Foundation Five: String Quartet Plus

Hear from composer Paul Hepden on how String Quartet Plus is bridging the gap between classical and popular music…

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 11 Jul 2013
  • min read
The initiative, also known as SQ+, was created by composer, musician and promoter Paul Hepden to address the lack of opportunities available for up-and-coming composers and performers to stage new works, explore new collaborations and gain valuable experience to develop as artists.

It now provides a grassroots alternative to the established format of music programmes in the capital and has offered all participants the opportunity to push the limits of their own style.

Last year’s inaugural SQ+ project culminated in three concerts at St. Bartholomew the Great Church in the city of London, with three rotating programmes that showcased a mix of contemporary-classical, electronica and indie.

The artists involved included staff and students from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Surrey University and Goldsmiths College. Many are members of The Minds Ear Orchestra, which was shortlisted for the PRS for Music Foundation New Music award, 2010.

In 2012, SQ+ was awarded funding from the PRS for Music Foundation towards the project’s running costs. Here, the foundation’s Sarah Thirtle caught up with Paul to find out more about the project…

What inspired you to create music?
I've always been a massive music fan and have an open mind when it comes to what makes good music. I strongly believe that every style of music has its place and can be enjoyed for different reasons at different times. For as long as I can remember, live music – either as performer or concert-goer - has been my biggest source of inspiration, forever generating new ideas and leading to new experiences, whether musical, or not. I wanted to translate something of this excitement and passion for music into creative live music programming.

How would you describe the music PRS for Music Foundation supported?
String Quartet Plus was conceived as a way of bringing the worlds of classical and popular music together – to the benefit of both - by commissioning eleven composers and songwriters from the fields of indie-rock, classical, cabaret and dance music each to create a new piece of music that incorporated string quartet, plus another musical element of their choice. As a result, sixteen new works, including pieces for string quartet plus piano, electronics, harp, harmonium and rock band, were premiered over three concerts within the striking surrounds of St Bartholomew the Great church in London, in the autumn of 2012.

What has the funding enabled you to achieve?
There is no doubt that the receipt of PRS for Music Foundation funding lent credibility to the project, but the most important thing was that it enabled SQ+ to hire a professional string quartet, the Bergersen Quartet (pictured above), to work with each composer in realising and, eventually, performing their work. The Bergersen Quartet are very passionate about performing new music and worked tirelessly in bringing the best out of every new work, establishing a strong sense of continuity to programmes which contained varied music. In short, funding brought a level of professionalism to the project that resulted in great performances at each concert.

Have you any tips for other artists applying for funding?
Be very clear and confident about your idea and how every element of it will work – right down to who’s going to make the tea on the day of a concert - before you apply.  This will save you work in the long run and inspire confidence that the funding will be put to good use.  Also, attend events like Sound + Music’s Counting In series. They are extremely good sources of funding and career advice. I heard Vanessa Reed speak at the ‘Career models in the world of modern composition’ event in January, which led me to apply for PRS for Music Foundation funding. Also seek out and make use of free advice, resources and promotion: Sound + Music’s Artist’s tool kit – available online – is very helpful.

What's next for you and String Quartet Plus?
Thankfully, for a new endeavour, the SQ+ concerts were well attended and received overwhelmingly good feedback. Having worked very hard to get the project off-the-ground last year, I plan to keep up the momentum and commission more music and put on more concerts this autumn, hopefully turning SQ+ into an annual event.

I am also looking to get some of the music written for last year’s event performed outside of London. On top of that, The Bergersen Quartet wish to incorporate one of the pieces, Eliot Short’s A Bitter Sweet Journey into their concert repertoire, and another of the pieces, Quintet for Biscuit by Anna Braithwaite, is being developed into an opera.