The Center for 21st Century Music welcomes the Arditti Quartet for a concert and workshop March 30 and 31. Founded in 1974, the quartet is arguably the most acclaimed string quartet in new music. The group has received a myriad of accolades. For their discography of over 200 albums, they have received multiple Gramophone (“Grammy”) Awards and Deutsche Schallplattenpreisen, and a Coup de Coeur Prize and Grand Prix from the Academie Charles Cros in 2004. The group has played at most major new music festivals worldwide, and is the only ensemble to receive the Ernst von Siemens Prize for lifetime achievement. The quartet has frequently visited UB over the past few decades, and has forged a particularly close collaborative relationship with the Center’s director, SUNY Distinguished Professor David Felder, whose three string quartets were written for and premiered by the group.
However, to understand the quartet’s project in terms of traditional kinds of institutional validation does not quite do it justice. Beyond recognition for its concerts and recordings, the quartet has played a crucial role in keeping the string quartet alive as a significant medium for music making. When the group emerged in the 1970s, it appeared that the string quartet was on its way to becoming an obsolete instrumental combination like the viol consort or Baroque trio sonata ensemble. In the years after WWII, all aspects of the canon of Western art music were viewed with suspicion, particularly by younger European composers; in this context, the ensemble’s roots in the European Enlightenment, its connotations of rational intersubjective discourse, and its instruments’ association with particular constructions of subjective expression, led most forward-thinking composers to avoid writing string quartets in the decades after WWII. It was due to the efforts of the Arditti Quartet—alongside the LaSalle, Berner, and Kronos Quartets—that composers returned to the medium with increased interest.
The Arditti’s cultivation of new repertoire for string quartet depended on close collaborative relationships with composers. Often the group collaborated with senior composers who were writing their first significant works for string quartet, resulting in works such as Iannis Xenakis’s Tetras, featuring restless glissandi and frenetic bowing, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet, where each player plays from their own airborne helicopter with audio transmitted to a concert hall, and Conlon Nancarrow’s String Quartet no. 3, the belatedly-recognized composer’s attempt to translate the hyperactive polyrhythms of his player piano studies into the quartet medium. The Ardittis attracted a similar level of attention for their collaborations with younger composers. In collaborating with Brian Ferneyhough—a faculty composer at this year’s June in Buffalo—the group played a key role in formulating a performance practice for his extremely difficult music, creating strategies for navigating its multi-layered notational detail and instrumental physicality. In working with Helmut Lachenmann on his second string quartet, the quartet built on the Berner Quartet’s earlier work, codifying and expanding a palette of extended playing techniques now widely known to composers and performers alike. The list of works premiered by the quartet is massive, ranging from senior composers of the 1970s to current PhD students.
For its concert at the Center on March 31, the quartet will perform three recent works by long-time collaborators: Harrison Birtwistle’s The Silk House Sequences, Hilda Paredes’s Bitacora capilar, and Center director David Felder’s new quartet Netivot. The Felder work, which was premiered at last year’s June in Buffalo, will be presented in a new version with video by Elliot Caplan. Here is a recording of the June in Buffalo performance:
Later in 2017, the quartet’s founder and first violinist Irvine Arditti will return to Buffalo as a guest soloist at June in Buffalo. Also renowned as a soloist, he will give a solo recital featuring works of David Felder, Henrik Hellstenius, and Roger Reynolds on June 8th. On June 10th, he will join Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, for Brian Ferneyhough’s Terrain and parts of a new violin concerto by David Felder.