News The Well-Tempered String Quartet returns to BMC

A unique cross-section of quartets in music history: this is the series Das Wohltemperierte Streichquartett (The well-tempered string quartet), launched by Classicus Quartet in the Concert Hall of BMC. During the next season, the series continues with three extra concerts and a closing event. The cellist of Classicus Quartet, Tamás Zétényi, lets us peek behind the scenes.

A unique cross-section of quartets in music history: this is Das Wohltemperierte Streichquartett, a series launched by Classicus Quartet at the BMC Concert Hall. From January 2018 to June 2022, the ensemble played a wide variety of works, arranged around the 12 tonalities based on the chromatic scale. “The pandemic interrupted and delayed the series, so the closing concert would have taken place in September, overflowing into the new season. This is why we decided to put on three extra concerts in 2022/23, even if we had already completed our original cycle based on the 12 tonalities. The closing event breaks away from the tonal conception anyway, because we would like to comment on the opening concert, where we played Haydn, Kurtág and Bartók’s First String Quartet. To round off the series, we are planning to play Haydn’s very last quartet fragment, Bartók’s Sixth String Quartet, Ligeti’s First – often referred to as Bartók’s Seventh –, and Officium breve by Kurtág.”

“Despite the fact that we discovered a huge variety of works, there are still gaps. We haven’t played anything by Schumann or Mendelssohn, for example. The programme of the three extra concerts will thus be shared by contemporary composers and those undeservedly omitted from the original plan. We’re extremely grateful to László Gőz, the director of BMC, who granted us the opportunity to realize the series, and expand it even further.” During the past four years, in addition to the great classics of the genre – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bartók –, the quartet managed to present works by Schubert, Dvořák, Brahms, Verdi, Puccini, Fauré, Ravel, Debussy, Janáček, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Webern and Kodály. Contemporary Hungarian composers are also featured in the programme: the audience could get acquainted with pieces by Máté Balogh, Marcell Dargay, Péter Tornyai, Csanád Kedves, László Sándor and Balázs Horváth, among others.

The quartet covered huge distances in a relatively short time, playing about fifty pieces in a couple of years, ranging from the beginnings of the genre to our present day – an extraordinary and compelling journey. “The traditional attitude to quartet playing is to start with Haydn, and practice nothing but his works until we use the bow in exactly the same way, and the four instruments sound like one. There are still professors advocating for this older model. Nowadays, most young ensembles are formed at universities while preparing for a competition. They learn 4-6 pieces by heart, mastering them back and forth, perfecting them under the direction of several professors, and they try to win a prize that could launch their career. We have never entered a competition, but our chief aim was to develop a repertoire as vast as possible. We learn four new programmes each year, featuring contemporary, 20th-century, romantic and classical works in equal proportion.” Classicus Quartet took lessons from legendary professors of chamber music: they worked with György Kurtág, Ferenc Rados and Gábor Takács-Nagy as well. “We spend about three hours of intense work, digesting only a few pages of music with astounding thoroughness. It is impossible to teach us every single note of the whole piece, but they show different methods that allow us to get to the bottom of musical structures, and how to transform our attitude to music-making accordingly. This is, in fact, a life-changing experience.”

The first concert of the closing season of Wohltemperiertes Streichquartett will take place on 30 September 2022, in the Concert Hall of BMC. Further concerts are on 13 November 2022 and 11 February 2023, while the closing concert is to be organized on 3 June 2023.

Related programme:

Classicus Quartet: Das Wohltemperierte Streichquartett 16.
30.09.2022. 6 PM, BMC Concert Hall

Lera Auerbach: String Quartet No. 10 “Frozen Dreams”
Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73
Robert Schumann: String Quartet No 3 in A minor, Op. 41/3

Classicus Quartet:
Ágnes Langer - violin
Eszter Kökény - violin
Péter Tornyai - viola
Tamás Zétényi - cello
Short Hungarian introduction by: Zoltán Farkas - musicologist