Banff Centre is daring performances for passionate audiences.

Musician Barry Shiffman sitting outside looking into the distance.

Barry Shiffman was eleven years old when he was accepted into a Banff Centre music program, but it was too costly to fly from Toronto to Calgary, so his family declined the offer — a scholarship changed their minds, and changed Barry’s life.

He travelled to Banff, learned from some of the best music teachers in the world, and connected with a new network of peers.

The most exciting thing was the other people I was rooming with. I’m lifelong friends with them — Steve Sitarski, concertmaster in Hamilton; Marc Sabat, the Berlin-based composer; violinist Paul Zafer, concertmaster in Chicago.

Young violinist Barry Shiffman rehearsing at Banff Centre.

Barry returned to Banff Centre masterclasses, and then, along with three fellow Banff Centre alumni, co-founded the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Their goal was to compete in the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC)—the holy grail for string quartets. In 1992, the St. Lawrence quartet qualified for BISQC, advanced to the finals, and won first prize—propelling their global career.

The competition was terrifying for us—we were the local group. I don’t think it was in any of our minds that we would win… then off we were on this wonderful career. Our Paris debut, our Washington debut, a recording, and we were invited back as faculty…. Banff is a second home for me, as it is for so many musicians.

Musician walks through a mountain river with trees overhanging.

Now, as director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC) and the affiliated festival that takes place in non-competition years, Barry is proud to share his passion for the art form with emerging artists and passionate audiences from across Canada and the world.

With every trip that I make in Canada or abroad, I meet people that have been directly impacted by what happens here at Banff Centre.

Musician Barry Shiffman with his violin in nature.

First prize at BISQC is now valued at over $300,000; it includes a North American and European tour, a recording and a university residency - BISQC has formed a remarkable new association with Southern Methodist University in Dallas, providing the winning quartet with a two-year residency. This year BISQC is supported by the Azrieli Foundation - which has a particular interest in supporting career development. There is nothing else like this prize in the string quartet world.

The reputation of the place is so strong…. taking that and putting it to the service of young musicians is a great opportunity.

Solo Violinist on a darkly lit stage of an empty theatre.

In Barry’s opinion, many of the greatest composers— both from the past and living— have chosen the music of quartets as a vehicle to express their most profound thoughts. Think of Beethoven, Shostakovich, Bartok and Haydn. For Barry, it is the highest form of conversation— and it’s not always a polite conversation. Sometimes it’s a debate or a battle; sometimes an agreement or resolution. But it’s always a thoughtful and surprising conversation.

Engaging in this type of artmaking at a high level is exhilarating.

Barry Shiffman playing the violin in a dark theatre.

The Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC) takes places at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity from August 26 to September 1, 2019. For more information visit our BISQC page. 

Banff Centre is daring performances for passionate audiences.


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