The present-day Società del Quartetto, 153 years old, is the product of an evolution that was initiated in 1864 by Arrigo Boito and Tito Ricordi, to “encourage and disseminate devotion to good music through public and private concerts, especially in the Quartet and Symphonic genres.”
This evolution has been innovative yet attentive to tradition, aware of having to adjust to the changed context in which it now has to function.
With respect to tradition, the Quartetto has preserved the excellence of its performers: a quick glance at the musicians who have been our guests during the first part of the new millennium confirms that they are among the few heirs of the legendary von Bülow, Rubinstein, Busoni, Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, Horowitz, Backhaus, Cortot, Gieseking, Serkin, Lipatti, Joachim, Milstein, Heifetz, Casals, Toscanini, Richard Strauss and the many others named in our archives.
Innovation, on the other hand, began with the reopening of the Quartetto to audiences from the entire city, thereby eliminating a characteristic that was often attributed to the society: it no longer represents “a privilege for the few” but rather “a privilege for everyone.” Since 2002, whoever wishes to attend the Quartetto’s concerts may do so; this includes non-members.
But innovation is also connected to collaboration with other institutions, starting with the city council, which was a fundamental participant in the project (unique in Italy, to this day) of performing all of Bach’s cantatas; this undertaking, which took place between 1994 and 2004, received the Abbiati Prize in 1997. The Quartetto also collaborates with La Scala, which has hosted the greatest European orchestras with the most significant conductors in the world: suffice it to recall the return, in May 1993, of the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claudio Abbado – the orchestra’s first appearance here since its concert for the Quartetto in May 1900. Also at La Scala, the Quartetto has co-sponsored complete cycles of Beethoven’s string quartets and piano concerti and the series, “Great Pianists at La Scala.”
The seeds of this “opening up” were sowed in 1985, with the now historic performance of the St. Matthew Passion entrusted to the forces of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt; this mix of the Quartetto’s members with the city’s public has produced abundant fruit.
The City of Milan has recognized these efforts by conferring the Ambrogino d’oro, the city’s greatest honour, on the Quartetto.