The Arditti Quartet is a string quartet founded in 1974 and led by the British violinist Irvine Arditti. The quartet is globally recognized promoter of contemporary classical music  and a reputation for taking on technically difficult pieces. It has had some personnel changes but the Arditti still performs and leads. It works mostly with the works of living composers, and music of the last ten or twenty years, with the aim of collaborating with the composer in the rehearsal process. However, unlike Kronos Quartet, it sticks with works in the classical vein and avoids those which are cross-genre. The Quartet has performed in concert halls and cultural festivals all over the world and has the longest discography of any group of its type. In 1999, it won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for lifetime achievement, the first group to receive this award.
The Arditti Quartet is dedicated to 20th century and contemporary works, a niche in chamber music where classical masters dominate. While they do not play pieces from before the 20th century, they require that the works maintain the tradition that was established in Europe. They do not work with composers from fields such as jazz, pop or crossover. They concentrate on those from the last ten to twenty years, along with very new music including that written for the ensemble to premiere. The quartet is considered the authentic interpreters for many late 20th century composers, with a reputation for mastering the most difficult and complex compositions. They rarely improvise as their focus is on working with composers. These composers range from those active in the early 20th century to the present and include Elliott Carter, Héctor Parra, Brian Ferneyhough, Pascal Dusapin, Morton Feldman, György Ligeti, Luciano Berio, John Cage Giacinto ScelsiI, Xenakis, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Thomas Adès, Helmut Lachenmannand and Joshua Fineberg. Occasionally they perform minimalist pieces such as those by Philip Glass and Gavin Bryars and electronic pieces such as Saariaho’s Nymphea and York Holler’s Antiphon. Originally they played new compositions only, but have since decided that their repertoire needs to include work of the Second Viennese School and Bartok of the earlier 20th century as perspective and have played Ligeti’s Second Quartet hundreds of times since the 1970s.
The focus on new music is to have the ability to collaborate with the composer in the interpretation of the piece, something the group considers very important, both in how to play and the fact that they consider their work as a kind of service to composers, especially the lesser-known. Composers often make minor adjustments to their compositions after working with the quartet. Norwegian composer Sven Lyder Karhrs calls the group the “Rolls-Royce” of quartets, in part because he does not have to explain how to play his pieces in detail, just answer questions here and there.
They are compared to the Kronos Quartet but unlike them are not interested in crossover audiences or cross-genre pieces, but rather stick with the classical quartet form. The two quartets do not play the same repertoire although some pieces are common to both.
Earlier in their career, they were asked why they only played new music, a question that has since disappeared.
The Quartet was founded in 1974 by Irvine Arditti with Levine Andrade, while both with students at the Royal Academy of Music. They modeled themselves after the La Salle Quartet of the United States, and focused exclusively on new music, with the aim of supporting composers, playing the pieces as they want them played.
Arditti was born in London in 1953, and began his studies in violin and composition at the Royal Academy at the age of sixteen. Arditti won prizes for violin and composition,but decided he was a better violinist and stopped composing. The focus of the quartet on new music is due to Arditti’s interest in it, which began with composing in his childhood and hearing music by the LaSalle Quartet, as well as that of composers Stockhausen, Ligeti and others of the avant garde of the 1960s. Ardittí was in his last year of school when the Quartet was founded, and it continued even after graduation when he went to work with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. He left the Orchestra to dedicate himself to the project full time in 1980.
The Quartet´s first concert was in September 1974, with the works of Krzysztof Penderecki, who was at the Royal Academy to receive an honorary degree. This gave the group a chance to collaborate with the composer, something they continue to do with composers ever since. The quartet was named after Arditti because they needed a name in 24 hours, so they used his with the idea that it would be temporary, but the name stuck.
In their early years, the ensemble performed LaSalle type programs, becoming associated with Hans Werner Henze and Ligeti and recording all of their quartet pieces before the end of the 1970s. They also began performing live on BBC. They commissioned their first piece in 1977, Jonathan Harvey’s String Quartet No. 1.
Arditti continued to have success touring and recording in Europe but it was not until the success of Kronos Quartet that the ensemble came to the attention of US and Canadian audiences, with a tour in the late 1980s.
