Making History: The Lacerda Quartet

Lynne Booker


The Lacerda Quartet
The Lacerda Quartet

"When I was young, my father used to sit me beside the gramophone and play records of Haydn´s string quartets. The music was burnt into my memory," said Alexander Stewart, co-founder and first violin of the Lacerda Quartet. Alexander´s childhood experience inspired his idea of commemorating the bicentenary of Franz Josef Haydn´s (1732 - 1809) death by playing during 2009 all of Haydn´s 70 string quartets. Since he had owned the sheet music for for over 16 years perhaps the plan was long in gestation. In 2007 Alex approached the radio station Antena Dois with his plan for a Haydnathon, a massive undertaking. Because each of the Quartet members also had a day job, Alex reluctantly conceded that nearly 70 new pieces over a year was too much for his one group and acquiesced in the decision to share the undertaking with another group, the Moscow Piano Quartet. Antena Dois agreed to broacdast each of the concerts, but since the acoustics at some of the venues were not always of the best quality, Alex had also to accept that it was impractical to record all of the concerts to CD. 

Performing at the Corte Real Art Gallery in Boliqueime in June 2008, the Lacerda gave the Algarve a preview of the planned Haydnathon, performing to a full house and whetting the musical appetite of the appreciative audience. The first of the Lacerda´s Haydn celebrations took place in Faro on 9 January 2009 and the last in Lisbon on 10 December with visits to Évora, the Azores, Bragança, Almada, Figueira da Foz, Guimarães, Oeiras, Peniche, Castelo Branco, Aveiro and Lamego in between. After a hectic year learning 35 new string quartets, touring and still doing their regular work, "it is quite an achievement for the Quartet and the families of the players still to be together," says Alexander. Regina Aires, Alex´s wife and herself a professional violinist, tells of the immense tension within the Quartet. "Learning four new works to concert level each month was very hard for the group. For the Quartet, 2009 was a year of no family holidays and constant rehearsals and travelling. As a musician myself, I could understand the tensions in the Quartet in a way that a non-musician could not, and appreciate the reasons for the sacrifices demanded of me and our two boys." Alex Stewart can be proud of the vision with which he has led the Lacerda to a unique and prestigious achievement in Portugal´s cultural life. He acknowledges the crucial support of the members of his Quartet and of Regina, but undeterred by hard work, Alex plans a second Haydnathon for 2032 when he will celebrate the tricentenary of Haydn´s birth by playing all 75 of Haydn´s quartets, se Deus quiser.

The Lacerda, a leading string Quartet in Portugal, was founded in 1990 and takes its name from Francisco de Lacerda, the Azorean maestro and composer. Its standard repertoire places a special emphasis on Franz Josef Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but the group also dedicates attention to Portuguese masterpieces by the eponymous Lacerda, Viana da Mota and Luís de Freitas Branco. It has premiered pieces by Moritz Eggert, Alan Ridout, Arnold Trowel, Frederico de Freitas, Eugénio Rodrigues, Eurico Carrapatoso and Alexandre Delgado and has performed in the major festivals and venues in Portugal, as well as in Spain and England. Alex at first violin is partnered by Marcus Lázaro (second violin), Paul Wakabayshi (viola) and Luís André Ferreira (cello). This Quartet performs an annual concert for the benefit of partially sighted people in Lisbon, to whom they donate half of the concert receipts, and it frequently plays at private house concerts in the Algarve. 

After a short ´breather´ following the Haydnathon, Alexander already has ideas for further musical projects. The Quartet has an offer to play 6 - 10 concerts in China in May 2011 but before that tour Alexander plans to bring together his passion for history and his music. This year of 2010 sees yet another bicentenary from the Peninsular War. The Viscount Wellington (he was not yet a Duke) decided to oppose the third French invasion of Portugal at the ridge of Bussaco, near Luso and Coimbra. The attack on the strongly held Anglo-Portuguese position began early on 27 September, and the French lost over 4 500 men in furious frontal assaults before they thought of looking for the outflanking route. Alexander Stewart plans to commemorate this Anglo-Portuguese victory with a stirring Bussaco concert of Beethoven´s quartet Sérioso op 95, composed in 1810 during the year of Napoleon´s occupation of Vienna, and one of Haydn´s last quartets. He will be supported by Peter Kingdon Booker lecturing on the battle itself and its strategic significance within the Peninsular War as a whole. Further, Peter and Alex plan a joint performance in November during a visit to São Domingos in the Alentejo where Peter will conduct a visit to the English Mine and make a presentation on its historic significance to the area around Mértola. The Lacerda will perform a programme based on works by Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart.

A date for fans of Haydn and the Lacerda to remember is Christmas 2010, when the Quartet will issue a CD of three of the Haydn quartets they played this year, Op 1 no 1 in B flat major and Op 20 no 4 in D major and Op 77 no 2 in F minor. Truly a date to look forward to. 

For further information about the Quartet: