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'You're so attuned to each other': The Endellion String Quartet celebrates turning forty

PUBLISHED: 15:00 01 May 2019

The Endellion String Quartet. Picture: Endellion String Quartet/Eric Richmond

The Endellion String Quartet. Picture: Endellion String Quartet/Eric Richmond

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When the Endellion String Quartet held its first rehearsal on January 20, 1979, in cellist David Waterman's Belsize Park flat, the musicians had no idea they would still be performing 40 years later - or quite how far their stellar career would take them.

The first iteration of the Endellion String Quartet with Louise Williams. Picture: Endellion String QuartetThe first iteration of the Endellion String Quartet with Louise Williams. Picture: Endellion String Quartet

They've played all over the world, for politicians and with Poets Laureate, and they've been garlanded by the best of the industry – winning, to name but one gong, the Royal Philharmonic Society's best chamber ensemble award in 1996.

Speaking to the Ham&High about four decades with bows in hand, David recounted how the quartet came to be.

He said: “The only thing I ever wanted to do as a cellist was play in a string quartet.

“After college in the mid-1970s, I was playing little bits for fun, but I was on the lookout for people to play with. In the course of that, someone introduced me to Andrew.”

The Endellion String Quartet play for then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey in 1979. Picture: Endellion String QuartetThe Endellion String Quartet play for then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey in 1979. Picture: Endellion String Quartet

Andrew Watkinson and Garfield Jackson have been part of the quartet for the full 40 years, too, with Ralph De Souza taking over as the fourth member a comparatively recent 32 years ago.

Staying together for so long is, David said, “fairly unusual”.

He added: “It's a matter of the quality of what you're doing. We have managed to make it work in terms of making a living. You have to be able to get along with your colleagues.

“No one in the group can get their own way all of the time. It's tough – you are doing something that everyone cares disproportionately about.”

The four Endellions in the early 1980s - Andrew Watkinson,  David Waterman, Garfield Jackson and James Clark. Picture: The Endellion String QuartetThe four Endellions in the early 1980s - Andrew Watkinson, David Waterman, Garfield Jackson and James Clark. Picture: The Endellion String Quartet

The quartet has over the years played “most of the music out there”. David adds: “You develop together, going back to the same things again and again and again. It can be incredibly exciting – you're so attuned to each other you can feel when someone's about to do something new.

“We might play a Haydn quartet that's really great, but we might not have played it for 10 years, and then it seems so very fresh.”

Being one of the most celebrated string quartets brings with it the privilege of playing all over the world.

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The Endellions – whose name comes from the Cornish town of St Endellion where the musicians had all met and performed in the 1970s – have performed “pretty much everywhere that puts on concerts,” David explained.

For the players, Cambridge – where they have had a two-decade long residency – and London's historic Wigmore Hall are the closest they have to a home. 
David told this newspaper: “We've played at Wigmore Hall well over 100 times – and it's still a huge thrill and a privilege. I think when we eventually hang up our bows, Wigmore Hall would be the place to do.”

The list of places the Endellions have played reads more like a bingo guide to the globe – all across South America, Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall – but it's Wigmore that means the most, he felt. “When you are travelling a lot, playing a lot of new places, it's nice to have somewhere that feels like home,” he said.

The group have witnessed political history, too: one of their first gigs was for Dennis Healey at 11 Downing Street in the final moments of James Callaghan's government.

Forty years of touting classical music across the planet have made the group passionate about the importance of music and the arts in general.

David bemoaned cuts to music education, which he hoped would be reversed. He said: “It's so important that music gets played in schools. Provision has been so reduced – that's such a tragedy.”

The debt budding musicians must now take on, he said, meant that the stakes in a hugely competitive world were far higher than for his generation.

He said: “There are still so many people going to college and you just worry what they are going to do. I just think now there are perhaps even more graduates and possibly even fewer concerts, but then a lot of professions in the public eye are like that.”

For David and his three hardy colleagues, who still practise in the same beautiful Belsize mezzanine room, 40 years of hard work and travel have been the career they always wanted, and leave them in rarefied company.

He said: “I'm in quite a unique position. Each year I have dinner with András Fejér of the Takacs Quartet. There aren't many quartet cellists who've been performing for this long. It's a bit like being a goalkeeper.”

The Endellions continue their birthday celebrations with another concert at Wigmore Hall on May 29.

It will feature specially commissioned work from four modern composers – Sally Beamish, Prach Boondiskulchok, Jonathan Dove and Giles Swayne – along with performances of Schubert and Beethoven.

For more details see the Wigmore Hall website.

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