Young Artist Interview: The Behn Quartet

Life ‘on the road’ may be challenging, but it’s rarely dull. At least that’s the impression Maisie Lewis Prizewinners the Behn Quartet give, whose recent New Zealand tour as Chamber Music New Zealand (CMNZ) artists comprised 64 hours flying, 26 hours driving, 8 horrible plane meals, 10 concerts, 5 good reviews, 2 rest days and 1 drama involving a hotel lift!

The Behn Quartet are: Kate Oswin and Alicia Berendse, violins | Lydia Abell, viola | Ghislaine McMullin, cello

The group, who come from the UK, Netherlands and New Zealand, formed in 2015 to apply for the Royal Academy’s fast-track Posnanski scheme and have since performed worldwide, winning numerous prestigious awards. But it’s not just their performance skills that’s helping to open doors. Their success in becoming 2018 Encompass Chamber Music New Zealand artists (they even scooped three CMNZ Kaleidoscope Series gigs aimed at best international artists) was also down to being brand savvy and understanding the value of a professional website and social media presence. Both of which are handled by violinist Alicia.

“Growing our online presence and conveying the right image is very important to us, as it’s often the only chance we’ll have to make the right first impression,” says Alicia, whose list of no-nos for the group include promo photos of them in big dresses, coloured gowns or girly clothes. “We are very aware of how an image could easily misrepresent us if we wear certain clothes, so when it comes to photos we try and adopt a genderless look, not only in our clothes, but in the way we sit, pose or smile. We want to be seen first and foremost as musicians, which is why we find references to us as an ‘all female group’ or ‘quartet of young women’ slightly jarring. It makes us feel a bit like a circus act; I’m not sure anyone would refer to a ‘quartet of young men’.”

Gender issues have been a hot topic this year, with the #MeToo movement and stories of injustice dominating social media and the news. The Behn Quartet will soon add their voice to the discussion in a new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Music. Celebrating 100 years of the women’s suffrage movement, Hitting the Right Note – Amazing Women of the Royal Academy of Music will look at the Academy women who have blazed a trail in the world of music, helping to break down barriers and make their mark. Their contribution will be a fitting tribute to the group’s feminist namesake, Aphra Behn, who, to quote Virginia Woolf, ‘earned them [women] the right to speak their minds.’

Following the group’s NZ tour, the quartet will be at their Wiltshire Music Centre residency to undertake outreach at local schools and for mentoring, before preparing for a tour in the Netherlands where they will give their Concertgebouw debut as winners of the 2017 Orlando Competition. From Wellington to London, Amsterdam to Bradford-on-Avon, the Behn Quartet are themselves blazing a trail in the world of music with their fresh and feisty performances, of which Aphra Behn would be proud.


View upcoming concerts and events at

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