VIDA Guitar Quartet

Founded in 2007 the VIDA Guitar Quartet brings together four of the UK's most exceptional guitarists: Christopher Stell, Mark Eden (the renowned Eden Stell Duo), Amanda Cook and Mark Ashford. The VIDA Guitar Quartet has appeared on some of North America's and Europe's most prestigious stages for classical guitar, including, in the USA, the 2015 Guitar Federation of America (GFA) Annual Conference, the 92nd Street Y in New York, Cornell University Concert Series, Atlanta's Spivey Hall, Washington DC's Dumbarton Concerts, the Winter Park (FL) Bach Festival, University of New Orleans, the Long Island Guitar Festival and the Allegro Guitar Series in Dallas, Fort Worth and Las Vegas. In the UK they have appeared at London's Purcell Room, King's Place, the Sage (Gateshead), Turner Sims (Southhampton) and St George's (Bristol). U.S. Tours have brought VIDA to over 50 cities.

Renowned as educators and for their innovative outreach, VIDA is closely involved with the world’s largest youth guitar education program (200+ students each summer) in the UK, and have given masterclasses, workshops, school concerts, and other outreach activities in connection with nearly every public concert they have performed.

Following on from their acclaimed début CD, “Love, the Magician,” VIDA released “Rhapsody,” in 2013, featuring works by George Gershwin, Malcolm Arnold and Adam Gorb; "The Leaves be Green" with works by British composers including Benjamin Britten, Vaughan Williams, Elgar etc., and most recently, "Bachianas" which features the music of Bach as well as music inspired by Bach, including two new pieces especially commissioned for this project. Presented as a kind of theme and variations on Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, the CD presents music that takes its influence from Bach by composers such as Mendelssohn and Villa-Lobos, and newly commissioned works by British composers Howard Skempton and Laura Snowden.

Christopher Stell, Mark Eden and Mark Ashford play guitars made by Christopher Dean. Amanda Cook’s guitar was made by Bert Kwakkel. VIDA are D’Addario Strings classical artists.

A sample of critical acclaim for VIDA includes:

“Vida sparkled with vitality and spontaneity, weaving a rich tapestry of colour and breathtaking range of dynamics and percussive effects that held the audience spellbound.” —Acoustic Magazine

“VIDA conjure up an orchestral palette of colour and effects . . .they play with technical brilliance and precise ensemble, creating alternately smoky and glittering colours in Fallaʼs El amor brujo that suit the gypsy heart of the music so well.” —Classic FM

“Their range of timbres and colouration is so broad that one really does forget that there are four identical instruments. Their dynamic control, which ranges from an almost inaudible pianissimo to ranging fortissimos, is impressive.The Vida Guitar Quartetʼs ensemble throughout is exemplary and seemingly achieved with ease.”—International Record Review

“A crossover Fab Four . . . the Vida Guitar Quartet played Sunday’s concert in Miami Shores 50 years to the day from when the Beatles were unveiled to the American public on The Ed Sullivan Show . . . the electrifying Vida Quartet gave them a run for their money . . . The capacity audience took every opportunity to praise the quartet—standing, shouting, and clapping with gusto.” —The South Florida Classical Review


Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) (arr. Mark Ashford)

English Folk Songs

March: Seventeen Come Sunday

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) (arr. N. Cartledge)

Prelude and Fugue in D major, Op.35 No.2: Allegretto - Tranquillo e sempre

Prelude and Fugue in A-flat major, Op.35 No.4: Con moto - Con moto ma sostenuto

Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

El amor brujo (Love, The Magician) (arr. Mark Eden)

Introducción y escena (Introduction and scene)

En la cueva (In the cave)

Canción del amor dolido (Song of suffering love)

El aparecido (El espectro) (The apparition)

Danza del terror (Dance of terror)

El círculo mágico (Romance del pescador) (The magic circle [Romance of the fisherman])

A media noche: los sortilegios (At midnight: the witchcraft)

Danza ritual del fuego (Ritual fire dance)

Escena (Scene)

Canción del fuego fatuo (Song of the will-o'-the-wisp)

Pantomima (Pantomime)

Danza del juego de amor (Dance of the game of love)

Final – las campanas del amanecer (Finale – the bells at dawn)


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) (arr. Mark Eden)

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048

[no tempo indication]



Phillip Houghton (b.1954) Opals (1994)

Black Opal

Water Opal

White Opal

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) (arr. Mark Eden)

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, Preludio

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Aria

George Gershwin (1898-1937) (arr. Vida Guitar Quartet)

Rhapsody in Blue

Programme notes

Vaughan Williams:

It was in 1903 that English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams first started to collect folk songs from across the British Isles. During the next 10 years he collected a total of 800 songs and variants. Subsequently, he devoted his life to bringing this music to the masses in many different forms such as hymns, orchestral works, ballets, etc. Vaughan-Williams was most concerned that these melodies would be lost to future generations and described the songs as being "extremely beautiful."

