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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quartets Look to Add That Extra String




Sunday through Friday of the coming week, that aristocratic combination of instruments known as the string quartet takes the stage at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, as 14 youthful ensembles from five countries vie for prizes in the Fifth International Shostakovich String Quartet Competition.


Founded in 1987, and previously held only in St. Petersburg, this year's competition, like its predecessors, is mainly a Russian affair, although some ensembles will hail from Italy, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Turkey.


While calling the competition "international" may, this year at least, have only limited justification, the decision of its founders to name the event in honor of Dimitri Shostakovich seems entirely apt. The 15 string quartets that Shostakovich wrote rank not only among his greatest compositions, but probably form the most significant body of such works composed in the present century.


As in most other such musical contests, there are three rounds of play to this competition. At the first, which takes place Sunday and Monday, each of the competitors gives its reading of a quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a quartet by one of seven Russian composers, ranging from Alexander Borodin to Alfred Schnittke.


On Wednesday, 10 or so first-round sur vivors face the challenge of a new work written especially for the competition by Moscow composer Karen Khachaturyan and, by way of innovation this year, a piece for piano and strings, Shostakovich's Quintet in G Minor.


The six groups that make it to the final round Thursday will each again play music of Shostakovich, this time the 8th Quartet, and a choice from other string quartets. The competition prizewinners receive their awards and play again at a concert next Friday.


Norbert Brainin, first violinist of London's near-legendary and now-defunct Amadeus Quartet, and Stefan Metz, once a member of the Netherlands-based Orlando Quartet, give a foreign touch to the 9-main jury, which is headed by famed Borodin Quartet cellist Valentin Berlinsky.


Adding a special note to the competition is the presence on its organizing committee of Irina Shostakovich, widow of the composer.


The official opening of the competition takes place Friday evening with a performance of Shostakovich's youthful and daring 4th Symphony, a work dating from the mid-1930s.


The symphony will be performed by the Moscow Philharmonic, under the direction of Gennady Rozhdestvensky, one of Russia's conductors who regrettably, thanks to numerous and more lucrative engagements abroad, turns up in Moscow these days no more than once or twice a season.


Sessions of the competition's first round, Sept. 19 and 20, and second round, Sept. 22, begin at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sessions of the third round, Sept. 23, begin at noon and 6 p.m. The opening and closing ceremonies, Sept. 18 and 24, are scheduled for 7 p.m. Admission to the first round is free of charge. Tickets to the remaining rounds cost 5 to 15 rubles (20 to 60 cents), while those for Sept. 18 are priced at 10 to 30 rubles and for Sept. 24 at 8 to 25 rubles. Tickets can be purchased at the box office of Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, 4/31 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Tel. 299-0378. Metro: Mayakovskaya.