When string quartets die – SlippediscSlippedisc

norman lebrecht

January 02, 2023

Our diarist Anthea Kreston, violinist in the Delgani quartet (pictured) has been reflecting on the disappearace of five international string quartets, each with its own reason.

We fall in love easily with a string quartet. Dashing, energetic, wise, idealistic, sensitive, enigmatic – they bring us to magical places we haven’t been before and hold our hands as we stroll down memory lane. When they leave us, as they always do, we thank them for changing our lives, for giving everything they had to the art, and to us.

There are several reasons that a group says farewell, of which three come uppermost to mind – retirement, work/life balance, and the spectacular blow-out. Added on top, or perhaps woven through, these reasons is the pandemic – that ever-looming, ever changing behemoth, which continues to leave a complicated trail of slime in its wake.

Emerson, Orion, Auryn – these giants of the world stage have recently, gracefully retired, having shaped the legacy of string quartet playing in the 21st century – an elegant bow to a storied career. They have given all, and through their teaching have generously sprouted the next generation(s) of quartets.

The breathtaking breakups – most notably the Audubon Quartet, with its cyclone of court battles scattering personal effects far and wide like a made-for-T.V. movie – these are rare (or perhaps, with non-disclosure agreements being signed behind closed doors, not quite as rare as one might imagine).

The two reasons, above, are more understandable than the quartets who have left us more recently – the Albion, Spektral, Artemis – these groups, in their prime – why would they leave us? Why not just replace a member, even two, and continue the momentum – what would make a group just put its arms up and walk away? Could there be similarities between these groups?

The age of these quartets – neither young nor old – I would put them all at 30-50 years old – places them in a particular time in their lives. Less carefree than they were in their student years, their work/life balance is front and center. Responsibility to others, long-term plans, retirement and health – these are the issues that begin to weigh heavily at this moment.

It’s no secret that life in a string quartet is a double-edged blade. The joy you have from delving into the most rewarding repertoire on the planet (we think) is equaled to the clashing of egos, the struggle of four strong-willed members who all have different needs and desires. Huge time commitments, irregular travel schedules, and therefore the difficulty of maintaining a home life make quartet existence challenging. This life can mean spending more time with your colleagues than with your family. The old adage says that a string quartet is a marriage between 4 people . No matter which way you slice it, it’s a wriggling, complex beast. But, if tamed, the world opens before you.

In my case, choosing a quartet (Delgani String Quartet) which was close to family, which has a regular schedule, and has a solid concert calendar which requires no hotels or flights, made the whole quartet life-style possible.

Added to all of the above is Covid. Did your priorities change during Covid? Your job? Life before Covid in a quartet already took so much effort – and now – to rebuild the connections, to re-establish your life before? What about health insurance, retirement, long-term care?

A report from LinkedIn details how employees are now thinking differently about career planning, asking themselves fundamental questions about the jobs they do, where they work and why. LinkedIn is calling this the Great Reshuffle: a time when everyone is rethinking everything. According to Forbes, 1 in 4 workers are planning (because of Covid re-prioritization) on switching jobs in the near future. Covid gave all of us time to reflect and re-think our lives. For many, health (both mental and physical) has become dramatically more important – how does this affect your work decisions?

The last question – why not replace a member or two – why do all 4 give up? The rebuilding process can be daunting, made so much more difficult, complex and expensive because of the pandemic, perhaps they saw the reasoning of the departing member(s), perhaps they simply thought, “that was a good run! Now, on to the next challenge.”

Whatever the reasons, the commitment these groups showed, their passion and determination – that is a testament to the love we all share for this art form, the String Quartet, the most magical beast of them all. And we thank them for every minute they gave us.

 


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