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Scathing of mere “performance”: Ferenc Rados (right) with Michael Brown (©Clive Barda)

The names of the distinguished participants who have attended the seminars read like a list of many of the most respected figures in classical music — not just string players and pianists, but also leading composers such as György Kurtág and Thomas Adès, and singers such as Mark Padmore. Representatives of the most distinguished string quartets (including all four members of the Amadeus Quartet) have taught new generations of quartets formed in Cornwall (such the Endellion, the Belcea and the Heath). Former participants do not all become soloists (though Natalie Clein, Isabelle Faust, Nicola Benedetti and Guy Johnston are among recent attendees); they also form chamber groups or become leading players in the world’s great orchestras. The length of the queue of those applying to play at the seminars is matched only by those wanting to work as unpaid volunteers in the kitchen, driving or making beds. The helpers are no less distinguished and perhaps even more varied than the musicians — you may find a celebrated BBC correspondent peeling potatoes alongside an anaesthetist or a London Underground driver, a homeless person or a member of the Royal Family, or an instantly recognisable film and stage actor organising the sheet music library. During seminars the great house is full of “sounds and sweet airs, that give delight”; and if the diet is less austere, the finances less precarious than in the early days, the same genius loci presides — and it is this, even more than the music and the setting, that brings people back year after year.

So it is that IMS Prussia Cove, now 45 years old, remains an unqualified success story, an enduring beacon of excellence in a cultural world of compromise and decline. It is a by-word for musical integrity, the maintenance of essential traditions and fresh, revelatory performances — qualities for which it was honoured by the award in 2008 of the Royal Philharmonic Society medal.

Alert readers may hear all this for themselves: on October 5, IMS Prussia Cove gives its annual concert at the Wigmore Hall, another institution which maintains consistently the highest standards of performance. The concert includes the London première of “Prussian Blue”, a piece commissioned by IMS Prussia Cove from Mark-Anthony Turnage, and written for the same forces as Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, which is also being performed (as is Mozart’s G minor string quintet) on the same evening. Among the players — who will have rehearsed these pieces for a whole week in Cornwall and then performed them in a series of concerts around the country — are a previous winner of the Scottish International Piano Competition, a double bass player in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a former leader of Végh's orchestra the Camerata Academica, and others of equal talent. They are all musicians who have achieved the highest levels of individual attainment, but who rightly hold the sublime conversation of chamber music to be the pinnacle of their art. Hurry along.
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