For the 40th anniversary of the quartet in 2014, the group held a three-day event, with works by fifteen composers with whom the leader Arditti has been particularly close, as well as the premier or several new works.
The Quartet has a world-wide reputation as a leader for its interpretation of 20th century and contemporary new music, receiving extensive critical praise. They have been noted for their “…astonishing virtuosity and their willingness to extend the boundaries of what can be expected of a string quartet…” However, they have also been criticized as being severe, dry and intellectual with a “kind of high-flown rhetoric that almost seemed designed to show that “new music” lives in a pretentiously self-absorbed world.”
Awards include the Deutsche Shallplatten Preis on various occasions, the Gramophone Award for best recording of contemporary music in 1999 and 2002, the Coup de Coeur Prize and Grand Prix from the Academie Charles Cros in 2004 and the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for lifetime achievement in 1999. They are the first group to receive the Siemen Foundation prize.
Concerts and recordings
The Quartet is highly active throughout the year, mostly with performing and recording and premiering between twenty and fifty new works each year, taking time off only in the summer and Christmas holidays. They have performed hundreds of new works and commissions, with a discography of over 200 CDs on over twenty labels, by far the longest contemporary discography of any string quartet. A complete archive of the quartet’s work is located at the Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland.
Most of their performances are in concert halls and festivals all over the world such as the Festival Internacional Cervantino, as Arditti prefers to separate concerts and rehearsal time geographically. However they have played the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on various occasions and the Almeida Festival in London before that. Most of the time this means playing in concert halls, but the recording of Sockhousen’s Helicopter required each member in his own helicopter, with the live performances relayed to the ground electronically where the music was mixed.
Members of the group regularly conduct master classes in Europe, the United States and Canada, for performers and composers, generally in a guest capacity. From 1982 to 1996, they worked with young composers at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music. They also encourage younger quartets interested in new music.
In 2013, they collaborated on a documentary about how the group prepares for the presentation of new pieces, called Climbing a Mountain. It was created for composers and music students to help the understand the rehearsal process.
- Irvine Arditti (violin) 1974-
- Ashot Sarkissjan (violin) 2005-
- Ralf Ehlers (viola) 2003-
- Lucas Fels (cello) 2006-
- Lennox Mackenzie 1974-1983
- Alexander Balanescu 1983-85
- David Alberman 1985-1994
- Graeme Jennings 1994-2005
- John Senter 1974-1976
- Helen Liebmann 1976-77
- Rohan de Saram 1977-2005
- "The Arditti Quartet: 40 Years Young". London: Barbican. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Ricard Fairman (May 13, 2011). "Arditti Quartet". Financial Times (London). p. 11.
- Max Nyffeler (April 5, 1999). "The Arditti Quartet Interview with Irvine Arditti". Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Bruce Duffie. "Violinists Irvine Arditti and David Alberman". Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- "The Arditti Quartet". Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Inge Kjemtrup (October 2004). "Paving Their Own Paths: Modern Motif - Arditti Quartet Celebrates 30 Years of Collaboration with Contemporary Composers" 19 (3). Strings. pp. 57, 59–60, 62–63.
- Claire Sykes (August–September 1999). "The Arditti Quartet" 14 (2). Strings. pp. 58–71.
- Andrew Clements (April 28, 2014). "Arditti Quartet review – the virtuosic group celebrate their 40th anniversary". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Ricard Fairman (April 30, 2014). "Arditti Quartet: CLASSICAL MUSIC". Financial Times (London). p. 13.
- Kyle Gann (March 3, 1988). "Music Notes: the Arditti Quartet, an underground legend". Chicago Reader. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- "Strings on Screen - Arditti Quartet Reveals Tricks of the Trade". Targeted News Service (Washington DC). July 27, 2011.
- Ivan Hewett (November 16, 2013). "Arditti Quartet, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, review". Telegraph (London). Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- "Biography". Arditti Quartet. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Wes Blomster (January 2010). "Cervantino International Festival: Mexico's Chamber Music Destination". American Record Guide 73 (1): 25–26.
- "Highlights". Anditti Quartet. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Official Website
- Discography at SonyBMG Masterworks
- Arditti Quartet interview by Bruce Duffie, March 1, 1992
- Arditti Quartet films at the institute of Musical Research