Vaughan Williams wrote the English Folk Song Suite in 1923 for military band. The following year, Williams' student Gordon Jacob arranged it for full orchestra and brass band.

The opening song of the first movement, Seventeen Come Sunday, is an English folk song of the same name that was also popular in Ireland and Scotland. It is one of those songs that early editors felt obliged to censor for publication (an earlier version was entitled “The Maid and the Soldier.") It is followed by the more lyrical melody "Pretty Caroline" and the Christmas carol "Dives and Lazarus."

Lyrics to all the songs can be found at


Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809, son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn. In 1812 the family moved to Berlin after the French occupation of Hamburg and it was there that Mendelssohn received his education, in music as a pupil of Carl Zelter, to whom the boy seemed a second Mozart. As a child he was charming and precocious, profiting from the wide cultural interests of his parents and relations, excelling as a pianist and busy with composition after composition.

His career took shape in Berlin, with prolific composing and activity as a pianist and as a conductor. His education included a period of travel throughout Europe, a Grand Tour that took him as far north as Scotland and as far south as Naples, his journeys serving as sources of inspiration.

In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. There were, at the same time, other commitments to be fulfilled in a short career of intense activity. In Leipzig he established a series of historical concerts, continuing the revival of earlier music on which he had embarked with the Berlin performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829.

Mendelssohn was responsible for rediscovering Bach's music after a long period during which it was neglected. His performance of the St. Matthew Passion, at the age of 20, marked the first time in history that a major work by a composer who had fallen markedly out of favor had been reconsidered and hailed as an important masterwork. The excitement that surrounded the performance led quickly to further revivals of Bach as well as scholarly investigation into the music of other old masters whose works had been lying unperformed for generations.

Mendelssohn's motivation in writing the Six Preludes and Fugues, Opus 35, was, as he suggested in a letter to his sister, Fanny, to impose a strict discipline on his piano writing after having composed several series of Songs without Words. From the results, it is also clear that he was trying to find a newly Romantic voice for the fugue at a time when it was considered an archaic form. In the Preludes and Fugues, Mendelssohn’s essentially Romantic character exists side by side with a learned but fresh contrapuntal sense. Given the improvisatory character of the keyboard prelude, even in the time of Bach, Mendelssohn was free to indulge his pianism and imagination in the Preludes of Op. 35.


Although Falla wrote only one piece for the guitar, Homenaje (To the memory of Claude Debussy), this small work encapsulates his genius for originality, colour, succinct musical expression and economy of form and structure. Falla was continually developing and redefining his musical style and although his studies with Pedrell imbued his work with a nationalistic style, Falla always maintained his originality, never quoting folkloric sources wholesale, but preferring to capture the essence of Spanish music and using it to great dramatic effect. Love, the Magician is characterised by the rich Andalucian song style of cante jondo in which Falla had steeped himself. The original 1915 production was scored for only eight instruments, but Falla later reworked the piece for chamber orchestra into the popular suite we hear today. Love, the Magician tells the story of Candela, who is haunted by the ghost of her former Gypsy lover. His malevolent spirit exerts such a powerful hold on Candela from beyond the grave that she is unable to break free to begin a new life with Carmelo. Candela attempts to exorcise his ghost with a Ritual Fire Dance, but Carmelo enlists the help of a beautiful gypsy girl, Lucia, to lure the spirit away so that he and Candela can share the kiss of perfect love. As the bells ring out to celebrate the dawn, they are free from his ghost forever.


Bach was thirty-two when he assumed the position of Kapellmeister at the Court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt in Cöthen in 1717. It was a big decision for the composer, who already had a perfectly good job as orchestra leader for the Duke of Weimar. The Duke refused to accept Bach’s resignation and had him held under arrest for a month before he finally relented and let Bach go.

The allures of Cöthen were substantial. Leopold’s passion for music was boundless, and he was able to offer Bach a professional ensemble of three violinists, a cellist, a double-bassist, two flutists, an oboist, a bassoonist, two trumpeters, a timpanist, an organist, and three singers. Many of Bach’s most buoyant instrumental works date from his years at Cöthen, including the Brandenburg Concertos. The collection was assembled as a sort of job application. In 1721 Bach was in his fourth year as Prince Leopold’s musical director, and everything was going more-or-less swimmingly, but that year the Prince married his cousin, the Princess of Anhalt-Bernburg. She disliked music, and Bach disliked her.

