April 2001

Looking Four-wards
Irvine Arditti


Irvine Arditti’s thoughts on new music for string quartet are revealed in correspondence with Arditti Quartet manager and spnm council member Julia Haferkorn:

I asked Stockhausen at least four times if he would write us a string quartet. His reply each time was negative: "‘String Quartets’, ‘Symphonies’, ‘Concertos’ – I cannot write such things, I have never written such a thing."

I guess it was the classical concept of a string quartet that worried Karlheinz, not in fact the idea of writing for string quartet, as, after he had a dream about helicopters flying in formation, ‘Helikopter’ quartet was born.

The string quartet is a medium that has been around for several hundred years, and the burden of history may have left some nowadays to fear this most perfect of mediums. It is those who learn not to fear the past and are able to channel their imagination into the present who will be able to write successful string quartets. Stockhausen in fact did precisely this, creating a work and concept totally new, as one might expect from him.

The world of the Arditti Quartet is something quite different from that of a classical quartet. We are constantly adding to our repertoire with each new season bringing a fresh crop of new scores. It is accepted that these new scores will have varying degrees of success, some making it into our regular repertoire and some after their initial exposure, ‘visited’ from time to time. In general we try to be as broad-minded as possible, but it is true that the more challenging and genuinely original the work is, regardless of style, the more it is likely to appeal.

Composers sometimes ask what sort of work we want but apart from realistic duration limitations. I am reluctant to give further information. There should be virtually no restrictions, and composers should be free to follow their imagination to the full. The potential for string quartet writing is unlimited.

There is often a great feeling of excitement and expectation with new scores arriving through the post; usually long awaited, but often unpredicted as to its content of challenges. An example of this was the new piano quintet from Tom Adès with its ever changing tempi and differing meters within the ensemble. The première will be at the Melbourne festival in Australia this year, with the first chance to hear it in England at next year's Aldeburgh festival. Other highlights this autumn include scores by Magnus Lindberg and Helmut Lachenmann. Both are planned for UK première at the South Bank.

Someone asked me a few years ago at a 'State of the Nation' weekend what the chances were for the Arditti Quartet to play a young composer's piece.
I replied "very slim". I am pleased to say that with the now renewed interest from the South Bank, both in concert programming and workshop possibilities, we are able to have more contact with young composers living in the UK.

Our first venture in this field in the UK was actually at the 1999 Huddersfield Festival where (spnm shortlisted composer) Paul Usher was selected for performance, after a workshop with the top three choices. Following this, I asked Paul for a new piece, which was commissioned by the Ingolstadt Festival in Germany, where it will be premiered this summer.

The Quartet has been involved in master classes and workshops all over the world and I consider this to me of prime importance in our list of activities. It is essential that young composers have the chance to work with us and try out their new ideas in order that they can not only hear what they wrote but find out what we can really do.

Irvine Arditti is founder and leader of the Arditti Quartet.

In conjunction with spnm and the South Bank Centre, the quartet give a workshop for composers at State of the Nation, and on 19 April they give a concert in the QEH – see listings section for details.

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Event listings for this month


Previous articles:

March 2001
Chamber Made

February 2001
Publishing, Promotion and Profitability

January 2001
From the World to the Warehouse

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
Composing for dance
from start to finish

October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
Joanna MacGregor

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
Word of mouse

April 2000
Child's Play

March 2000
tables turned

February 2000
the ENO Studio

January 2000
a challenge from Michael Oliva

December 1999
into the next century...

November 1999
Joanna MacGregor writes

October 1999
obsessed with consuming?

September 1999
spnm welcomes Joanna MacGregor.

July/August 1999
Spectrum 2 - miniatures for piano.

June 1999
Hoxton Hall New Music Days.

May 1999
Bath International Music Festival is 50.

April 1999
Who is Georges Aperghis?

March 1999
On frost, birth and death

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!