The London International String Quartet competition Gala Concert is at London's Barbican Hall on 14 Apr at 7.15pm

For the past ten days, 21 budding young string quartets from all over the world have been battling it out in the 7th London International String Quartet Competition. The first rounds evinced them all being required to play both Mozart and Haydn, plus a 20th-century work. Those lucky enough to get through to the semi-finals then had to tackle a 19th-century quartet as well as a specially commissioned and "unseen" new piece by Nicola LeFanu. And for the five quartets who advance to tomorrow's prestigious finals in Goldsmiths' Hall, there is still the onerous task of then delivering one of Beethoven's Rasumovsky or "late" quartets.

Yet, irrespective of how far any foursome progresses in the triennial competition, which can launch its winners on to the tough international circuit overnight, an egalitarian aspect of the whole set-up is that no quartet taking part is forgotten; all 84 participants are brought together in the Barbican Hall on Monday evening to form a large string orchestra where, under the baton of Yehudi Menuhin (above), they play three classic works for massed strings - Barber's much-loved Adagio, Bartok's Divertimento and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.

"The Gala Concert has been an integral feature of the London Quartet Competition since its inception more than 20 years ago," comments Administrator Dennis Sayer. "In fact, one stipulation of entry is that quartets undertake that they must be willing to join with the other ensembles in the string orchestra. It's a way of making the point that taking part and making music is just as important as winning."

Winners of the competition will also be very much in evidence in the Barbican on Monday where, after fanfares and prize-giving, they show off their talents by delivering a quartet of their own choice. Meanwhile, the string orchestra programme of the concert's second half gives yet a further clutch of aspiring young string instrumentalists the chance to be conducted by Lord Menuhin - the double bassists, drawn from the Guildhall School of Music.


Birmingham's Sounds of Sweden Festival continues with a concert by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Elgar Howarth. The world premiere of Jan Sandstrom's Cantos de la Mancha is framed by works from Folke Rabe, Karen Rehnqvist and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (0121-236 5622) tomorrow 7.30pm