The Quartet Week Podcast with Anthea Kreston: A Cutting-edge Quartet: Quatuor Diotima

To commission a new work from a contemporary composer, an ensemble usually has to rely on (financial) support from institu

tional partners—which often is hard to come by, as Franck Chevalier, violist of the French Quatuor Diotima, tells Anthea Kreston in episode #9 of our Quartet Week Podcast. The genesis of Unbreathed, however, a string quartet written for Quatuor Diotima in 2017 by British composer Rebecca Saunders, a recent winner of the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, turned out to be much less complicated: “We had wanted to work with Rebecca Saunders for a long time. It’s funny because so many people decided to join the commission, we ended up with a lot more partners than we actually needed.” It should hardly come as a surprise that this collaboration between one of today’s leading composers and one of the most sought-after string quartets for contemporary music would create this kind of interest. The players of Quatuor Diotima are very happy with the result: “It’s a very moving, clever piece, full of references to the quartet repertoire but also to the music of Bach. It’s very vivid, and the shape is very well done. We love it.” At other times, composers may need a little more convincing, as in the case of Pierre Boulez, who never completed his only work for string quartet, Livre pour quatuor, which he began in 1949—until he revised the entire piece one last time in 2012 for Quatuor Diotima. “It was very easy to speak to Pierre Boulez, if you followed his rules. He was very open-minded, very nice, friendly, and never arrogant. We had several evenings with him, discussing many questions for many hours. It was really fascinating.”

To learn more about Quatuor Diotima’s program, which also included Karol Szymanowski’s second and Franz Schubert’s last quartet, and about the challenging subject of intonation, tune in to episode #9 of our Quartet Week Podcast.


Artists

Quatuor Diotima

View Artists

Program

Karol Szymanowski

String Quartet No. 2 op. 56

Rebecca Saunders

Unbreathed

for String Quartet

Franz Schubert

String Quartet in G Major D 887

Approximate running time: 2h with one intermission

The Paris-based Quatuor Diotima is one of the leading ensembles for contemporary music. Consequently, a recent piece takes a prominent place in the ensemble’s concert during the Quartet Week: Rebecca Saunders’ Unbreathed, with its pulsating progression of micro-intervals. Also heard are Szymanowksi’s String Quartet No. 2, which combines traditional structures with radically new harmonies, and Schubert’s final contribution to the genre, a desperate musical battle between the major and the minor key.

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.