20 years after four talented teenagers got together for a competition in Finland, 2004 finds the Vertavo String Quartet as the only professional string quartet in Scandinavia. Celebrating this anniversary the Vertavos launch their sixth solo CD - presenting rarely recorded and utterly charming gems from the Friday soirees of late 1800s St. Petersburg.
Following the success of the complete Béla Bartók quartets (among other things Editor's Choice in Gramophone) the Vertavo girls now present a handful of fantastic small pieces just waiting to be enjoyed by a large audience. Les Vendredis (the Fridays) is a collection of fresh and beautiful one-movement pieces written for the monthly musical soiree at the house of the wealthy music lover Beliaeff in late 1800s St. Petersburg. The first Friday of every month composers and musicians, often guests from other parts of Russia too, would gather to play together, try out parts of works in progress, and enjoy good food and drink. It even became a thing to write music especially for these Fridays, and here the composers would try to top each other in musical ideas and playfulness.
Through 20 years the Vertavo String Quartet has developed a great sensitivity for what different kinds of music, both within the classical repertoire and beyond. The quartet is an absolute favourite when pop-bands in Norway need some serious backing, and the Vertavo girls have done numerous live gigs and featured on more than 50 albums. And what makes them so interesting for the pop-people is precisely what makes it possible to do Les Vendredis with such a flare as the Vertavos do here. This is music between the private sphere and the concert hall, between the dance floor and consentrated listening. Endlessly generous for the listener and very demanding for the musician. Music that will fall flat on its face if it is not performed with this combination of virtuosity and charm that is Vertavo's trademark.
Vertavo String Quartet is Řyvor Volle (violin), Berit Cardas (violin), Henninge Landaas (viola) and Bjřrg Vćrnes (cello). Since the breakthrough with the four prizes at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 1995, the Vertavo has released six solo albums - all for Simax Classics - with music by Carl Nielsen, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy (Diapason d'Or), Béla Bartók and now Les Vendredis. Just recently they recorded Mozart with Martin Fröst, also highly acclaimed. Vertavo is managed by KDS UK and Germany, and regularly tour Europe, Asia and America.
The Vertavo Quartet have firmly established themselves as one of the most exciting ensembles of today. Only in their early thirties, these four friends first formed their quartet in Oslo in 1984. The Quartet first captured international attention when they won no less than four awards including the First Prize at the 2nd Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 1995. They went on to receive the Nordic Chamber Music Prize (1996), the Critics' Prize from the Norwegian press (1996), a nomination for the Nordic Council's Culture Award in 1998 and the Nordea prize in 2003.
Collaboration with fellow musicians plays an integral role in the Vertavo Quartet's concert life, not least in their own Chamber Music Series in Gamle Logen Oslo in which they often work with such artists as Barbara Hendricks, Hĺkan Hagegard, Malena Ernman, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Stephen Kovacevich, Leif-Ove Andsnes, Christian Lindberg, Isabelle van Keulen and Michael Collins. They are also Artistic Directors of the Elverum Summer Music Festival in Norway. Their special affinity for contemporary music has led them to give commanding performances of works by Ligeti, Adčs and works by contemporary Nordic composers such as Nřrgĺrd and Asheim.
The Quartet have appeared in such prestigious music halls as the Konzerthaus and Philharmonie Berlin, Konserthus Stockholm, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and Wigmore Hall London. In addition to performing regularly at many Scandinavian chamber music festivals, they have appeared at the Edinburgh, Bath and Huddersfield Festivals, and Berliner Festspiele.
Highlights for the Vertavo Quartet's anniversary season have included débuts at the Rheingau Musik Festival and the 2004 Aldeburgh Festival, where they will perform a Haydn/Bartok-series together with the Belcea Quartet. Celebrations continue with the Belcea Quartet in 2004/05 with octet concerts in Cologne, Bayreuth and Darmstadt, a celebratory concert in Oslo's concert hall, and an appearance on the Concertgebouw's 'Russian Series' in Amsterdam. A recording of short 19th century Russian works entitled 'Les Vendredis' (after the club to which all the composers belonged) is due out in their 20th anniversary year for SIMAX Classics, the record label that has been supportive to the quartet from the outset.
During 2004/05 they are also tour in the UK appearing in Cardiff, Glasgow, Oxford, Nottingham and return to the Wigmore Hall with a new commission for voice and quartet by Julian Philips with Gerald Finley as soloist. They perform in Copenhagen, and in Stockholm as part of an extensive tour of Sweden, and in Summer 2005 they are guest artists at a residency-festival in Portugal, directed by the pianist, Stephen Kovacevich.
The Vertavo Quartet's recent discography includes quartets by Nielsen, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg and Debussy, all for SIMAX Classics, as well as a recording of Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets with Martin Fröst for BIS Records. Their recording of the Debussy and Grieg quartets received the Diapason d'Or and was highly praised by Gramophone magazine: "Captivating performances which get right to the heart of these intensely emotional works - Not to be missed." Their recording of the complete Bartók Quartets, released in November 2001, has been equally well received, with the BBC Music Magazine selecting it as “Pick of the Month” in May 2002.
The Vertavo Quartet are dedicated to music education. In Norway, they are the Quartet in Residence for Hedmark County, where their concert series is supported by a strong educational element, including masterclasses, individual tuition and family concerts. Since 1995, the Vertavo Quartet have been sponsored by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines, and they receive financial support from the Norwegian Cultural Council.
A few quotes from international media:
- Norway's Vertavo Quartet, whose members are in their mid-thirties, proved they don't need the concessions allowed to young players. This is simply a high-quality ensemble, age apart. The group showed dedication, technical skill and, above all, great imagination…a seamless range of communal expression, from boldness and rigour to rich vibrancy and elastic phrasing. [The Strad, April 2004]
- Das ist jederzeit spannendes, hochmusikalisches Schumanspiel! [Klassik heute]
- These are passionate, comfortable, and lyrical readings. [...] They bring out the most intimate qualities in Brahms's chamber music, and then, in the complete accord with the music, make split-seccond contrasts and suddenly play with unabashed exuberance [American Record Guide]
- The Vertavo's way of emphasising the expressive line in Bartok's string quartets is thoroughly convincing. The recordings are excellent, too: close and well-focused but with a sense of space around the instruments. Strongly recommended.
[BBC Music Magazine 'Pick of the month' ]
- Unfailingly expressive playing brings out fully the intensely emotional character. Not to be missed!