Purcell String Quartet

Purcell String Quartet. Important Canadian ensemble founded in 1968 and active until 1991. It was formed by four principals of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Norman Nelson and Raymond Ovens, violins; Simon Streatfeild, viola; and Ian Hampton, cello.

Purcell String Quartet

Purcell String Quartet. Important Canadian ensemble founded in 1968 and active until 1991. It was formed by four principals of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Norman Nelson and Raymond Ovens, violins; Simon Streatfeild, viola; and Ian Hampton, cello. Nelson was succeeded in the summer of 1979 by Sydney Humphreys, who was in turn succeeded in 1987 by Marc Destrubé. Ovens was succeeded in 1970 by Frederick Nelson, Nelson in 1976 by Robert Growcott, Growcott in 1977 by Joseph Peleg, and Peleg in 1979 by Bryan King. The viola and cello chairs each had two incumbents: Streatfeild was succeeded in 1969 by Philippe Etter, and Hampton was replaced in 1989 by Heather Hay.

Norman Nelson, Streatfeild, Hampton, and Humphreys have entries in EMC. Brief biographies of the other Purcell personnel follow here.

Ovens (b Bristol 14 Oct 1932) had been a member of the London SO, the Boyd Neel Orchestra, the BBC SO, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and served 1968-70 as assistant concertmaster of the Vancouver SO. Frederick Nelson (b Beloit, Kan, 3 Oct 1946) had joined the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1968, the MSO 1968, and the Vancouver SO in 1970. After leaving the Purcell Quartet he was concertmaster 1976-8 of the Regina Symphony Orchestra and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Growcott (b Shropshire, England) had been a member of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and the Bournemouth SO. Peleg (b Debrecen, Hungary, 22 Sep 1946) had played 1966-9 in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; in 1991 he was a member of the Chamber Players of Toronto and concertmaster of the Oshawa Symphony Orchestra. Bryan King (b Norwich, England, 17 Mar 1948) was a pupil of Margaret Major and Gwen Thompson, a member 1973-5 of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, and assistant concertmaster of the Vancouver Opera orchestra. Etter (b London 12 Sep 1935) had been principal viola 1962-5 at Sadler's Wells and 1966-9 of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and was principal viola 1969-73 of the Vancouver SO; in 1991 he was principal viola of the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. Marc Destrubé (b Victoria, BC, 19 Oct 1955; Artist Diploma Toronto 1981) studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and later with Sandor Végh in Salzburg, Steven Staryk and David Zafer in Toronto, and Norbert Brainin in London; he has worked with many leading early music groups and has served as guest concertmaster of the Academy of Ancient Music and the Orchestra of the 18th Century (both in London), and continued in 1991 to lead the Ensemble dell' Anima Eterna (based in Belgium). Heather Hay (b Glasgow 5 Mar 1958; B MUS Queen's 1980, M MUS San Francisco Cons 1984) was raised in New Brunswick and studied with Robert Dodson at Queen's University and with Bonnie Hampton in San Francisco; she was cellist of The Val Coeur String Quartet (in residence at the University of Arizona), principal cello in the Saskatoon SO, has appeared at Chamber Music West and the Cabrillo Music Festival (California), and has broadcast for CBC.

The Purcell Quartet gave its first public concert in March 1969 with pianist Fou Ts'ong for the CBC. Subsequently it was broadcast extensively in Canada. In its first decade it presented several series at the Vancouver Art Gallery, toured Vancouver Island for the CBC, and performed throughout British Columbia, in eastern Canada, and in San Francisco, New York, and London. From 1972 to 1982 it was the quartet-in-residence at Simon Fraser University, and from 1989 to 1990 it served as the quartet-in-residence at the University of Victoria.

The Purcell Quartet continued to give concerts in numerous British Columbia centres in the 1980s, and during its existence helped to establish music camps in Naramata (later Penticton Summer School of the Arts), Nelson, Vanderhoef, and Victoria. It was the centrepiece in the establishment of the Hornby Island Festival (1980) and was also involved in the founding and growth of the Courtenay Youth Music Camp. In the 1980s it also played concerts in other Canadian cities and toured in the USSR (1980), Cuba, Mexico, and Florida (1986), Japan (1987) and France and Great Britain (1989). In 1989 it recorded all of R. Murray Schafer's string quartets for Radio France and in 1990 it played them again, with Beauty and the Beast and Theseus, in the Seattle Spring Festival.

The Purcell String Quartet premiered numerous works by Canadians including, in 1970, Schafer's Quartet No. 1 and Pentland's Quartet No. 3; in 1972, Freedman's Graphic II; in 1973, Bruce Davis' Quartet No. 1 and Quartet No. 2, Anton Kuerti's Quartet No. 2 and Prévost's Quartet No. 2; in 1974, Coulthard's Octet and Pentland's Interplay; in 1976, John Fodi's Concerto a quattro, Schafer's Quartet No. 2, Turner's Quartet No. 3, and Eugene Wilson's Five Pieces; and in 1977, Elliot Weisgarber's Quartet. Of those, the Coulthard, Freedman, Prévost, Schafer, Turner, and Weisgarber were written for the quartet. The group also gave the North American premiere of Mamangakis' Tetzaktys in 1977, the Canadian premieres of Lavista's Diacronia in 1973 and Britten's Quartet No. 1 in 1977, and the US premiere of Exton's Quartet No. 6 in 1976.In the 1980s the Purcell String Quartet commissioned works from Wallace Berry (Quartet No. 4 1985), Buczynski (Quartet No. 2 1981, Quartet No. 3 1988, Quartet No. 4 1990, and Piano Quintet 1986), Ka Nin Chan (Quartet No. 2 1981), Freedman (Quartet No. 2 'Blue'1980), AnthonyGenge (Music for String Quartet 1981), Toshi Ichimanagi (1986), David MacIntyre (1991), Ian McDougall (Three Pieces for String Quartet 1986), Pentland (Quartet No. 4 1980, Quartet No. 5 1987, and Piano Quintet 1984), Schafer (Quartet No. 4 1989), and Weisgarber (Quartet No. 6, 1980. The group continued to premiere other pieces, eg, John Fodi's String Quartet No. 6 'Aus Tiefer Not' (1985), and also became known for its performances of many other Canadian works, eg, pieces by Beckwith, Eckhardt-Gramatté, Pépin, Prévost, and Somers, as well as, for instance, all the Beethoven and Bartók quartets.

The Purcell Quartet gave its last concert 10 Aug 1991 as the final event of the 1991 Hornby Island Festival. The group played a major role in furthering musical life within British Columbia and in representing British Columbia and Canada on its tours abroad. It lived up to its commitment to the music of its own community, for it greatly increased the Canadian string quartet repertoire through its many commissions. The legacy of the Purcell String Quartet is, fortunately, reflected in the group's extensive discography.


Further Reading

  • Quigley, Michael. 'Hinterland and metropolis are arenas for Purcell String Quartet,' MSc, 278, Jul-Aug 1974

    Wyman, Max. 'The Purcell: world on a shoestring,' Vancouver Sun, 4 Jul 1975

    Gothe, Jurgen. 'Presenting the Purcell String Quartet in the hallway, in the library, in the logging camp..'. PfAC, Winter 1979

    Mertens, Susan. 'Romance on and off the rocks,' Vancouver Sun, 20 Jul 1979

    'Turning a new leaf was gamble and luck,' Music, vol 3, Jul-Aug 1980

    - 'Behind the glitz and glamour, a quartet is going broke,' Vancouver Sun, 13 Dec 1986

    Graydon, Shari. 'Requiem for a quartet,' Vancouver, vol 24, Aug 1991