For its 20th anniversary, the internationally-celebrated Cuarteto Casals is launching a large-scale Beethoven cycle in 2017/2018, both in the studio and the concert hall, including performances in London, Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Madrid, as well as the German cities of Hamburg, Bonn and Berlin. In a series of concerts entitled "Beethoven Illuminated Anew", the ensemble will combine the Beethoven quartets with new compositions, and to this end has commissioned works from composers from Mediterranean countries, including Giovanni Sollima (Italy) and Mauricio Sotelo (Spain).
Those of us who can look back on long-lasting partnerships understand the almost inexplicable familiarity they produce: the shared feeling of knowing instinctively how one’s partner will react in any given situation. Psychologists call this enviable state a "congruent partnership". Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist, described such interpersonal relationships as a true blessing: "I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person. When this is done, I feel contact has been made.”
Even if Satir did not primarily have music in mind, one could hardly find a better description of how cooperation in an ensemble - and particularly in a string quartet "family" - should ideally work. And it is this kind of partnership that Abel Tomàs Realp and Vera Martínez Mehner (violins), Jonathan Brown (viola since 2002) and Arnau Tomàs Realp (violoncello) have cultivated to perfection over the past two decades: "After 20 years, the last 15 of them with the same members, we have experienced so much together and know one another inside and out. Nevertheless, playing string quartets is always a living process of discovery: the notes are the same, but we experience them differently in every concert. After such a long time together, we feel even freer and more unrestrained than before.”
Having regularly given concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Berlin Philharmonie and London’s Wigmore Hall, among many other important venues, these four virtuosos have long been recognised as the first Spanish string quartet of international standing. Shortly after its founding in 1997, a critic from the music journal The Strad already predicted a golden future for Cuarteto Casals, describing it as: "A quartet for the new millennium if ever I heard one." First prizes at various competitions followed, including the London String Quartet Competition and the international Brahms Competition in Hamburg and later, the Premio Nacional de Música in Spain.
The prestigious Borletti-Buitoni Trust awarded the quartet a grant which enabled the purchase of a matching set of Classical bows. This flexibility in the quartet’s instrumental "hardware" as well as the fact that the violinists take turns playing the first part according to the repertoire, is emblematic of a profound intellectual engagement with the quartet literature and a unique sensitivity to stylistic differences between composers. One of the keys to its success is doubtless the rigorously observed democratic principles which form the basis of Cuarteto Casals: "We are very disciplined and when not on tour or holiday, rehearse every day for many hours. Rehearsal time is divided up exactly in four, and every member takes responsibility in turn. On every level, logistically and musically, we truly are a democracy.”
Cuarteto Casals deserved renown, sustained over many years of critical acclaim is also reflected in its principle anniversary project for 2017/2018, entitled "Beethoven Illuminated Anew". For its traversal of the complete Beethoven’s string quartets divided over six concerts, and with the assistance of prominent international partners and concert halls, the ensemble has been able to commission six short works from composers from southern Europe, each of whom was asked to respond to a different aspect of the Beethoven quartets: Matan Porat (premiere Sep. 11, Wigmore Hall London), Mauricio Sotelo (premiere Oct. 3, L‘Auditori Barcelona), Giovanni Sollima (premiere Nov. 14, Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi Turin), Aureliano Cattaneo (premiere Jan. 20, 2018, Cité de la Musique Paris), Lucio Franco Amanti (premiere Jan. 29, 2018, Het Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ Amsterdam) and Benet Casablancas (premiere May 24, 2018, Auditorio Nacional de Música CNDM Madrid). Underlying this exciting aspect of Cuarteto Casals’ anniversary project is Beethoven’s undeniable role as the “Christopher Columbus of Music" (Richard Wagner), forever pointing the way towards uncharted territory: “'An absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever': that is how Stravinsky described the Grosse Fuge. We want to open new possibilities for future quartets, so we have commissioned six composers each to write a short musical commentary on a specific program from our Beethoven cycle. New works are the best way to celebrate Beethoven’s legacy and we are looking forward to hearing what ‘our’ composers have discovered as Beethoven showed how one person’s imagination can change the history of music.”
However, the centrepiece of the concerts and recordings for harmonia mundi will naturally be the 16 Beethoven quartets themselves. “Playing the complete Beethoven quartets is the greatest challenge for any string quartet. Essentially, we have prepared for this for 20 years and are very excited to finally be able to play the cycle in its entirety. It is a journey through all facets of human experience: from the most comical, absurd scenes to the most profound and intimate movements in Western music. It is a kind of miracle that Beethoven’s music is at once extraordinarily personal and universal at the same time … always greater than any one individual.”
In its explicit bid to “newly illuminate” Beethoven's quartet works, the Cuarteto Casals has chosen a characteristically innovative structural arrangement for its studio recordings. The works will not be presented in the typical grouping of early, middle and late periods: rather they will be arranged according to each quartet’s place within Beethoven’s musical development. In each of these three periods, there are works of the “beginning”, i.e. of first inspiration and exploration (“Inventions”), followed by works of the “centre”, i.e. works with in which the full potential of Beethoven’s language is fully realised (“Revelations”), and finally works of “transfiguration”: a conclusion or closing, yet with an intimation of possibilities to come (“Apotheosis”). The first of the three box-sets, “Inventions” (with op. 18,1; op. 18,3; op. 18,4; op. 59,1; op. 127; op. 135), is scheduled to appear on the label harmonia mundi in spring 2018, and the remaining two sets will be issued in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Over the course of the next season, audiences will have the opportunity to experience this unique Beethoven cycle live in cities throughout Europe including London (Wigmore Hall), Berlin (Philharmonie), Barcelona (L’Auditori), Torino (Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi), Amsterdam String Quartet Biennale (Muziekgebouw), Vienna (Konzerthaus), Lisbon (Gulbenkian Foundation), Madrid (Auditorio Nacional), Vilabertrán (Schubertiade) and Japan (Suntory Hall) as well as in individual concerts in cities including Bonn, Edinburgh, Rotterdam, Luxembourg, Hamburg and Zurich.