Banff International String Quartet Competition

Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC). Organized by Kenneth Murphy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Banff CA. The success of the first competition, held in April 1983, led to the decision to make it an ongoing triennial event.

General Regulations

All members of each competing quartet must be under 35, and previous first and second prize winning quartets may not re-apply. After a pre-screening, the first round of eliminations is made by a three-member jury on the basis of a submitted DVD, requiring (in 2013) works from the classical, romantic and 20th century repertoire. A maximum of ten ensembles are then invited to Banff for the actual competition. There are five further elimination rounds judged by a seven -member international jury, (all members or former members of renowned quartets): Round 1, recital; Round 2 Haydn; Round 3, Canadian Commission; Round 4 Romantic; Round 5 Beethoven finals. Three quartets are then selected for the final rounds.


The competition has greatly expanded since its inauguration in 1983. Prize money ($45,000 in 1992) was awarded to the top four quartets, with a special prize ($1,000 in 1992) for the best performance of the test piece; additional prizes for the top quartet then included a set of matched bows by Canadian luthier Michael Vann, a residency at the Banff CA, and a Canadian concert tour.

In 2013, prize money remained at $45,000, divided among the top three laureates: ($25,000; $12,000; $8,000), with $2,000 for the best performance of the commissioned work. The winners' concert tour covers North America and Europe, the Banff residency includes recording, and the bows are by François Malo. An endowment from private and federal sources allows for further career development through educational activities, publicity, additional touring, and commissioning works.

The Esterházy Foundation Prize offers the top quartet a performance at the Esterházy Palace in Vienna; the R.S Williams & Sons Haydn prize offers $3,000 for the best performance of a Haydn quartet; the Székely Prize offers $3,000 for the best performance of a Schubert or Beethoven quartet.

International Scope

Of the 40 ensembles in the first four competitions, only two were Canadian, the Debut Quartet of Edmonton in 1986 and the St Lawrence Quartet in 1992. Of the other quartets, roughly half were from the USA and half from Europe. Between 1995 and 2010 three Canadian ensembles made the finals: the Cecilia, the Afiara and the Tokai quartets. The majority of competitors came from the USA, with representation from Germany, France, the UK, Poland, Russia, Israel, the Czech Republic and Australia. The BISQC is a member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions.

Canadian Commission

Each competition has featured a new Canadian work co-commissioned by the CBC and the Banff centre.

The competition test pieces and best performance winners have been Movement for String Quartet by Harry Somers, 1983 (Lydian Quartet); Three Archetypes: Dance, Invocation, Hymn, John Hawkins 1986 (Quatuor Parisii); Arche II (Fire and Ice) by Allan Bell 1989 (Cassatt Quartet); Lament in the Trampled Garden by Marjan Mozetich, 1992 (St Lawrence Quartet); Phantoms by Heather Ann Schmidt, 1995 (Henschel Quartett); String Quartet No 3 by Chan Ka Nin, 1998 (Miró Quartet); Test Run by John Estacio, 2001 (Daedelus Quartet); String Quartet # 2 Banff Variations by Stewart Grant, 2004 (Ensõ Quartet); Dark Energy by Kelly- Marie Murphy, 2007 (Koryo String Quartet); Commedia dell' arte by Ana Sokolovic, 2010 (Cecilia String Quartet). Vivian Fung was named composer of the commissioned work in the 2013 competition.


1983 1 Colorado Quartet, USA; 2 Hagen Quartet, Austria; 3 Lydian Quartet, USA; 4 Mendelssohn Quartet, USA

1986 1 Franciscan Quartet, USA; 2 Carmina Quartet, Switzerland; 3 Lark Quartet, USA; 4 Cavani Quartet, USA

1989 1 Manfred Quartet, France; 2 Cassatt Quartet, USA; 3 Keller Quartet, Hungary; 4 Brindisi Quartet, Great Britain

1992 1 St Lawrence Quartet, Canada; 2 Ying Quartet, USA; 3 Amati Quartet, Switzerland; 4 Mandelring Quartet, Germany

1995 1 Amernet Quartet, USA; 2 Everest Quartet , USA; 3 Henschel Quartett, Germany; 4 Montclaire Quartet, USA

1998 1 Miró Quartet, USA; 2 Castaneri Quartet, France; 3 Belcea Quartet, United Kingdom; 4 Avalon Quartet, USA

2001 1 Daedelus Quartet, USA; 2 Kuss Quartet, Germany; 3 Delancy Quartet, USA; 4 Quatuor Satie, France

2004 1 Jupiter Quartet, USA; 2 Ensõ Quartet, USA; 3 Royal String Quartet, Poland; 4 Fry Street Quartet, USA

2007 1 TinAlley Quartet, Australia; 2 Zemlinsky Quartet, Czech Republic; 3 Ariel Quartet, USA/Israel; 4 Tokai Quartet, Canada

2010 1 Cecilia Quartet, Canada; 2 Afiara Quartet, Canada; 3 Quatuor Zaïde, France.