Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Arditti Quartet: Prolific Collaboration

Arditti Quartet
Few ensembles have made as significant a mark on the world of contemporary composition as the Arditti Quartet.  Since their formation by first violinist Irvine Arditti in 1974, hundreds of pieces have been composed especially for them, and many of these works—by the likes of Andriessen, Birtwistle, Cage, Carter, Ferneyhough, Gubaidulina, Kurtág, Lachenmann, Ligeti, Nancarrow, Sciarrino, Stockhausen, and Xenakis among many others—have themselves had significant resonances throughout the music world.  This year, June in Buffalo is excited to count the Ardittis as one of the festival's many renowned resident ensembles.

The Arditti Quartet has received a number of prestigious awards for their contributions to the field, including winning the Deutsche Schallplatten Preis multiple times, as well as Gramophone Awards for "Best Recording of Contemporary Music" in 1999 for recordings of Carter and again in 2002 for recordings of Birtwistle.  Also in 1999, they became the only ensemble to receive the celebrated Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for "Lifetime Achievement" in music.  More recently, they were awarded the "Coup de Coeur" prize by the Academie Charles Cros in France for their work in disseminating contemporary music.

Prolific both onstage and in the studio, the Arditti Quartet has recorded over 200 CDs, creating one of the most extensive collections of contemporary quartet literature.  Significant entries include the first digital recordings of the complete string chamber music of the Second Viennese School, the complete chamber music of Xenakis (see below for a classic recording of 1978's Ikhoor), and Stockhausen's (in)famous Helicopter Quartet, among other significant works by the likes of Berio, Nono, Rihm, Harvey, Gerhard, and Paredes.  Because the quartet finds that close collaboration with composers is essential to interpreting the broad spectrum of works in the field, many of these recordings are made with the composers on hand in the studio.  The same is true for their concert performances, as the Ardittis attempt to work with every composer whose music they play.  This ethic expands into their educational work as well:  through masterclasses and workshops for young performers and composers, the quartet has had a significant role in guiding a younger generation of artists around the world.  This will continue at June in Buffalo, as the Ardittis will present two workshops at which they will perform works by emerging composers.

Franco Donatoni
In addition to these workshops, the quartet will present an evening program which will feature works by JiB faculty, alongside Franco Donatoni's La Souris sans sourire ("The Mouse without a Smile," 1988).  Donatoni's work is marked by a comic frenzy, with Carl Stalling-esque evocations of exaggerated gestures and animated pursuits.  The program will also include Joshua Fineberg's La Quintina (2012) a work inspired by the repertoire of Sardinian vocal polyphony in which four singers manage to create an phantom fifth voice via overtones and intonation (for more on this piece, see our profile on Fineberg).  

The program then moves into Hans Abrahamsen's Fourth Quartet, a work originally commissioned for the Ardittis in the early 1990s, but which was only recently completed.  The piece is marked by a quiet, soft music of icy string harmonics, which the composer describes in German as "hoch im Himmel gesungen…" ("High singing in heaven…").  The piece consists of four movements each with their own scordatura.  The opening texture of the first movement treads territory not unlike that of Abrahamsen's Schnee:  high, delicate—even brittle—airy melodies.  The compose describes the following movements:
The second movement is fast and "movement and joy"-like.  It consists of two duets and a reverse-style counterpoint.  […]  "Dark, heavy and earthy" is the third movement and its pizzicato recalls big black raindrops falling to the ground.  It is the dark and grainy counterpart to the first movement, whereas the fourth movement corresponds to the second.  The fourth movement was planned as a dark and heavy counterpart but it turned out to be like "babbling" music of a child.
Finally, the piece will close with the world premiere of David Felder's Netivot, for quartet and electronics, a work that manages an effective balance between dense virtuosity and pensive reflection through an evocative harmonic language extracted from vowel formants.  (More on this piece in our upcoming profile of David Felder).

In performing these works, as well as the works of the festival's young composers, the Arditti continue their longstanding tradition of assisting artists in realizing their ideas, a collaborative practice which has and which will continue to make them an integral ensemble in the contemporary field.