Professional string quartets are rare ensembles. Four players, assembling, sometimes for decades, under a name and with a commitment to making their personal mark in the extensive literature for two violins, viola, and cello stretches back to Franz Joseph Haydnâ€™s experiments in the medium in the late 1750s. In the case of the Guarneri Quartet, violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley, violist Michael Tree, and cellist David Soyer met in 1963 at the Marlboro Music Festival headed by Alexander â€œSashaâ€ Schneider. It was Sasha who encouraged the four, all musicians working with pianist Rudolf Serkin in various ways, to form a quartet. In 45 years, they have replaced only one musician -- Peter Wiley came into the quartet in 2000 to replace Soyer, who had decided to retire. However, with the end of the 2008-09 season, the Guarneri Quartet -- which only settles issues through unanimous vote -- has decided to call it a day. "We started with a one-year plan," Steinhardt recently told the Detroit Free Press, "and weâ€™ve had a one-year plan every year for 45 years. It was time."
It isn't as though the Guarneri has much left in the way of unfinished business. They have recorded much of the major quartet literature and in 1996 won accolades for their advocacy of quartets by a "minor" composer, Juan Arriaga. There isn't a concert venue of stature in the world that they haven't played, and in some places, many times -- in the Detroit metro area alone, they have appeared 58 times. The Guarneri has been the subject of a documentary feature film, High Fidelity: The Adventures of the Guarneri String Quartet, (1989) and have been interviewed by Charles Kuralt on the CBS Sunday Morning program. While they represent the transplantation of the old, warm-blooded European quartet tradition to the New World -- to an extent an inheritance from Schneider, who was a member of the Budapest Quartet -- the Guarneri have not allowed their repertoire to calcify, even as they have not cultivated contemporary music to the extent that say, the Juilliard String Quartet has. Since 2000, they have premiered works by composers Lukas Foss and Richard Danielpour, and in collaboration with the Johannes String Quartet, will be presenting premieres of new works by William Bolcom and CalArts composer in residence Derek Bermel in the last months of the season.
Few string quartets have enjoyed the longevity and the many awards that Guarneri has received. While they will be missed, the Guarneri's achievements and decades-long dedication to superlative music making speaks for itself, a factor to which their extensive recorded output will attest as long as we continue to listen.
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 - Presto
Ravel: String Quartet in F - Assez vif bien rhythme
JanÃ¡cek: String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters" - Adagio
Arriaga: String Quartet No. 1 in D minor - Menuetto & Scherzo