No one pulling the strings

WORKING without a conductor can have its advantages - and for the Guildhall String Ensemble it is the freedom to interpret music with a collective vision outside the constraints of a single person's authority.

It is not a situation that most ''classical'' musicians are comfortable with. Normally, having a conductor is the only way to focus a large group of musicians.

But considering the ensemble's 11 members graduated from England's prestigious Guildhall School of Music, and most of the ensemble has been together for 12 years and 14 albums, understanding each other in musical terms comes almost naturally.

''It's nice to work without conductors,'' said Robert Salter, the ensemble's director and first violinist. ''Everyone contributes more and they feel much more involved with the end result.

''There's more participation than there normally is. It's generally a very positive thing.

''As there is no conductor people have to be very aware of where they fit into the textures - they need to know what is going on in the other parts. It's a process of becoming very familiar with the music that you're playing.

''But it's certainly nice to be in a situation where you have direct control over what is going on. So often, in other work that I do, someone else is always telling me what I should do.'' The Guildhall String Ensemble's repertoire is varied, everything from Mozart to Stravinsky, but seems particularly intrigued with baroque.

''We've recorded quite a lot of baroque,'' Salter said. ''And while we were learning it and digesting it, we were very aware of the authentic movement that was going on.

''Also, with that repertoire, we felt that you could give convincing performances on modern instruments.'' But of the music the ensemble will perform in Hongkong - including Bartok's Romanian Dances, Grieg's Holberg Suite and Tchaikovsky's String Serenade in C - Salter finds Mozart to be the most challenging and rewarding.

''Personally, I'm very fond of the Adagio and Fugue by Mozart,'' he said. ''However many times we play it, it doesn't seem to get any easier. It's a very intricate piece of writing and it's very difficult to make any sense of.'' In coming to Hongkong, Salter and the others have the chance to renew an old acquaintance.

Mr John Hosier, director of the Academy for Performing Arts, was the principal of the Guildhall School of Music during the time they were students.

''I'll be thrilled to see them again,'' Mr Hosier said. ''The Guildhall String Ensemble are quite a good indication that stringed instruments are very well taught in Britain.''