ClefLogo  Concert 6 - Biographical Notes

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Elias String Quartet and Robert Plane     

Concert No.6

Saturday 12th February 2022 at 3pm
at Clonter Opera Theatre

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)

  “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. Other mentors in the Quartet’s studies include Peter Cropper, Hugh Maguire, György Kurtág, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Henri Dutilleux and Rainer Schmidt.

The Elias was chosen to participate in BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists’ scheme and was also a recipient of a 2010 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. They have performed at some of the world’s most prestigious chamber venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Washington Library of Congress, the Vienna Musikverein, the Berlin Konzerthaus, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Wigmore Hall in London. They visited Napa Valley, New Orleans, Appleton, Harvard and New York on a US tour, as well as further performances across Europe in Heide, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rapperswil, Weesp, Verona and Perugia.

With the support of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, the Elias Quartet mounted “The Beethoven Project”: learning and performing all of Beethoven’s string quartets whilst sharing their experience through a special website ( and social media. Their six programme quartet cycles in Brighton, Bristol, Norwich, Reading, Southampton, Tonbridge, and Whitehaven, concluded in Spring 2014, and the cycles at the Wigmore Hall, Music in the Round in Sheffield, and Glasgow Concert Halls concluded in 2015.

In 2015 the quartet premièred and recorded a work written for them by young British composer Emily Howard at Wigmore Hall and collaborated with various artists including Jonathan Biss, François-René Duchâble, and the Kungsbacka trio.

They have performed alongside artists such as Leon Fleisher, Michael Collins, Pascal Moraguès, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Ralph Kirshbaum, Alice Neary, Ann Murray, Joan Rogers, Mark Padmore, Roger Vignoles, Peter Cropper, Robin Ireland, Adrian Brendel, Anthony Marwood and with the Endellion, Jerusalem and Vertavo Quartets.

For four years they were resident String Quartet at Sheffield’s “Music in the Round” as part of Ensemble 360, taking over from the Lindsay Quartet. Currently they are Artists in Residence for both the Glasgow Concert Halls and Brighton Festival & Dome and Associate Artists at Turner Sims, Southampton.

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 Jonathan Biss, on the Onyx label, a disc of French harp music with harpist Sandrine Chatron for Ambroisie, Alexander Goehr’s Piano Quintet with Daniel Becker for Meridian Records, a Britten Quartets disc for Sonimage, and Mendelssohn disc for ASV Gold. Their 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 has 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 24 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 was leading the GRIT orchestra at the opening night of Celtic Connections. He is a also member of folk band The Secret North who have released 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 and moved to the UK in 2002 to continue her violin 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.

With the Navarra quartet, Simone has performed internationally for 16 years. There have been many highlights in her years with the Navarra quartet, a few of them performing in the Sydney Opera House, playing at the Esterhazy castle, and studying with Ferenc Rados.

They have been awarded the MIDEM Classique Young Artist Award, a Borletti Buitoni Trust Fellowship, a Musica Viva tour and prizes at the Melbourne, Florence and at the Banff International String Quartet Competition.

Simone is now a part of the Elias quartet. This string quartet (made up of 2 Catalan women, a Scot and herself) is steadily building a recording catalogue that has been met with widespread critical acclaim. They have recorded the Schumann and Dvořák 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 has been released.

Outside of the quartet, Simone is in much demand as a chamber musician and is frequently invited to perform with various musicians and ensembles such as the Nash ensemble, Britten Sinfonia, Ensemble 360, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Simone’s biggest influences came from her professors Jan Repko, Predrag Katanic and Chris Rowland at the RNCM and David Takeno at the GSMD. Other musical influences came from studies at festivals and schools like the Cologne Hochschüle and Chamber Studio with the AlbanBerg Quartet, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, Thomas Riebl, Gyorgy Kurtag, Eberhard Feltz and Ferenc Rados.

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 String 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. Other highlights of past seasons include Piers Hellawell’s Agricolas with the Ulster Orchestra and RTE Symphony Orchestra, Finzi’s Concerto with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra 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. 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.

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, and twice joining the Elias String Quartet at the Wigmore Hall during the 20/21 season for Brahms and Bliss Clarinet Quintets. He has forged new relationships with the Marmen, Solem and Brodsky Quartets at Summer festivals.

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 subsequently recorded at Glasgow City Halls with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. The resulting disc, ‘Reawakened’, was released by Champs Hill Records in July 2020. ‘Contrasts’, a disc of Hungarian repertoire for the same label, was praised by the Guardian as ‘a little gem’ on its release in 2017. Future recording projects for Resonus Classics include a disc of works commissioned and premièred by Rob from 1996 to 2020, by Diana Burrell, Mark Boden, Huw Watkins and Sarah Jenkins.

Rob was principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales until June 2021 and has held the same position with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia. A respected teacher and educator, he holds the post of Head of Woodwind Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.



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