Halcyon days

The Halcyon Quartet is one of the Royal Academy of Music’s most promising young string ensembles. Lucy Douglas meets the talented group ahead of their highly anticipated return to Eaton Square Concerts

To be part of that great British chamber music future is really exciting,” says violinist Leidy Sinclair. As one quarter of the Halcyon Quartet, the all-female string ensemble dubbed by the Eaton Square Concerts’ producers as the “future stars of British chamber music”, Leidy and her fellow musicians – violist Nathalie Green-Buckley, Heeyeon Cho on cello, and Claudia Fuller also on violin – are winning the enthusiasm of those in the know.

To back up their assertion, Eaton Square Concerts have booked Halcyon for the upcoming autumn Best of British series, which also features performances from The Queen’s Six and Freddy Kampf among others.

This will be their second appearance on the Eaton Square roster, having performed at St Peter’s in April following their win of the prestigious St Peter’s Prize, awarded to the most promising string quartet at Royal Academy of Music. But their fortunes have been on an upward trajectory since they came together as undergraduates at the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 (Nathalie, who completed her undergraduate studies at University of Cambridge, joined in 2016).

They’ve performed for BBC Radio 3 as part of the BBC Proms Composer’s Portrait, as well as gigs at Wigmore Hall, Colton Hall and British Museum, and at Dartington International Music Festival and Halesworth Arts Festival. Prizes won include the Sir Arthur Bliss and Harold Craxton Prizes.

But that’s not to say they’re taking these opportunities for granted; winning the accolades has been very humbling, says Claudia. “There’s so many fantastic chamber musicians out there who could be given the same moniker,” she says. “But it’s the first time we’ve been recognised as a working ensemble and that’s a real pleasure.”

Coming through the Royal Academy has opened many doors. This year is the fourth they have been on the RA’s Davey Posnanski Quartet Scheme, which they say has propelled them towards gigs, such as the 2015 booking for BBC Proms, and secured them tuition with some of the world’s most prestigious chamber musicians. They’re currently working under the tutelage of Jon Thorne, violist in the Badke Quartet, who they say has been instrumental to their success. It was the support of Academy cello professor David Strange that helped them secure the St Peter’s Prize.

It also puts them shoulder to shoulder with emerging talent in other disciplines, and collaborating with other artists is something they’re keen to pursue. “My boyfriend is a composer, and he arranged a Halcyon Christmas medley for us,” says Nathalie. “That was so much fun that we have decided that in the near future we’re going to hold a composition competition, probably within the [Royal] Academy. It’s great getting to know composers and work with them; [it’s] an amazingly different experience.”

But Claudia adds that they would like to develop musical relationships beyond the Academy as well. “I think the future of classical music and music in general in this country depends a lot on forming bonds with other people outside of your tradition and what you do,” she says. “The academy is obviously quite a niche environment, and there’s only so many different musical experiences going on, so I think we’re really looking forward to branching out from our classical tradition.”

This summer has seen something a little different for the quartet: teaching as the String Quartet in Residence at the Broadstone Music Series Summer School in Dorset, where Nathalie hails from. “We like to focus on how to listen and how to share this great art form of quartet chamber music between four people,” says Leidy.

“Those qualities and skills can be passed on to any situation in life – whether these amazingly talented young people go on to do music or not, they can take the skills that they’ve learned and use them to push the boundaries of whatever they chose to work in,” says Claudia. “We want to make music and art something that is integral to people’s lives. Finding time to sit down to music and broaden their horizons about art is difficult, [but] I think it’s important to challenge ideas of what music means in society.”

Expanding their repertoire has been a challenge in recent years, Heeyeon admits, as the concerts and competitions they’ve committed to require they play work largely from the classical or romantic periods. Haydn is a particular favourite of theirs, and a regular feature on their live programmes. But they are looking forward to challenging themselves with something different; Nathalie would like to see Halcyon play Beethoven’s late quartets. “I would love for to put on a concert series of all the quartets; they are very difficult and it would take some time, but that is something we would really be interested in,” she says.

For the near future however, they are looking forward to coming back to Eaton Square.