerts around the country marking the composer's 60th birthday. (Let us not forget, too, Claridge Press's publication of Holloway's writings, also coinciding with this anniversary.) Clever programming between Haydn's quartet op. 76 no. 4 and Brahms's op. 51 no. 2, enabled one to appreciate Holloway's first essay in this genre in the context (on the one hand) of a composer for whom the string quartet was seemingly an effortless medium, and (on the other) of a composer on whom the quartet tradition weighed heavily. For Holloway too, the string quartet proved problematic, and almost unassailable – his highly biographical programme-note revealed an initial inability to engage with ‘this most hallowed of the classic media, with its incomparably rich literature’. This inhibition threatened to stifle work altogether, for it was only a final attempt in August 2003, after three ‘sterile years’ of trying, that Holloway found a way through the problems the string quartet posed him.