Award-winning string quartet play it by ear

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One of the most important awards in classical music was won last night by a part-time quartet who always perform and record from memory without scores.

The Zehetmair Quartet of German and Austrian musicians scooped the record of the year honour at the 80th anniversary celebrations of the classical music magazine Gramophone, held at the Barbican in London.

Other prizes went to a trio of classical music's female stars, the popular mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, the conductor Marin Alsop and the trailblazing African-American soprano, Leontyne Price, now retired.

The record of the year award has been won in previous years by performers including Nigel Kennedy, Maxim Vengerov and the London Symphony Orchestra .

The Zehetmair Quartet's founder, the violinist Thomas Zehetmair, accepted the honour this year with his partner and the quartet's viola player, Ruth Killius. The presentation was made by Lord Heseltine and the former Hear'Say performer Myleene Klass, who is reinventing herself as a classical star with a CD of piano music out this month.

James Jolly, editor of Gramophone, said the quartet's recording of Schumann's first and third string quartets was exceptional.