In 1789, Mozart travelled to Berlin hoping for musical commissions from the King of Prussia Frederick William II, who was a great music lover, and his court. To the composer’s disappointment, he received only a commission (or only a suggestion of it) for a cycle of six string quartets. In the following months he pursued this task, but was unable to complete the cycle – having composed three quartets, he put the work aside and devoted himself to other undertakings. Artaria, the publisher of the quartets which turned out to be the last ones in the author’s oeuvre, gave them the nickname “Concertante” due to the occasionally exposed cello part – the king and at the same time the dedicatee of the pieces played this instrument. The first work of the cycle, Quartet in D major KV 575, is, like the others, distinguished by its cheerfulness and euphony. It thus comes closer to the original idea of the genre – serving the sophisticated entertainment of amateur musicians from bourgeois and aristocratic circles.
Chamber music occupies a rather modest (in quantitative terms) but significant place in Béla Bartók’s legacy. String Quartet No. 5 was commissioned by the American pianist and music lover Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, to whom it was dedicated. It had its premiere in Washington in 1935. What makes the work stand out is its consistent symmetry, which comes to the fore in various aspects – architectural and tonal – and which highlights the author’s predilection for “arch” forms. Its external expression is conveyed through a five-movement layout rather than the more frequent four-movement model, and features lively external sections and a central scherzo, as well as slow and moderate second and fourth movements (in the “nocturnal”, restless, oneiric style characteristic of the author). An example of the ethnographic passion of Bartók, who was a more than competent researcher of the folklore of Hungary and the Balkans, is the characteristic Scherzo known as alla bulgarese, which manifests itself in the use of an irregular rhythm typical of the traditional aksak music of the region.
When Maurice Ravel finished his only string quartet in the spring of 1903, he was still a young artist (only 28 years old at the time), but already an established one, and yet still searching for his own path. He admired Claude Debussy and made no secret of the fact that his Quartet was inspired by a similar work by his contemporary who was thirteen years his senior. However, he approached the genre differently, bestowing upon the architecture of his Quartet classicist features and combining them with a refined sound and subtle harmony. Ravel’s innovative Quartet aroused controversy when performed for the first time before a conservative audience and critics in 1904. It proved to be a work that set new directions in chamber music, more sensitive in its use of subtle timbres, exploring new textures, and new forms of articulation and consonances.
"Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend: these are the trademarks of this excellent Israeli string quartet." Such was the New York Times’ impression of the Jerusalem Quartet.
Since the ensemble’s founding in 1993 and subsequent 1996 debut, the four Israeli musicians have embarked on a journey of growth and maturation. This journey has resulted in a wide repertoire and stunning depth of expression, which carries on the string quartet tradition in a unique manner. The ensemble has found its core in a warm, full, human sound and an egalitarian balance between high and low voices. This approach allows the quartet to maintain a healthy relationship between individual expression and a transparent and respectful presentation of the composer’s work. It is also the drive and motivation for the continuing refinement of its interpretations of the classical repertoire as well as exploration of new epochs.
The Jerusalem Quartet is a regular guest on the world’s great concert stages. With regular biannual visits to North America, the quartet has performed in cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, and Cleveland as well as at the Ravinia Festival (Illinois). In Europe, the quartet enjoys an enthusiastic reception with regular appearances in all the prestige concert halls and at festivals such as Salzburg, Verbier, Rheingau, Schleswig-Holstein, Schwarzenberg (Schubertiade), among others.
The Jerusalem Quartet records exclusively for Harmonia Mundi. The quartet’s recordings, particularly the albums featuring Haydn’s string quartets and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, have been honored with numerous awards such as the Diapason d’Or and the BBC Music Magazine Award for chamber music. In 2018, the ensemble released two CDs: an album of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quintet, Op. 97 and Sextet, Op. 48, and a much-awaited recording of the celebrated quartets by Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. In the spring of 2019, the quartet released a unique album exploring Jewish music in Central Europe between the wars and its far-reaching influence. Israeli soprano Hila Baggio joined the quartet to perform a collection of sung in Yiddish Cabaret songs (arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov) from Warsaw in the 1920s. Erwin Schulhoff’s Five Pieces (1924), a collection of short and light cabaret-like pieces, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Quartet No. 2, Op. 26 (1937) are completing the program. In 2020, the Jerusalem Quartet released a 2 CD album featuring the whole Béla Bartók cycle; both recordings were critically acclaimed.
Since 2019, the quartet has been touring together with Hila Baggio throughout Europe, presenting the Yiddish Cabaret. Also, they perform Octet by George Enescu with the Novus String Quartet (e.g. in Amsterdam and Schwarzenberg) and play Dvorák’s String Sextet with Gary Hoffman and Miguel da Silva at the String Quartet Biennales in Paris and Lisbon. Other highlights of the 2021/2022 season include a Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall (March 2022), US-tours (November 2021 and spring 2022), an Asia tour (June 2022), as well as re-invitations to the Tonhalle Zürich, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, and the Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele.