Novel string quartet

Aquarelle Guiat Quartet, appearing at Sheffield Chamber Music Festival'Picture: Daniel Killoran
Aquarelle Guiat Quartet, appearing at Sheffield Chamber Music Festival'Picture: Daniel Killoran

One of the world’s leading guitar quartets are appearing at Sheffield Chamber Music Festival this weekend.

The Aquarelle Quartet formed at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1999. They have studied with renowned guitarists Sérgio Assad, Oscar Ghiglia and Scott Tennant.

Two years ago, they performed at Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall and have played in many other major concert halls in the UK, Europe and Asia. Composers have invited the quartet to perform their compositions and their commission Danças Nativas, by Brazilian Clarice Assad, was nominated for a Latin Grammy award in 2009.

They have recorded five classical CDs for Chandos Music and the fifth, Aspects, is also the name of their concert on Saturday at 4pm.

One of the quartet, Mike Baker, said: “It’s personally fantastic for me, coming back to my home town. I was born in Sheffield and stayed for my primary school years.

“I started off as a piano player. My headmaster of the time saw potential in me, and recommended Chetham’s music school in Manchester.

“I needed a second instrument to go there and tried the guitar. They saw more potential for me in the guitar than the piano.

“It’s a lovely thing for me to go back to Sheffield for Music in the Round, which is such a well-respected organisation, and take part in their new festival.”

Mike was brought up in Crookesmoor and went to St Marie’s School before leaving for Chetham’s, which he says was an excellent foundation for his career. “I am lucky and privileged to be able to make a living from music, especially in such a niche chamber outfit that crosses so many genres of music.

“We do a lot of arranging ourselves to expand the repertoire of the medium which has now become much more established. When we started, back at the Royal Northern College of Music, there was only a handful of similar ensembles we could name.

“Since we have been promoting it, there have been a lot of good, well-rehearsed quartets all over Europe. It’s a fantastic thing to do.”

Mike said that they have been working to overcome preconceived ideas about the types of music that classical guitar groups would perform, which people often presume is mostly Spanish music.

He remembered playing a chamber music festival n their early days.

“We were waiting backstage to go on and were being introduced by someone to do with the festival. They told the audience, ‘I really don’t know what to expect or if you’re going to enjoy this.

“With the kind of music we play, we completely won over that audience.

“When they came back on at the end, the person was almost apologetic about the way she’d introduced us. It’s really nice for us when we overcome stereotypes of what the quartet can do.”

Their mixed programme for Sheffield will include a Rossini opera overture, Django Reinhardt jazz and arrangements of themes from two films, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Frida.

Mike said: “We’re trying to make it as eclectic as possible. There’s always four of us playing at the same times, although sometimes the pieces can thin down to two guitars’ textures. We’re always all playing, rather than one individual or two or three.

“We’re not just a guitar ensemble, we’re a chamber music quartet, playing classical music.”