VC INTERVIEW | Director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition, Barry Shiffman – The Violin Channel | Region & Cash

(Image credit: Nicola Betts)

Represented from 16 different countries are the competitors of 14th Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC) will convene in Banff, Canada to compete in five rounds of competition.

Open to string quartets with all members under the age of 35, the competition announced its participants here.

Established in 1983 to celebrate the Banff Centre’s 50th anniversary, BISQC is held every three years. Led by Barry Shiffman, this year’s edition will be the first presentation at the newly revitalized Banff Centre Jenny Belzberg Theater.

We spoke to Barry Shiffman to find out more.

Tell us about the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC). When was it founded and what was the original vision?

Originally conceived as a one-off event to celebrate the Banff Centre’s 50th anniversary in 1983, the success it had both in attracting wonderful young quartets and audiences made it clear that this was something to be continued . At the time, radio broadcasts on the CBC were breaking records for classical music programming. I remember listening to the radio as a young person and hearing performances by the Colorado Quartet and the Hagen Quartet. I think it planted a seed in me and many other young string players that was the beginning of a deep love for chamber music.

Can you tell us something about your illustrious alumni network?

The family of artists associated with BISQC runs very deep. Of the winners, our network includes such ensembles as Dover, Miro, Viano, Marmen, St. Lawrence. Other award winners are Hagen, Calidore, Ying, Mandelring, Kuss gropus and countless others. The international quartet community is closely connected to Banff.

An important part of our success in building a network is the incredible history the Banff Center has in providing non-competitive chamber music education. For decades, Banff has been a place where young artists study and create – and chamber music is a central part of this activity. In fact, the Parker, JACK and Eybler quartet spent a few weeks in Banff this month coaching and mentoring several young groups, continuing the tradition.

What is unique about the Banff International String Quartet Competition?

where to start

Firstly, the experience of real festival atmosphere. The quartets are supported by a sold-out audience that stays on campus and lives the experience together. After a performance, a quartet may walk into the dining room and receive spontaneous applause from a table of newfound fans. It’s so supportive.

All quartets perform several times and we only eliminate one group the night before the final. $5,000 in career development grants will go to the groups that do not make the finals. Coupled with the assumption of flight, board and lodging, we give the artist a commitment that is unparalleled in the world of chamber music.

We are deeply committed that attending BISQC should always be positive and encouraging, and we work passionately to make that happen.

What are the jurors looking for in a promising young ensemble?

I think the judges are deeply moved by the performance. It has to jump off the stage and stop you. We have all seen such performances. I remember seeing the jury after a performance of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite with the Cecilia Quartet. Tears ran down the cheeks of several jurors. I had to radio my production team to bring tissues to the judges’ table and I knew in that moment something magical had happened.

Of course they want to see technical know-how, but ultimately they’re looking for artists who are willing to pursue a serious career as artists. Artists shine with an individual and convincing voice.

What can the winners of this year’s competition expect?

The prize package is simply stunning.

In addition to cash prizes, the winner will receive concert tours in Europe and North America, as well as recording and creative residency projects at the Banff Centre.

A truly remarkable part of first prize is the opportunity to participate in the Southern Methodist University Peak Fellowship Ensemble-in-Residence Prize at Dallas’ Meadows School. This two-year paid guest residency offers concerts, coaching and experience mentoring younger students.

Each quartet has a high quality music video created during the competition by the famous Riddle Films which will help with their future promotional needs.

Details on all prices and possibilities can be found under

In your opinion, what role does competition play in today’s chamber music landscape?

Competitions have multiple goals. The primary aim is to arouse interest in the art form. A key goal is to attract an audience and community.

Additionally, providing a launch pad for deserving young artists has always been at the core of BISQC and continues to this day. The challenges these young musicians face are significant and we are here to support them and work together to make their dreams come true.

What is one of your fondest memories of the competition?

Well, I have unique memories of competing in 1992 with the St. Lawrence Quartet. I honestly have to say that my favorite memory is the sound of the audience roaring when they announced that we had won the competition. It was only through the insane enthusiasm of our new fans that we realized the significance of what had just happened. A memory I cherish.

Can you tell us about the unique, interactive experience between the contestants, the jury and the audience? How do you create a sense of community?

Community, community, community!! It’s all about community. We eat together, we hike together, we go to lectures and concerts together. We have informal chamber music jam sessions in the bar in the evenings for anyone who wants to play. At the end of the week everyone has had this transformative experience together and there are lots of hugs, tears and laughter. After the last few years it’s what we all need.

What unique Canadian elements are you trying to incorporate into your event?

An important part of the competition is the recording of a new work by a Canadian composer. This year the composer Dinuk Wijeratne wrote this work for us and the experience of hearing several quartets perform the work is exciting. We see the different approaches to work and we like one Kaleidoscope we see different patterns and shapes and colors appearing.

As we are located in Banff National Park, a crucial part of the experience is the inspiration and beauty of this iconic Canadian location. Mountains everywhere and wildlife roaming the campus are all part of BISQC.

How can people see this year’s edition?

The entire competition will be live streamed right here on the Violin Channel. Archived performance videos are available on the Banff Center for the Arts and Creativity YouTube channel at:

For more information on BISQC or Director Barry Shiffman, visit

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