The Quartet Week Podcast with Anthea Kreston: Quatuor Ébène and the Cello‘s Many Faces

“It seems like listening to four reasonable people conversing with one another, engaged in a discussion. One feels edified by their arguments while still becoming acquainted with the peculiarities of each instrument.” Goethe’s famous statement on the nature of the string quartet gives a sense of both the unique appeal and the great challenges of the genre, hovering between homogeneity and individuality, between the “peculiarity” of the four voices and their symbiotic blending.

In conversation with Anthea Kreston for the first episode of our Quartet Week Podcast series, Raphaël Merlin, cellist of the Quatuor Ébène, says that this tension manifests itself in constantly recurring moments of fragility, in which a quartet player often has to react in ways quite contrary to what he would do as a soloist: in a string quartet, the cello takes on several new musical roles and becomes something like a double bass player in an orchestra, even a percussion instrument—the root of the “tree” that is the string quartet.

Within the fragile musical chemistry of the quartet, set hierarchies and a rigid distribution of roles would be anything but helpful. Instead, it forces musicians to focus on the core values of musicianship: listening to each other, affirming one another’s ideas—and giving one’s best as an individual.

For more from Anthea Kreston’s conversation with Raphaël Merlin on the special musical dynamic of the string quartet and the daily routine of a world class ensemble on a world tour, tune in to the first episode of our Quartet Week podcast series here.


Quatuor Ébène

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Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet in F major Op. 59/1

Henri Dutilleux

Ainsi la nuit

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet in E minor Op. 59/2

Approximate running time: 2h 15m with one intermission

To start off the Quartet Week, the French Quatuor Ébène dives straight into the center of gravity of the entire quartet literature: the string quartets of Beethoven. Alongside the first two “Rasumovsky” quartets, in which Beethoven imbued the delicate structure of chamber music with a symphonic scope of sound, the program also includes a classic of our time: the string quartet Ainsi la nuit by Henri Dutilleux.

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.