Arditti Quartet has been performing contemporary music for nearly 30
years all over the world and has attracted commissions from the most
renowned international composers of new music.
has become a brand, an icon of contemporary string quartet music. So
there was considerable excitement and anticipation in the large audience
to hear the Arditti Quartet in a rare live performance at the QEH with
a beautifully chosen programme.
evening began with Berg’s ‘String Quartet op.3’, which he composed in
1910 when he was 25. It has an air of late bourgeois refinement, but
also violent eruptions and anger. Irvine Arditti’s tone was unsensuous
and thin, occasionally almost disappearing against the rich sounds of
the other three players.
highlight of the evening was the ‘3rd String Quartet’ by Helmut Lachenmann.
For the German composer composing is an existential experience. He makes
every effort to throw grit into the smooth cycle of production and consumption,
where every (musical) thought has its well-defined market value. Lachenmann
insists on composing authentic music - and he succeeds. After five minutes
the music falls almost silent, the musicians producing hardly audible
sounds. The audience held its breath and Lachenmann’s music transcended
its material appearance. These moments of true musical experience are
rest of the half hour piece is more forceful and louder, as Arditti
requested. This "musique concrète instrumental", as
Lachemann calls it, is rustling, breathing and pressing. With unconventional
playing techniques the musicians produce sounds which appear to be electronic
like backward playing, filtering harmonics, scratching. Opposing glissandi
in different instruments and sustained micro intervals mixed in beautifully
with Irvine Arditti’s snorting breath.
audience loved it. It showed powerfully that stick-in-the-muds demanding
more "accessible" music are agents against emancipation trying
to stifle imagination.
Dutilleux’ piece "Ainsi la nuit", composed 1976-77, is finely
crafted music, operating more on a technical, intellectual level, as
if addressing predominantly the left of the brain.
evening was concluded by Thomas Adès’ ‘Piano Quintet’ (2001)
with the composer at the piano. Adès is a fine pianist who performed
smoothly with the Arditti Quartet. His composition came across as well
crafted and clever. It is playful music, demonstrating how references
to music history - in this case Brahms - can be crafted into witty music.
But the piece goes no further than that. I would like to hear more of
Adès himself, not just how clever he is in plundering musical
hype around him in recent years, with his publisher at the forefront,
must have taken its toll and have probably silenced his true personality.
It is flattering to be coveted - but also dangerous. When Adès
walked on stage he looked nervous and tired. The performance had been
fine. During the applause Adès looked serious, without a smile,
anxiously gauging the reaction of the audience, which was very positive.
Plants don’t grow well in stormy conditions.