It all started with a cancellation. When the Philharmonic String Soloists were unable to carry out their planned 1989 Italian tour, some of the musicians took over the scheduled concerts in the reduced formation of a string sextet – and were met with such success that they decided to continue playing together from that time on as a permanent ensemble.
Italy was and is still the most important site of the Sextet’s activities: it appears regularly in the concert series of large Italian cities. In addition, it is a frequent guest at the Salzburg Easter Festival (in the contemporary chamber series “Kontrapunkte”/Counterpoints), the Schwetzingen Festival and the Bath Festival. And of course it gives regular concerts in the Chamber Music Hall of the Philharmonie.
The cornerstones of the ensemble’s repertoire are the string sextets by Johannes Brahms (opp. 18 and 36), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Souvenir de Florence), Antonín Dvořák, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Reger and Erwin Schulhoff. In compiling their programmes, the musicians like to combine these works with sextets by Luigi Boccherini, Alexander Borodin, Niels Gade and Bohuslav Martinů, as well as with the string-sextet Introduction to Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio. Because the original literature is not especially large, arrangements also figure prominently, for example the Sextet Op.81b (originally for two horns and string quartet) by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The great appeal of this sextet formation, the musicians reckon, lies in channelling the Philharmonic’s characteristic orchestral sound in the making of chamber music – especially when playing the great Romantic sextets by Brahms and Tchaikovsky, in which the two cellos are often treated very “orchestrally”.