It was in 1981 at short notice, we were asked to play Elliott’s third quartet in Paris. First a workshop with Boulez and then a performance at the Centre Pompidou. Being thrust in at the deep end with his most difficult quartet formed a bond not only between the Arditti quartet and the music, but also between myself and the man. Grappling with these unforeseen problems changed my perception of music within the 20th Century string quartet world I was in.
The European avant-garde had not at this point found its way into the historic string quartet tradition laid down by masters of the past. It was clear to see that Carter on the other hand, with his beautifully well written, but difficult string parts had an eye to the future as well as on the past. Melodic lines here play a very important part for this connection and this was something that also attracted more traditional performers to his music.
In Carter’s chamber music, the difficulty is not so much to play the individual part but to connect everything together: To play accurately with each player in a different tempo where very often nothing falls together.
Carter was a generous man to his performers, treating them with the greatest respect and having the confidence to allow them to find their own solutions to the problems he had created.
I was very happy that the Arditti Quartet was the inspiration for his fifth and last major work for the genre. We had already formed a close relationship with the man and his music and this work, in a way, cemented that relationship.
He has left us with five major quartets as well as several other works involving string quartet, putting him in a position to be one of the most important string quartet writers in the 20th Century.