our international musicians, four unique personalities, one string quartet. The Barbican Quartet is an original voice on the chamber music scene, delighting audiences with their intimately powerful performances and virtuosic ensemble playing. Their name has a dual meaning: a 'Barbican' is a defensive wall surrounding a city or castle, which the quartet connects to their quest to discover, develop and continue the tradition of string quartet playing. The quartet is also deeply connected to London, as it was here at the Barbican Center that the quartet had their founding concert in 2015. Now the international quartet (who boasts 4 nationalities and a total of 7 languages between them) spends its time between London and Munich.

Around mid-2020, while there was a tremendous surge of online performances and efforts to display creativity in all shapes and forms, mostly through the platform offered by social media, our quartet decided to stay quiet and take a moment to make sense of the situation and internalise it individually. Our performance flow was interrupted suddenly. We had been running mostly on adrenalin for about a week, with constant early flights and dragging of suitcases. Having been on the road nonstop for a couple of months and although it had been hugely enjoyable, there was certainly a sense of relief at the prospect of spending some time at home. Quartet life, even at its best is exhausting. It is also exhilarating. So there were a lot of mixed feelings involved. To top the pandemic and the daunting future, we were still processing the fact that our second violinist decided to leave just weeks before. We went from a steady path toward something we thought we all wanted to absolute zero. The three of us had our first ever video call a few days after the lockdown in UK had officially begun, two of us in London, one in Vienna, and we decided to stay quiet for a while and make sense of the situation. Amidst the social media euphoria we decided to take a break. 

We knew we wanted to continue playing together and finding a new member became a priority. I can’t explain how difficult it is to search for someone to be an enormous part of our life during this depressing time when we doubted our future every other day. We were looking for someone who was both a fantastic player as well as a free and creative musician, someone who would fit in our group chemistry but also bring another vivid personality… we weren’t demanding at all… 

View from plane

Our first communication with James, whom Christoph knew from his time in Mozarteum, was very scarce and I am being honest when I say that Amarins and I boarded our flight to Vienna in August in order to meet, we weren’t very hopeful. Are we seriously going away for a week to just play with someone that Christoph met years ago? 

We were pleasantly surprised! James fit in our quartet like a missing piece. We played through so much repertoire, and as we grew more and more adjusted each day, we felt like this could really be something special. Amongst other things, we had revived our excitement about playing together. It was soul crushing at the end of our week together to leave with the bittersweet feeling that logistically it would make very little sense to start playing with James. In the upcoming months we continued our search, and it was a real rollercoaster. Eventually we decided to follow our gut and meet James again. We arranged to travel to Germany and play together, and it felt right. That’s when we made our first video recording together, Schubert’s Quartetsatz and Haydn’s Sunrise quartet. 

Barbican quartet playingJames from Barbican Quartet

We welcomed James to our quartet, and although the following few months were hugely disappointing due to our inability to meet on account of the pandemic, we are excited to continue our journey together. We have some wonderful projects coming up in the future and we are staying hopeful that performing and live music will be revived once the world wakes up from its current slumber. 

From the moment things went crazy last year, I’ve often thought about a fantastic excerpt from Lord of the Rings, when Frodo struggles with the burden of the ring:

 “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Time had been given to us. We decided to dedicate this time to ourselves individually and do many of the things we don’t normally get the chance to. In the past year we all had moments of crazy cooking, Amarins is running 10k regularly now, James has been composing and I have rediscovered my love for reading. I think it will be so rewarding to return to our quartet with a deeper appreciation for every moment and every performance. For us this has been much more important than trying to keep up an online presence and inventing projects at distance which only make us miss live performances more badly. It has made us realise exactly why we love playing together. 

There is nothing more special than finding your voice supported by three others in the midst of a sublime masterpiece, when the tension in the hall can be cut with a knife and every person in the audience is involved in this experience of wholeness… We long for these moments to be back, but until then, we have equipped ourselves with patience. It might be one of the most important things the pandemic has taught us. 


Visit the website of the Barbican Quartet here.

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