ClefLogo  Concert 3 - Biographical Notes

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Elias String Quartet and Robert Plane     

Concert No.3

Saturday 21st November 2020 at 8pm
at Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre

Elias String Quartet
and Robert Plane (Clarinet)

Sara Bitlloch (Violin), Donald Grant (Violin),
Simone van der Giessen (Viola), Marie Bitlloch (Cello)
and Robert Plane (Clarinet)

Supported by The Bliss Trust    

  “Few quartets at any stage of their
evolution have this much personality”

- Philadelphia Enquirer

The Elias String Quartet take their name from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah, of which Elias is its German form, and have quickly established themselves as one of the most intense and vibrant quartets of their generation. The Quartet was formed in 1998 at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where they worked closely with the late Dr. Christopher Rowland. They also spent a year studying at the Hochschule in Cologne with the Alban Berg quartet. Between 2005 and 2009 they were resident String Quartet at Sheffield’s “Music in the Round” as part of Ensemble 360, taking over from the Lindsay Quartet. They are now ensemble in residence at the RNCM and regularly go back there to teach and perform.

This season they present their three-concert “Schumann series” at Wigmore Hall and elsewhere, which includes a collaboration with long term musical partner and friend Jonathan Biss, and two world premieres: a newly commissioned work by Sally Beamish, and a piece written by the winner of their composition competition at Manchester’s RNCM, alongside the three Schumann string quartets.

They also return to the US with concerts in Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver and Houston.

In 2009 the Elias was chosen to participate in BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists’ scheme and was also a recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. With the support of the Trust, the Elias Quartet mounted “The Beethoven Project”: studying and performing all of Beethoven’s string quartets as cycles whilst sharing their experience through a special website ( and social media. The project culminated with a cycle at Wigmore Hall, all six concerts recorded live for the Wigmore live label.

The Quartet is steadily building a recording catalogue that has been met with widespread critical acclaim. They have recorded the Schumann and Dvorak piano quintets with Jonathan Biss, a Britten Quartets disc for Sonimage, a Mendelssohn disc for ASV Gold and most recently Schumann string quartets for Outhere. Their two mixed programme recordings for Wigmore Live were praised unanimously, the first winning a BBC Music Magazine Newcomers award. The final volume of their complete Beethoven Quartet Cycle had just been released.

Sara Bitlloch – Violin

Born of French and Catalan parents Sara Bitlloch studied with Clothilde Munch at the Vivaldi Association, Grenoble, with Christian Rouquié at the Perpignan Conservatory, with Peter Norris, WhenZhou Li, Margaret Norris and Mauricio Fuks at the Yehudi Menuhin School, London, with Alberto Lysy at the Menuhin Academy, Switzerland, and with Rafael Druian at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia.

Chamber music was always what Sara loved most, and in recent years it has increasingly become the main focus of her musical life. As a founding member of the Mediterraneo Piano Trio, she was a prizewinner at the 1999 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, and has performed in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, the Louvre Series in Paris, the Kennedy Center, Washington. Then for 2 years she was the first violinist of the Paris based Castagneri quartet, before joining the Elias quartet in 2003.

Sara has been a participant at the chamber music festivals of Ernen (Switzerland), Kuhmo (Finland), Ravinia (Chicago), Caramoor (New York), Moulin d’Andé (Paris), Music from Salem (New York), Prussia Cove (Cornwall), Horten (Norway), Wye Valley (Wales).

Winner of the Szigeti Competition, Budapest, and the Renata Molinari Competition, Switzerland, Sara has performed throughout France, England, Spain, Switzerland and the US, as a soloist with orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Budapest Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Camerata Lysy, and has played alongside Yehudi Menuhin, Leon Fleischer, Miriam Fried, Alberto Lysy, Steven Isserlis, Ivry Gitlis, Christoph Richter, Jean Jacques Kantorow, Vladimir Mendelssohn, Martin Lovett.

