Artaria in 1990
When Artaria was looking for a challenging and transformative performing project, several promising options were considered. Not surprisingly we chose to present the complete string quartets of Shostakovich. Artaria was introduced to these quartets as Boston University music school grad students. We were invited to perform with our teachers in the first annual “Festival without End” that the BU music department had created to celebrate the music of Shostakovich (there were a lot of Russians on the faculty). The faculty asked the budding Artaria String Quartet to join them as guest artists on this exciting celebration of the composer’s chamber and symphonic works.
For the Shostakovich Festival we were assigned to learn quartet No.7, a modest sized work with a fiery third movement - we dove in with abandon. Less than a week later, a member of the faculty quartet interrupted our rehearsal and announced that THEY had decided to play Quartet No.7 and we would be performing Quartet No.9, a monumental and significantly longer piece of music. Somewhat taken aback, but unfazed, we secured the music from the library and pressed forward. We never looked back.
Shostakovich’ music is gripping, passionate, sarcastic, “in the drawer” - everything our twenty-something minds was looking to embrace, and more. Now more than quarter century further down the road, these values hold somewhat different meanings for us. However the music is no less powerful or important, still full of truth and yearning.
The 15 masterpieces that make up the cycle of Shostakovich string quartets are at once overwhelming and yet strangely accessible. The over arching themes of power and fear, anger and sadness, faith and hope, singular and collective, pervade each and every movement and allow the listener to immerse themselves in a personal journey. No two people come away from a performance moved in the same way – but moved they are and in a significant way.
We started our quartet cycle in the summer of 2011 with the plan of dividing and conquering. As we had our series repertoire to perform, preparing all 15 in one season would have been too much, so we decided to perform the quartets over two seasons of concerts instead.
When the Schubert Club artistic director heard our plans, we were engaged to present a series of January Courtroom Concerts at the Landmark Center in St. Paul as well as a set of public concerts in downtown Minneapolis. Because of the hour-long programs at the Landmark we had to select optimum pairings both in regard to time and what we already had in our repertoire. This was how we arranged things:
YEAR ONE (2011-2012)
Program 1 - Quartets 1 & 2
Program 2 - Quartets 4 & 12
Program 3 - Quartets 6 & 8
Program 4 - Quartets 9 & 10
YEAR TWO (2013-2014)
Program 5 - Quartets 3 & 7
Program 6 - Quartets 11 & 5
Program 7 - Quartets 13 & 14
Program 8 - Quartet 15 + Q & A
Year one went splendidly! We were exhausted by the end of February after giving 20 full concerts in 6 weeks. It was exhilarating as the reception was excellent. And the concerts were packed as well, some being standing room only. As Rob Hubbard wrote about the Schubert Club concerts we played, “…very satisfying”.
Year Two of the Cycle had to be postponed due to an illness in the quartet and was replaced by our East Meets West concerts with guest artists. When we resumed in the summer of 2013 we were full of urgency to complete the cycle and afraid that we might not. Fortunately, we had already begun some of the quartets before our break and it made for an easier ride into the January concerts of 2014. That’s good, because there were 18 concerts, 15 in January alone – quite appropriate of course as there are 15 Shostakovich quartets.
The event was a watershed moment for Artaria and comments from people who had not heard us in years noted that we had grown immeasurably in both confidence and presentation. We look forward to our next project!
Artaria in 2011