Fantastic Four

Chamber music with the Quatuor Diotima, the vision string quartet, the Tetzlaff Quartet and the Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin

Quatuor Diotima
(Photo: François Rousseau)

The string quartet is the supreme discipline of chamber music. With four instruments – usually two violins, viola and cello – the aim is to create a tonal cosmos in which all instruments conduct a musical dialogue on an equal footing. The Philharmoniker’s concert series Quartet presents four ensembles in the 2019/2020 season which guarantee exciting chamber music evenings thanks to their innovative, unique and unmistakable style.

Unusual programme design

The series starts with the Quatuor Diotima, which derives its name from key works of literature and music: on the one hand, from the immortal beloved in Friedrich Hölderlin’s novel Hyperion, and on the other, from Luigi Nono’s famous work Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima. Both facets are reflected in the ensemble’s programme design which has made a trademark of combining contemporary works with the Classical-Romantic repertoire. For its appearance in the Chamber Music Hall, the Quatuor Diotima, founded in 1996 by four graduates of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris and which is one of the leading string quartets today, juxtaposes György Ligeti’s Second String Quartet with Claude Debussy’s only contribution to the genre and Béla Bártok’s First String Quartet. The ensemble discovered the Hungarian composer's work late. “That was actually a big mistake,” says violist Franck Chevalier. A mistake Quatuor Diotima has long made up for with its recording of all the string quartets by Bartók which have received high praise from the press.

Youthful concept

The vision string quartet pursues a new concept in string quartet playing that is cool, casual, and transcends genres. Even its appearance breaks with traditional conventions: the strings, who were all born between 1990 and 1994, play standing – excluding the cellist – and also play from memory. In their programmes, they mix classics of the repertoire with contemporary as well as jazz and pop arrangements. “From the very beginning, we were enthusiastic about jazz, rock and pop, and that also influences our interpretation of classical works,” says violist Sander Stuart. And it is a concept that works: after winning First Prize at the Geneva International Music Competition in 2016, this unusual ensemble is now making an international career. For its debut in the Chamber Music Hall, the vision string quartet plays works by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz, and jazz and pop songs.

Passion for chamber music

Christian Tetzlaff is known first and foremost as one of the great violinists of our time, and is one of the regular guests of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He is also a passionate chamber musician. He has been performing for more than 25 years with his own quartet which includes his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, violist Hanna Weinmeister and violinist Elisabeth Kufferath. All four are highly successful as soloists, orchestra musicians or professors. Because of theses other activities, performances by the quartet are rare. Nevertheless, the members are very enthusiastic about the ensemble. The continuous collaboration has welded them together over the years. “Working with each other gets easier and easier,” as they once revealed in an interview. For their quartet evening, the First and Second Viennese schools meet in the form of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 1 and Beethoven’s op. 130 with the Große Fuge op. 133.

Next Generation

The Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin cultivates a completely different form of quartet playing. The line-up of piano, violin, viola and cello opens up completely different sonic possibilities to the performers than the “classic” string ensemble: they can play intimately like a string quartet, virtuosically as a piano trio or symphonically as a small orchestra. Nevertheless, this genre is less prominent than the string quartet. In 1985, members of the Berliner Philharmoniker founded the Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin to address this somewhat neglected genre. In 2013, a generational change took place within the ensemble. Today it consists of the violinist Luis Esnaola, the violist Matthew Hunter and the cellist Knut Weber, plus the pianist Markus Groh. In addition to Johannes Brahms’ First Piano Quartet, a reference work of the genre, and the late-Romantic “Phantasy Quartet” by the British Frank Bridge, the formation presents a German première: the Piano Quartet by Danny Elfman, one of the leading film music composers in America, whose work has appeared in programmes such as the cult series Desperate Housewives.

vision string quartet
(Photo: Tim Kloecker)
Tetzlaff Quartett
(Photo: Giorgia Bertazzi)
Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin
(Photo: Martin Deeley)