Donald Grant – Violin

Donald was brought up in the small village of Roybridge in the Highlands of Scotland. When not running around the hills or climbing he could be found playing music of all sorts and it quickly became his life’s passion.

He grew up immersed in traditional music as his father was a Gaelic singer and teacher. He sang songs from when he could speak and loved attending courses at Sabhal Mor Ostaig and attending the National Mod and Feisan nan Gaidheal. Mostly he just loved playing WITH people.

He found himself at St.Mary’s Music School and the Royal Northern College of Music and had a brilliant time at both. It was on his first day at the RNCM that the Elias Quartet began life. That was nearly 17 years ago…

In 2009 Donald gathered some of his most favourite people and musicians to record his solo album “The Way Home’.

“Superb debut release… breaking down the barriers of what we know as traditional folk music” ***** Maverick Magazine

There is nothing more that Donald loves than collaborating. The more diverse the better… from playing and writing string arrangements for the lovely Kate Rusby, featuring on Catriona Mckay’s futuristic folk album “Starfish” to free improv on “Late Junction” with Trish Clowes – he loves it all. A highlight of 2015 so far was leading the GRIT orchestra at the opening night of Celtic Connections. He is a also member of folk band “The Secret North” who will soon release their album “Live”.

Donald has a dog called Arthur and you can often catch them in the coffee shops of South East London.

Simone van der Giessen – Viola

Violist Simone van der Giessen was born in Amsterdam in 1984. Since the age of 5, music and the violin have played an important role in her life. In 2002, Simone moved to the U.K. to continue her studies with Jan Repko at the Royal Northern College of Music. It was in Manchester, that as a founding member of the Navarra String Quartet, chamber music became the centre of her musical life. In 2004 she began studying viola with Predrag Katanic and after graduating in June 2006 with First Class Honours she won the RNCM’s Cecil Aronowitz Prize for viola and performed Walton’s concerto for viola with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 she performed in the Royal Festival Hall with pianist Amy de Sybel after receiving a Martin Music Scholarship.

Outside of the quartet, Simone is in much demand as a chamber musician and is frequently invited to perform with chamber orchestras and ensembles such as the Aronowitz Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia, Ensemble 360 and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Other chamber music partners have included Anthony Marwood, Paul Watkins and Richard Lester.

Simone’s biggest influences came from her professors Jan Repko, Predrag Katanic, Alasdair Tait and Chris Rowland at the RNCM and David Takeno at the GSMD. Other musical influences came from studies at festivals and schools such as Bowdoin and California Festivals, the International Musicians Seminar, Cologne Hochschüle and Chamber Studio with the AlbanBerg Quartet, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, Thomas Riebl, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eberhard Feltz and Ferenc Rados. Simone was grateful for the generous support of both the Prince Bernard Cultural Foundation of Holland and the Martin Music Scholarship Fund throughout her studies.

Simone plays on a mid 19th Century English viola of an unknown maker.

Marie Bitlloch – Cello

French/Catalan cellist Marie Bitlloch studied in Perpignan Concervatoire, Paris Conservatoire, and the RNCM in Manchester respectively with Michel Lefort, Philippe Muller and Ralph Kirshbaum. At the RNCM, she met her fellow Elias string quartet members and decided to stay in England and dedicate herself to chamber music.

Marie has given recitals throughout France, Spain and England and has appeared as a soloist with orchestras such as the Goncal Comellas orchestra, the Orchestra de cambra d’Andorra, the Orchestre Languedoc-Roussillon, the RNCM Symphony orchestra,the Chester symphony orchestra, the Gloucestershire Symphony orchestra, the Stockport Symphony orchestra… She has performed alongside artists such as Menahem Pressler, Claude Frank, Valdimir Mendelssohn, Paul Biss, Joseph Silverstein.Participations in music festivals include the Pau Casals festival (Prades) ,the Musique dans les vignes festival (France), the Musica Vitae festival (Sweden), Ravinia’s Steans Institute for young artists (Chicago),the 3 choir festival (Gloucestershire), Santa Fe’s summer festival (New Mexico), Musique de chambre en normandie (France) …

In 1996, Marie was joint second at the Adam competition in New Zealand and won the jury’s prize at the Bach competition in Leipzig one year later. She has won the Muriel Taylor Scholarship and was awarded an incentive grand at the Pierre Fournier award, consequently appearing at the Manchester Cello festival. For three years she was a laureate of the Natexis foundation, Banque populaire who helped her with her musical projects.