Wishing to escape Cöthen, Bach inscribed a servile dedication letter to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, whom he had met a couple of years before and who he felt might be interested in hiring him. The letter—and the six concertos that accompanied it—seem never to have been acknowledged, and it is all but certain that the Margrave of Brandenburg never had the works performed (he probably couldn’t have, since they call for larger instrumental forces than the Margrave had at his disposal). The name “Brandenburg“ became attached to them nonetheless.

The closing movement, Allegro, is a high-spirited fugue that seems to ask the players to push the tempo to the limit. The first and last movements are connected by a middle movement of merely two chords.


Born in Melbourne, Australia, Phillip Houghton was a relative latecomer to classical music. His early musical influences includes the music of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Gryphon, Gong, Miles Davis, Satie, Debussy, Ravel, Riley, Crumb and Eno, while his work continues to reflect a strong interest in art, mythology and the environment. He spent a year studying painting in 1972, breaking off his fine arts studies to concentrate on music. Houghton studied guitar at conservatory for a year, then privately with noted classical guitarist and teacher Sebastian Jorgenson. His only formal training in composition was a period of private study in 1982, although he spent much time independently studying scores, recordings, and books, and in discussion with many composers and musicians.

Houghton's music has been performed and recorded by leading guitarists, including John Williams, Carlos Bonell, John Mills, Nicholas Goluses, Timothy Kain, Guitar Trek, Karin Schaupp, and Slava Grigoryan. Some 20 of his guitar solos are included on the Australian national music syllabus, and he is also represented in Benjamin Verdery’s Guitar Series for Harris Publishers.

John Williams' premiere of Houghton's solo guitar work "Stele" at the 1990 Adelaide Festival was recorded and televised by ABC TV, and appears on Williams' CD "The Guitarist." The ZOO Duo's CD of Houghton's works, "Light on the Edge," was a nominee for the 1997 ABC Record of the Year award.

Houghton has given masterclasses / lectures at universities and conservatories. He presented a lecture on the creative process at the Australian Guitar Competition & Festival, and has taught and lectured at the University of Colorado.

"Opals" was inspired by the gemstones, almost ninety-five per cent of which come from the remote Australian outback. Aboriginal legend tells that the creator came down to Earth on a rainbow in order to bring the message of peace to all the humans. At the very spot where his foot touched the ground, the stones became alive and started sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow. That was the birth of the Opals.

The composer writes:

“Black Opal: Rather than being pitch-black, the black opal is a stone of fantastic colour. Electric reds, purples, blues and greens of every shade predominate and refract and collide, in a fiery rainbow of splinters of brilliant lights, against a dark matrix.

“I've used flats for this piece, because for me they somehow evoke a "black note/black opal" feel. They're also easier to notate than sharps. There's only one sharp note in the piece, which I think must be a cameo appearance by the renegade colour yellow. The most prized opal characteristic is known as the "harlequin checker-board," which describes blocks and squares of pure colour—mainly found in black opal.

“Water Opal: You could say that opal is "made" from water, and in this movement, I imagined a kaleidoscope of colour in and against a "water matrix" . . . colours floating, bleeding into each other.

“Water Opal was inspired by two paintings—"Circe Invidiosa" (1892) by John Waterhouse, which depicts the mythological enchantress Circe holding a crystal bowl of emerald water and casting a spell, and "Opal Spirit" (1993) by Sydney artist Lyndell Gerlach, which brilliantly captures the colour of opal and the colour and spirit of the land in Australia where opal is found. Her painting inspired the entire work.

“White Opal: Set against a white matrix, the lighter colours of the white opal are brilliant and translucent. Evident in this stone is what is called "pinfire" (glittering points of red and green) and the "rolling flash" (the effect of layers of colour which ripple abruptly and sparkle through the stone when it is moved). I've attempted to represent the "rolling flash" in layers of rhythms—i.e. units of 2-beat phrases against 3-beat ones, etc.—and the mood of the movement is a cheeky, restless perpetuum mobile.”


Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue remains a firm favorite in concert halls all over the world. Commissioned in 1924 by band leader Paul Whiteman the piece was originally called “American Rhapsody” but on the suggestion of Ira Gershwin was changed to Rhapsody in Blue inspired by the painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold” by James McNeill Whistler. The score, originally for to pianos, combines classical music with elements of jazz and on completion was hastily given to Paul Whiteman’s arranger Ferde Grofé, who orchestrated the piece finishing it only eight days before the premiere. It received its first performance as part of a concert series entitled “A experiment in Modern Music,” which took place in the Aeolian Hall, New York in 1924 with Paul Whiteman’s band and Gershwin at the piano.

Ferde Grofé went on to orchestrate the music again in 1926, and then finally in 1942, helping to secure Gershwin’s place as a serious composer and Rhapsody in Blue as one of the most important works of its time.

The Vida Guitar Quartet appears by arrangement with Lisa Sapinkopf Artists,