Established in Paris, Quatuor Modigliani is regarded as “one of the world’s finest quartets” (Harald Eggebrecht, Süddeutsche Zeitung). A regular guest in the world’s celebrated concert halls, such as London’s Wigmore Hall, the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin and Tokyo’s Oji Hall, in 2017 they were the very first string quartet to appear in the Grand Hall of the newly opened Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. “Through their Prague Spring programme the quartet members will be conducting a notional dialogue with two other quartets appearing during the Chamber Music Weekend,” Programme Director Josef Třeštík tells us. “They will begin the concert with Mozart’s Jagdquartett, while a work of the same name will be performed by the German ensemble Schumann Quartet in St Agnes’ Convent a day earlier – except that this piece was written by a composer more than 200 years his junior, namely Jörg Widmann, composer and clarinetist, and also Artist-in-Residence of the upcoming festival.” And Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet will follow on from a performance of the composer’s Double Canon given by the Pražák Quartet in the Rudolfinum. “Next spring will mark 50 years since Stravinsky’s death and the Prague Spring will be observing this event by programming his music during the course of the festival,” adds Třeštík.
Quatuor Modigliani works with such figures as Nicholas Angelich, Tanja Tetzlaff, Yefim Bronfman, Beatrice Rana and Renaud Capuçon. In 2014 the quartet members were also named artistic directors of the Rencontres Musicales d’Evian festival, established in 1976 by Antoine Riboud and made famous through its former director, the legendary Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
The ensemble has been recording regularly for the Mirare label since 2008. Their collaboration has given rise to ten award-winning recordings. The ninth album Portraits appeared in 2019 on the well-known “Critics’ Choice” list (Bestenliste) selected by the prestigious German Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. “This is only the ensemble’s second album with their new leader Amaury Coeytaux and they’ve already achieved huge success,” stated German critic Eleonore Büning at the time. “All the works are shown in a fresh light and, in each of them, this brilliant formation takes our breath away with their assured performance.”
In the new season the ensemble is scheduled to tour Germany (Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg) and the United States. They will also be joining Veronika and Clemens Hagen for performances of Tchaikovsky’s string sextet Souvenir de Florence in Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional de Música, at Flagey in Brussels, and in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. In December 2020 the string quartet will give the world premiere of Split Apart, a piece by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. The work, written especially for Quatour Modigliani, will then be presented by them in Staatstheater Darmstadt, Vienna’s Musikverein, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Brussels’ Flagey and Pollack Hall in Montreal.
Thanks to the generosity of private sponsors all members of the quartet play on first-rate Italian instruments – Amaury Coeytaux and Loïc Rio on violins crafted by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini from the years 1773 and 1780, Laurent Marfaing on a viola by Luigi Mariani dated 1660, and François Kieffer on a Matteo Goffriller cello from 1706.
The concert programme offers three masterpieces of the quartet genre. String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major “Jagdquartett” KV 458 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of six quartets which the young composer dedicated to his teacher and friend Joseph Haydn. He was inspired by Haydn’s Op. 33, known as the “Russian Quartets”, in which the now celebrated and respected composer fully applied his innovative approach to this musical form. The polished and original thematic treatment, and the equal roles assigned to all four voices in this instrumental ensemble, led 25-year-old Mozart to take a greater interest in this new type of string quartet writing, for which he would find his own creative expression. Of the set of six, String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major could be described as the most light-hearted. It acquired its name “Jagdquartett” or “The Hunt” for the introductory theme reminiscent of a hunting call motif. The buoyant mood of the first movement is carried through the entire work. The only exception is the dream-like Adagio with its engaging, wistful cantabile in the first violin, after which follows the spirited closing Allegro assai, full of the playful melodies that are so typical of Mozart.
The listener enters a wholly different world of sound with Three Pieces for String Quartet by Igor Stravinsky, completed in the summer of 1914, when the composer was staying in the Swiss town of Salvan in the Valais canton. Stravinsky, who liked to experiment with new tone colours and approaches, here crafted a string quartet that might be described as “inside-out”, the reverse of what we usually imagine in connection with the genre: this was something of a revolt not only against form, but against the very instruments themselves, whose sound was utilised in a truly unconventional manner. At the same time we are fascinated by Stravinsky’s treatment of short rhythmical and melodic motifs, which keep on returning with slight modifications and at times recall elements used by the minimalists more than half a century later.
The programme will conclude with String Quartet No. 15 in G major Op. 161 D 887 by Franz Schubert. This musical monument crowns a notional triptych comprising his last major quartets; it was preceded by the quartets in A minor “Rosamunde” and D minor “Death and the Maiden”, while more than twenty years passed before it was finally premiered and published. As in the case of a number of other works by Schubert, the reason for this was mistrust of his instrumental music. The “prince of song”, as the composer was dubbed, was largely recognised for his song oeuvre which, for almost the entire 19th century, overshadowed everything else Schubert had written. Yet chamber music represents an important part of the composer’s legacy. This majestic, four-movement work, the composer’s last string quartet, was written in 1826 within a mere ten days. By that stage seriously ill, the composer projected into it his innermost feelings and fears, thus creating one of the most momentous and most intriguing works of its kind.