The Notos Quartet has won numerous competitions - including the Parkhouse Award in London in 2011, Premio Vittorio Gui in Florence in 2013, the Almere Competition in the Netherlands in 2016 and the Schoenfeld Competition in China in 2016. Here they offer advice to aspiring chamber groups
The following advice reflects our experiences during international competitions over the past few years. We don't believe that there is just one way to win a chamber music competition and we certainly don't believe that our approach will guarantee success. Nevertheless, we hope our humble opinion can be of some help to you - The Notos Quartet
Only enter a chamber music competition if you are serious about your chamber music group. Any group of people that have only recently begun playing together will have difficulties trusting each other on stage. You need to be able to rely on each other in a stressful situation and that works best if you know each other well and aim for the same goal.
Choose your repertoire wisely
Well-chosen repertoire is the alpha and omega of good preparation. If possible, choose pieces that work well for you and that you have played in concert many times. Preparation is everything: plan enough time to prepare the whole of the competition's repertoire. If possible, do run-throughs well ahead of the competition and try to play the chosen programme in concerts around the competition, too.
Be aware of what you're doing
Respect every single detail written in the score; if you don't, these are the first points any jury will deduct. Structure the piece and have your interpretation mapped out. When on stage, be yourself. Don't try to please anyone, even if you happen to know that a member of the jury is a supporter of a certain school. And don't make a show out of it either - a jury will always be able to tell. Still, a little smile is never wrong; it will assure the audience that you are actually enjoying yourself and will make your playing seem easy and effortless.
If you are well prepared, there is no reason why you shouldn't win. So be confident that you will do your best. Know that you can do it. During the competition, be sure of your interpretation as a group and stay focused on yourselves. Don't get distracted by a group in the next room who might be playing the exact same repertoire. Be clear on what your goal is. Determination will give you confidence and will take away your nervousness. Try to think of the competition as a normal concert. Be just as loose and relaxed, and enjoy yourself.
Don't be nervous
Easier said than done, but try not to show any nervousness on stage if you can. A jury already starts judging you before you have played your first note. So a confident walk onto the stage lets the jury relax and also gives you confidence.
Experience is priceless
Concert experience is invaluable to any chamber music group and forms a strong bond. You get to know your musical partners best this way. You need to know how you react to each other, how one recovers after making mistakes, how to stay in tempo together, etc. Also, playing concerts is the only way you can learn how to adapt to new acoustics, since every hall is different.
Adapt to your venue
No matter if it's a huge concert hall or a small assembly room, you need to adapt to every hall you're playing in. It's helpful if one of the group checks the balance during the stage rehearsal.
Be a team player
Don't perform like a group of soloists who have come together; instead try to perform as one. If you can do this, you will have a much larger impact on an audience. Listen to yourselves, not only on recordings but also while you are playing or rehearsing together. Your ears are your best and most honest teachers.
Communication is key to making music - not only within the chamber group but also between the group and the audience/jury. A group might play perfectly, but they will still lose if they cannot communicate with the audience. Your goal has to be to reach the audience's heart, to tell them a story. To make your story convincing, you might have to exaggerate things sometimes. It might seem 'too much' on stage, but to the audience, 10-20 meters away, the result will be perfect.
You need a bit of luck
In the end it's all a lottery. You can never know for sure if you are going to match a jury's taste, since their judgement is subjective. So if you win, you are very lucky that on that special day everything worked out in your favor. In any case, be proud of what you have achieved, no matter what the outcome of the competition.
The Notos Quartet comprises violinist Sindri Lederer, violist Andrea Burger, cellist Philip Graham and pianist Antonia Köster. The ensemble's new album, Hungarian Treasures, featuring works by Bartók, Dohnányi and Kodály, is released on 24 February 2017 on RCA Red Seal.