She has been a member of the Elias Quartet since 1998.

Marie plays on an eighteen-century anonymous Italian cello on loan to her by the Fond Instrumental Français.

Robert Plane’s hugely varied career has seen concerto appearances in Europe, Asia and the USA, with performances of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in Madrid with the City of London Sinfonia, Beijing with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and in the USA with the Virginia Symphony. He made his BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 with Simon Holt’s double concerto ‘Centauromachy’. Exploring a wide range of repertoire and commissioning new works, highlights of past seasons have included Piers Hellawell’s Agricolas with the Ulster Orchestra and RTE Symphony Orchestra, Finzi with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Christian Jost with the Dortmunder Philharmoniker and Stanford with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Rob has tirelessly pursued a particular passion for British clarinet music in concert and on disc, his Gramophone Award winning account of Finzi’s Concerto and Gramophone Award-shortlisted Bax Sonatas being just two of a large collection of recordings of works by the great English Romantics. He has performed and recorded with the Gould Piano Trio for over twenty five years, and their recording of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time to mark the composer’s centenary was hailed by BBC Music Magazine as the ‘finest modern recording’ of this epic masterpiece. He also appears on the Goulds’ recorded cycles of Beethoven and Brahms Trios and makes regular tours to the USA with them. They commissioned Huw Watkins to compose ‘Four Fables’ for them in 2018 in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Corbridge Chamber Music Festival which they direct together in Northumberland. He looks forward to collaborating with the Elias String Quartet in Bliss’ Clarinet Quintet in 2020.

Rob has explored the clarinet quintet repertoire with a number of the finest string quartets, opening BBC Radio 3’s ‘Brahms Experience’ with a live broadcast from St. George’s Bristol of the Brahms Quintet with the Skampa Quartet. He has given concerts in Germany and the USA with the Mandelring Quartet and at home in the UK with the Maggini, Carducci, Tippett, Brodsky, Dante and Sacconi Quartets. Rob has enjoyed a 25 year long relationship with the Royal Over-Seas League since winning the competition’s Gold Medal in 1992, highlights of which have included a recital tour of New Zealand and a gala performance of Bruch’s Double Concerto with the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka in Colombo as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Always keen to take on a challenge, Rob gave his first performance of Boulez’s ‘Dialogue de l’ombre double’ at the Belfast Sonorities Festival in 2018, a work he subsequently revived in Manchester’s Stoller Hall in 2019. His delving into unjustly neglected works has unearthed concertos by Iain Hamilton, Ruth Gipps and Richard Walthew which he recently recorded, for Champs Hill Records, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. A disc of Hungarian repertoire for this same label, ‘Contrasts’, including the premiere recording of Tibor Serly’s Chamber Folk Music, was praised by the Guardian as ‘a little gem’ on its release last year.

Rob is principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and has held the same position with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He teaches at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.The Quartet is steadily building a recording catalogue that has been met with widespread critical acclaim. They have recorded the Schumann and Dvorak piano quintets with Jonathan Biss, a Britten Quartets disc for Sonimage, a Mendelssohn disc for ASV Gold and most recently Schumann string quartets for Outhere. Their two mixed programme recordings for Wigmore Live were praised unanimously, the first winning a BBC Music Magazine Newcomers award. The final volume of their complete Beethoven Quartet Cycle had just been released.



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