Fab four go on a musical journey around the world

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The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet. Photo by Sam Ryley.

Four college friends who went on to form one of Europe’s top chamber music groups are heading to a festival in North Wales.

The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet will take the audience at the North Wales International Music Festival on a world tour from within St Asaph Cathedral.

The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet. Photo by Sam Ryley.

Their dynamic and innovative programme at the concert at 7.30pm on Friday, September 29, supported by Aaron & Partners Solicitors in Chester, will include music from South America, Asia, Europe and Africa.

The festival, which starts on Saturday, September 16, and ends on Saturday, September 30, is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Tŷ Cerdd and the Colwinston Charitable Trust.

Among the other stars of the festival will be singers from Welsh National Opera, vocal group VOCES8, baroque instrumentalists Red Priest, composer Robat Arwyn, tenor Rhys Meirion, Ensemble Cymru, the National Youth Brass Band of Wales, violinist Ye-Eun Choi and Italian pianist Federico Colli.

The resident orchestra is NEW Sinfonia which was established by brothers Robert and Jonathan Guy who were regulars at the festival’s masterclasses and workshops when they were younger.

Aquarelle’s members, Rory Russell, 33, James Jervis, 40, Michael Baker, 37, and Vasilis Bessas, 38, first met at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Rory, who grew up close to Hay-on-Wye, says he first picked up a guitar aged seven and says he has inspirational teachers to thank for getting him to the standard required so he could study at the college.

He said: “I bought the classical guitar I’m using now quite recently, about 18 months ago. Every guitar is different and we all play instruments made by different makers. I only have the one guitar that I use for practice, rehearsals and concerts.

“Vasilis is the only one of the group who has more than one concert guitar. I do have that old electric bass tucked away in the attic that I used to play in a soul band when I was 17!

“Practice is important but not as much as working with the three other members of the quartet. As a group rehearsal time is vital. We don’t want to sound like four guitarists, or four individuals.

“When we play it has to be one interpretation of a piece of music not four individual interpretations. We are a quartet before we are individual guitarists.”

“Playing the guitar as a quartet and all playing the same instrument means we can pass around the lead so in one piece of music all four can, and often will, take the lead.

Rory says the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet’s programme for the North Wales International Music Festival really will take the audience on a world tour.

He said: “As a group we are constantly looking at different styles and exploring different genres. We are starting at St Asaph with a piece by Italian composer Giacomo Rossini called Overture from L’Italiana in Algeri.

“Then it’s off to Spain, and Russia, with Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov. It’s an amazing piece of work and tour-de-force of Spanish music even if it was written by a Russian!

“Then we are performing works by Australian composer Phillip Houghton and American Andrew York before heading for the Balkans for a work called Ajde Dali Znaes Pametis Milice and Pajduska by Tadic and Stefanovski.

“After that it’s off to Scotland for a work by Catriona McKay called The Swan, again, traditional folk music. And then we head for Africa and Cuba for a work called Cumba Quinn by Carlos Rafael Rivera.

“Then its South America for a work by Gustavo Santaolalla of Argentina called De Usuahia a la Quiaca followed by Japan for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence by Rhyuichi Sakamoto. This was used as the theme music for the film of the same name starring the late David Bowie.

“Finally, comes my all-time favourite work by Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad, who we have all studied and worked with, called Uarekena. It’s the most amazing piece of work.

“It’s a wonderful programme and I think really shows how we study and look at so many different styles of music from around the world.

“And while Visilis is from Greece I’m half Norwegian, James is of half New Zealand heritage and Michael is half Singaporean so there’s quite an eclectic mix there I suppose.

Our concert will take you on a magical and emotional journey. We are excited to be playing in North Wales and sampling the St Asaph Cathedral acoustics which we understand are excellent.”

The festival’s artistic director, Ann Atkinson, said: “The theme of this year’s festival is Journeys so the programme the quartet has put together is perfect.

“These are classical guitarists at the very top of their game and I’d encourage guitar lovers to get a ticket and come along for what is sure to be a magical evening of amazing classical guitar playing.

“We have managed to secure appearances from some wonderful musicians and voices for this year’s festival. It’s going to be a truly wonderful and amazing festival.”

To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com. Tickets are available online and from Theatr Clwyd – 01352 701521 or Cathedral Frames in St Asaph – 01745 582929.