“Here we have not four individual players, but a single sixteen-stringed instrument of great virtuosity”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Gerhard Rohde, October 2013
When four students assembled at the Moscow Conservatory to play string quartets one afternoon in 1945, they unknowingly set the foundations for what soon became one of the world’s finest chamber music ensembles. The Borodin Quartet ranks today among the great names in music-making, universally acclaimed for the richness of its sound, the profound insights of its interpretations and its enduring pursuit of artistic truth. The group’s current members are ready to celebrate its seventieth anniversary year with a packed schedule of international performances, including four concerts at Wigmore Hall (Saturday 18 & Sunday 19 April, Friday 26 & Sunday 28 June 2015), and performances at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Konzerthaus Berlin, Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, City Hall in Hong Kong, Montreal, the Moscow Conservatory, the Kimmel Centre, Philadelphia, Vienna’s Musikverein and the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall. The quartet will also take part in the Bergen, Dvořák Prague, Istanbul, Tokyo Spring, Rheingau and Schleswig Holstein festivals.
String quartets by Beethoven and Shostakovich, works deeply ingrained in the Borodin Quartet’s collective soul, occupy the group’s Wigmore Hall programmes. The series opens with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.2, written a year before the birth of the Borodin Quartet, paired here with the second of Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets, a work of revolutionary ideas and intensity. The second programme combines youthful and mature works by Beethoven – the String Quartets Op. 18 No.1 and Op.74 ‘Harp’ – with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.6, among the first scores he created following the sudden death of his wife. The Borodin Quartet’s fourth Wigmore Hall concert explores Shostakovich’s enigmatic String Quartet No.3, a work marked by the madness of war and of Stalinism years. It closes with Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 95 ‘Serioso’ and the third of his ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets.
The Borodin Quartet’s landmark anniversary offers the chance to reflect on the remarkable continuity of the ensemble’s aesthetic values and the dedication of its members, past and present, to the high art of quartet playing. The world has changed beyond recognition since 1945; the Borodin Quartet, meanwhile, has retained its commitment to tonal beauty, technical excellence and penetrating musicianship. The ensemble’s cohesion and vision have survived successive changes in personnel, thanks not least to the common legacy shared by its members from their training at the Moscow Conservatory.
“This tradition is about keeping the quality of sound that arises from our famous Russian school of string playing,” observes the Quartet. “We always search for the beauty of the sound, even in works that deal with difficult or painful emotions. Of course every performance will be subtly different, but every time we play we try to reach the highest ideals of interpretation. That begins with the musical text and our understanding of the emotions and feelings that grow out of it. We are privileged to play works by composers of such genius, Beethoven and Shostakovich among them. This means we will always discover something different in their music, just as you would always discover new things when re-reading Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Goethe or Pushkin. I believe, in fact, that it is our brains as performers that change over time and allow us to connect with these great masterpieces in previously unimagined ways.” The Borodin Quartet works together as one, with each player contributing to the whole. “It’s rather like a great play in the theatre. If you remove the lead character and listen to what is left, you discover how important the supporting roles are. Our policy is to rehearse as often as possible, so we can be aware of every gesture in every part of a composition and “keep the elbow feeling” of each other.”
Over the next year, the Quartet will focus its attention on the music of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Its seventieth anniversary season also includes multiple performances of a programme that has proved irresistible to promoters worldwide, comprising Borodin’s String Quartet No.2, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8 and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.2 which has proved particularly popular. “The challenge will be for us to be inspired every time we perform the same programme,” comment the players. “It’s so important for our audience that we always connect with the music at the deepest level. This is where we remember the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter’s observation: ‘All emotions must be rehearsed’. We cannot rely on inspiration to come automatically in every concert, which is why we practise not only technical points but also the deep emotions that arise in every work.”
Membership of the Borodin Quartet has proved remarkably stable. Cellist Valentin Berlinsky, who was one of the original members and went on to play in the ensemble for decades, was part of the quartet when they consulted with Shostakovich about how to perform the composer’s string quartets. The current players Ruben Aharonian, Sergei Lomovsky, Igor Naidin and Vladimir Balshin carry on the tradition of the original group.
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