"...The Moscow String Quartet is the leading exponent of my music and of contemporary Soviet music in general. This extraordinary ensemble distinguishes itself with refined musical style, an unusually beautiful sound and palette of colors, and a tremendous artistic temperament. The Moscow String Quartet is, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding quartets in the world today."
— Alfred Schnittke
Described by Alfred Schnittke as "an extraordinary ensemble that distinguishes itself with refined musical style, an unusually beautiful sound, and a tremendous artistic temperament", the Moscow String Quartet has emerged as one of the major Russian chamber ensembles of today. Known as passionate promoters of twentieth century Western music in Russia and contemporary Soviet music in the West, the quartet was inspired by the great Russian masters such as David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels and the original Borodin Quartet.
The quartet members, graduates of the Moscow Conservatory and Gnessin Musical Institute in Moscow, met in the class of renowned cellist Valentin Berlinsky of the Borodin Quartet. After graduating, the quartet made its first recording jointly with the Borodin Quartet: Shostakovich’s Octet for strings - a collaboration that continued in numerous performances. The Moscow String Quartet went on to gain international acclaim by winning the Leo Weiner International Quartet Competition in Budapest, Hungary. It also won First Prize for best performance of Classical music and Grand-Prix for its interpretation of contemporary music at the International Quartet Competition in Evian, France.
During Soviet times, the quartet was the only one to perform the "Lyric Suite" by Berg, Bartok’s quartets, the "Ode to Napoleon" by Schoenberg, Luigi Nono’s quartet "Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima" and Toru Takemitsu’s quartet. They were also the first to unveil "unofficial" and "non-conformist" composers of the Soviet underground, who were not as appreciated in their own country as abroad. Among these composers were Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina and Alfred Schnittke, with whom members of the ensemble had formed close relationships. Numerous works were written for the ensemble by these composers, and the quartet’s performances of their works introduced them to audiences outside the Soviet Union.
The members of the Moscow String Quartet have especially fond memories of their performance at the Berlin Stadium during the commemoration of the falling of the Berlin Wall, organized by Willy Brandt, the Mayor of West Berlin at that time. Many famous musicians from around the world gathered to celebrate this historic event, Schnittke among them. He reached out to the quartet and asked them to perform his composition, which was very well received by the audience.
By now the quartet has played to consistent critical acclaim in the major concert halls of Europe, with regular performances at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Salle Gaveau in Paris, Wigmore Hall in London, Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the Academy of Arts in Berlin. In North America, the ensemble has appeared, among others, in New York City (Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Frick Collection), Philadelphia, Washington, DC (White House, Smithsonian Institute), Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa. In addition, the quartet has appeared at many prestigious festivals, including Sviatoslav Richter’s "December Nights" Festival, Paris and City of London Festivals, Holland Festival, Berliner Festwochen, Stratford-upon-Avon and Cheltenham Festivals, Casals Festivals in Prades and San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Catalonia Festival in Spain, the Newport and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.
The Moscow String Quartet has recorded for MCA, Fine Arts Records, Chant Du Monde, Channel Classics, Russian Disc and Melodiya, including works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Taneyev, Denisov, and Schnittke. A Shostakovich recording is scheduled for release. The Quartet has been also featured in documentaries about Alfred Schnittke (1989, Russian TV) and Sofia Gubaidulina (1988-1989, BBC). And a documentary about the Moscow String Quartet was later produced by Denver Center Media (1994).