The Balanescu Quartet
avant-garde string ensemble with a worldwide cult following
Since its formation in 1987, the Balanescu Quartet has acquired a reputation as one of the world's leading contemporary music ensembles with a worldwide cult following. Its guiding force has been the Romanian virtuoso violinist and composer Alexander Balanescu, who has lead the quartet across musical frontiers into new unchartered territory. This search to push the limits of the string quartet, has revealed an ensemble with a sensibility nearer to a band rather than a classical group, and reflects Balanescu's passionate belief in the intercommunication and fluidity between different musical fields.
From its roots as collaborators with composers such as Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars, through projects with Lounge Lizard John Lurie, Jack de Johnette, Ornette Coleman, David Byrne, the Pet Shop Boys, Spiritualized, Kate Bush and Kraftwerk, they have developed their own unique writing and performing style setting them apart from any other string quartet. Their live performances are notable for their sheer energy and dynamism. They have played in locations as wildly contrasting as London's South Bank Centre and New York's Knitting Factory - they even opened to 10000 Pet Shop Boys fans at Wembley Arena, and are constantly looking for venues in which to present their music in a new context.
Balanescu writes the material that the group performs, and the concert repertoire very often is connected to commissions; for contemporary dance (scores for Meryl Tankard, Virgilio Sieni, Jochen Urlich, Rosemary Lee among others), film and television (including the scores for Phil Haas's "Angels and Insects", Guido Chiesa's "Il Partigiano Johnny", Renny Bartlett's "Eisenstein", Catalin Mitulescu's "How I Spent the End of the World" and several animation films for Phil Mulloy, among them the prize winning "Sound of Music") and theatre (incidental music for Joanne Akalaitis's production of "Life's a dream" for Chicago's Court Theatre, "Supermarket" directed by Paolo Magelli in Theatre de la Place in Liege, "L'Utopie fatigue les escargots" for the theatre group Cabaret Dromesko).
The quartet's recordings of original music include the albums "Possessed", "Luminitza" (inspired by the changes in Eastern Europe after 1989) and "Angels and Insects" (MUTE Records), "East meets East" (Consipio), "Il Partigiano Johnny" (Virgin Extra Labels) and many collaborations, among them with the Pet Shop Boys, David Byrne, Rabih Abou Khalil and Spiritualized. 2005 saw the release of the album "Maria T" which engages in the music and life of the famous Romanian singer Maria Tanase (1913 - 1963). It was followed by a Contemporary Network Tour presenting this material in a collaboration with the video artist Klaus Obermaier. The latest release is "The Island" a collaboration with the unique romanian singer songwriter Ada Milea (Blue Kapibara, 2010). September 2011 sees the release of "This is The Balanescu Quartet", a collection of music garnered from the Quartet's albums of the last 25 years (MUTE Records).
Alexander Balanescu: "Exploring new musical territories and breaking conventions have been the two main passions driving the Balanescu Quartet forward. These principles, obsessions, needs, have remained at the forefront of the Quartet's credo over the years. Having worked extensively in the area of contemporary music, I felt the need to find and create a new music that would communicate in a much more direct way with the audience, and a music that would unite the apparently disparate fields of classical, pop, jazz and world music. That is why, in 1987, I formed the Balanescu Quartet. I felt that the string quartet was the ideal vehicle for this adventurous journey. The string quartet has not changed structurally since its inception at the beginning of the classical era in the 18th Century, but, from the start, it has proven the most fertile field for experimentation and has maintained this role to the present. From the past masters (Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Bartok, Janacek) to now, the most radical music has been written for string quartet. This is not by chance: the perfect balance of the ensemble, 2 violins, viola, violoncello; the fact that the quartet is a small group, therefore intimate and flexible yet able to still support an orchestral conception; the fact that it affords the full expression of each individual player while allowing them to play a democratic role in the service of the ensemble. It is these characteristics that allow for the pushing of the musical boundaries to the extreme, and at the same time, stretch the quartet's role. The difference in the 21st Century is that the desire to find new musical possibilities and worlds has come from the groups themselves, not only from composers. As a composer-performer, I have been privileged to be able to unify the two activities of writing and performing, spearheading a fast-forward momentum in our development."
Available live programmes (extract)
The Balanescu Quartet Programmes
The Balanescu Quartet has developed a highly individual repertoire over the years, featuring original music by Alexander Balanescu and special collaborations with classical and non-classical composers, such as Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Kraftwerk and David Byrne.
A performance featuring the music of Alexander Balanescu inspired by the legendary Romanian singer, Maria Tanase (1913 - 1963). The performance expresses the synergy between classical and traditional music, using computer technology to create a geographical and cultural bridge between the Quartet and Maria Tanase and her musicians. This is also achieved through the unique creative contributions of Klaus Obermaier (digital video and stage design) and Steve Arguelles (percussion).
Gypsy and traditional Romanian songs
An exciting collaboration between the Balanescu Quartet and the extraordinary Romanian-German singer Sanda Weigl who sang Gypsy songs on Romanian TV already as a young girl. The songs were arranged by Alexander Balanescu.
Alexander Balanescu - Violin
James Shenton - Violin
Katie Wilkinson - Viola
Nick Holland - Cello
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