I had an absolutely fabulous time in Melbourne last week for the 2018 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. As I've mentioned before, I was commissioned to write the required work for string quartet, while Paul Stanhope wrote the work for piano trio. The eight quartets who performed Balderdash were:

Gildas Quartet (United Kingdom)

Baum Quartett (South Korea)

Callisto Quartet (USA)

Eliot Quartett (Austria/Russia/Germany)

Goldmund Quartet (Germany)

Idomeneo Quartet (Belgium/Hungary/Spain)

Quatuor Agate (France)

Thaleia Quartet (Japan)

It was a real privilege to hear Balderdash performed eight times over three days (virtually unheard of in composer-world!), and fascinating to hear the different interpretations of the work. The cellists have been particularly inventive throughout the slap, strummed, and percussive sections, rocking out with hands, plectrums, and, in one case, even a credit card! Many thanks to Musica Viva Australia and to the Silo Collective for making the commission possible.

Congratulations to the Goldmund Quartet for receiving First Prize in the string quartet division and the Quartet Commission Prize for the best performance of my work! And, of course, congratulations to Trio Marvin on receiving the Grand Prize.

Balderdash Program Note

Balderdash begins and ends with amplifier feedback: a sound that quickly makes us bring our fingers to our ears! The piece imagines an alternate world in which music is heard between the feedback – a sort of sub/hyper-snic sound world which takes place in mere seconds.

With this in mind, the string quartet explores musical ideas inspired by electric guitar, including distortion, white noise, whammy bars, power-chords, dive-bombs, wah-wah, phaser effects, slap bass, and of course, speaker feedback. Balderdash makes high use of punk rock rhythms, dissonance, and percussive-based jams, which morph in and out of bluegrass, grunge, prog-rock, metal, and . . . disco.

Given the piece was commissioned for a competition, I felt it might be fun to experiment with a battle-of-the-bands theme within the string quartet itself. Throughout Balderdash, players go rogue (especially the cello!), engage in one-upmanship, jam, duel, challenge, compete, interrupt, surrender, work together in teams, and cooperate as one. The piece is intended to be theatrical and encourages the quartet to perform with abandon.

I have called the piece Balderdash as it is a term used to refer to nonsense – of which I am quite a fan! The ‘dash’ part also resonates with the high intensity nature of the work, and the sense of moving somewhere quickly.

AuthorHolly Harrison