The Quartet Week Podcast with Anthea Kreston: Musical Journeys of Discovery with the Arditti Quartet

“You can’t ask Mozart how he wanted his quartets to go,” says Irvine Arditti. “But you can ask a lot of the people we play. You can phone them up and say, What do you mean by this?” As one of the world’s foremost ensembles for contemporary music, the Arditti Quartet has collaborated with dozens of composers over the course of four and a half decades and performed countless world premieres. For their Pierre Boulez Saal concert the group put together a program of Webern, Nancarrow, Feldman, Birtwistle, and Ruth Crawford Seeger. “The more you do contemporary music, the more you understand the different styles and the quicker you get at understanding of how to work on these pieces,” Arditti explains. “What took us many hours 30 or 40 years ago takes a lot less time now.” And yet with all the experience the fours players have gathered, they don’t take anything for granted. “Music is like everything in life, or everything in the world,” says violist Ralf Ehlers. “It can be intellectual, it can be difficult, it can be interesting, boring, loud, or soft. Sometimes it’s so complex that you don’t understand it immediately. You have to slowly find access to it.”

From its earliest days, the members of the Arditti Quartet have made it a point to collaborate with all the composers they perform. This seems all the more surprising since the ensemble, as Irvine Arditti puts it, “happened by accident”: the Royal Academy of Music, where Arditti was a student, was giving an honorary doctorate to Krzysztof Penderecki. Arditti was asked to put together a concert of the Polish composer’s music and invited some friends to perform one of his string quartets. “That’s how we started. We never took any quartet lessons.” They have come a long way since then and taken audiences on many fascinating journeys of discovery. Do they ever worry that some listeners may not feel ready to follow them all the way? Yes and no, says Arditti: “You have to want to understand something about the intricacies of a piece and how it’s made. But that doesn’t mean you have to understand the whole of the 20th century. You just need to go with an open mind and want to listen to music that you might not find tuneful.”

For more on finding the right balance between music’s intellectual and emotional sides and what to do if a composer demands the seemingly impossible, tune in to episode #6 of our Quartet Week podcast series, featuring Anthea Kreston in conversation with Irvine Arditti, Ralf Ehlers, and Lucas Fels.


Artists

Arditti Quartet

View Artists

Program

Ruth Crawford Seeger

String Quartet

Anton Webern

String Quartet op. 28

Morton Feldman

Structures

Conlon Nancarrow

String Quartet No. 3

Harrison Birtwistle

String Quartet

The Tree of Strings

Approximate running time: 1h 45m with one intermission

The Arditti Quartet has long been celebrated for its groundbreaking interpretations of works from the 20th and 21st centuries. In its concert, the ensemble examines the diverse legacy of musical modernism—from its purest expression in works by Webern and Ruth Crawford Seeger up to the vibrant imprints it has left on contemporary works by Morton Feldman, Conlon Nancarrow, und Harrison Birtwistle.

At the end of the season, the Quartet Week casts a spotlight on what many consider to be the quintessential chamber music format. Between June 7 and 16, eleven extraordinary international ensembles will explore both the historical development and the vast emotional scope of the string quartet genre in the intimate space of the Pierre Boulez Saal.