The Kocian Quartet has earned the reputation as one of the foremost Czech string quartets of its time. Its repertory is broad, encompassing standards by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, as well as mainstream Czech works by Dvorák, Smetana, Janácek, and Martinu, and little-known fare by Pavel Haas and Hans Krása. But it has also introduced many new works by an array of contemporary Czech composers, including Tichy, Loudova, Kaslik, Kubicka, Riedelbauch, and conductor/composer Rafael Kubelik. The Kocian Quartet has made numerous recordings for several labels, among them Praga and Orfeo.
The Kocian Quartet was founded in Prague in 1972. The founding members -- Pravoslav Kohout (first violin), Jan Odstrcil (second violin), Jirí Najnar (viola), and Václav Bernásek (cello) -- were all Prague Academy of Music graduates. Initially the players took up the rather generic-sounding name New String Quartet, and for the first three years were mentored by the cellist of the Smetana Quartet, Antonin Kohout, a highly respected virtuoso who might be counted as the fifth founder of the group.
In 1975 the ensemble adopted the name Kocian Quartet, after the famous Czech violinst Jaroslav Kocian. It was at this time, too, that Kohout was replaced by Pavel Hula, who also became the quartet's leader. The Kocian players quickly made a name for themselves in Czechoslovakia after their Prague Spring Festival debut in 1976. In 1981 they were awarded an artistic prize from the Czech Society for Chamber Music.
Over the next two decades the Kocian Quartet would travel regularly throughout Europe, including to Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Russia. Its 1992 debut in the U.K. (London's Wigmore Hall) was belated, but a great success, and the group later appeared on BBC Radio.
In 1993 violist Zbynek Padourek replaced Najnar, but the change was largely seamless in the fabric of the group's style, enabling the Kocian players to continue to woo both critics and the public. In 1997 the quartet received the prestigious Grand Prix International du Disque de l'académie Charles Cros (Paris) for recordings of the Hindemith string quartets on the Praga label.
The Kocian players' 2002 tour of the U.S., Canada, and Japan was another critical success. Among the Kocian Quartet's later recordings were a pair of Praga discs: the 2004 SACD of Schulhoff chamber music and the 2006 SACD of Borodin's Quartet No. 1 and String Quintet.