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An intriguing and thought-provoking album from German composer Peter Ruzicka, played by the Arditti Quartet, currently in the news as winners of the coveted Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis, the most important contemporary music award.

The four string quartets on this recording - as well as the short study Klangschatten (composed for the 90th birthday of Viennese publisher Alfred Schlee) - show several perspectives of a composer whose music, as Thomas Schäfer writes, "hesitates, leaves things open, withdraws, looks for silence - only to suddenly break out again, searching wildly, rebelling desperately." This music moves between extremes, "the disturbing calm of bows drawn tonelessly across the tailpieces in the third quartet and the breathless rush of the second quartet's eccitato movement. 'Music announcing a personal credo', it would formerly have been called. The composer himself sees the quartets as 'extracts from a diary: notes of interim states of body and mind, my "inner world"'s reaction to events, signs and experiences - "world-images".'

At present, Peter Ruzicka is at work on a commission from the Dresden State Opera. His music theatre piece "Celan" will be premiered there in March 2001. Ruzicka has often cited the poetry of Paul Celan as the "defining non-musical inspiration" behind his work, and the String Quartets are also touched by Celan's influence, in particular the second quartet, "...fragment...".

Early in 1970, Ruzicka traveled to Paris to seek Celan's permission to set some of his poems. By this point, the composer noted, Celan had reduced his poetry, "withdrawing linguistic form, until nothing was left but traces, mere ciphers." Paul Celan, who died in April of 1970, was - in Ruzicka's view - almost literally writing himself out of existence. In tribute, Ruzicka offers music that often skirts the borderland of inaudibility. This idea of "disappearance" recurs throughout the string quartets, "in which traces of memories of the past come into conflict with real time." Personal reminiscences are cross-referenced with musical and literary ones. Liner note writer Thomas Schäfer finds echoes, stressed and implied, in the Ruzicka string quartets, of Webern, Mahler, Bartók, Ives, Beethoven, Ligeti, Wagner, di Lasso, Stravinsky, B.A. Zimmermann and Hans Pfitzner, as well as Huxley and Rimbaud and Celan and of course the authors directly quoted in the Fourth Quartet: Handke, von Hofmannsthal, Adorno, Dieter Schnebel, Ingeborg Bachmann, Cesare Pavese, and Wittgenstein - extracts from whose work are read by one of the most famous lieder singer of our century, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, heard here in an unfamiliar role.

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Born in Düsseldorf in 1948, Peter Ruzicka graduated from the Hamburg Conservatory and took additional studies with Hans Werner Henze and with Hans Otte, composers he has long felt close to, "though without any obvious influence or dependence " as Hanspeter Krellmann once put it; they can be said to be allied in their distance from prevailing modern music trends, perhaps (each has gone his own way in his compositional endeavours, drawing upon the widest range of musical sources).

In 1969 Ruzicka received the Förderpreis der Stadt Stuttgart for his cantata "Esta Noche", the first of many awards. His early string quartet "...fragment..." (included on this New Series release) was a prize-winning entry at the Béla Bartók competition in Budapest the following year, and there were further awards for his orchestral pieces "Metastrophe" and "In processo di tempi" at the International Rostrum of Composers in France and the Gaudeamus Competition in Holland, for instance.

For many years Ruzicka has juggled compositional and conducting activities with organisatorial and teaching duties. He has been variously professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, artistic advisor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Hamburg State Opera, and most recently artistic director of the Munich Biennale, a post he took over from Henze in 1996.

Ruzicka's extensive oeuvre emphasizes particularly orchestral works and vocal and chamber music. His music has been played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Deutsches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, the Munich Philharmonic, and all the radio symphony orchestras of Germany (NDR, BR, WDR, SDR, HR, MDR, SWF, and SR) as well as the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich, the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, the great Orchestras of London, Paris, and Leningrad/St Petersburg. Conductors who have performed his work include Gerd Albrecht, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Michael Gielen, Kurt Masur, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Christian Thielemann, and Lothar Zagrosek.

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Irvine Arditti was born in London in 1953 and founded the Arditti String Quartet in 1974 when still a student at the Royal Academy of Music. During his tenure as concert master of the London Symphony Orchestra he kept the ensemble active, subsequently devoting his full attention to it from 1980. Since then it has been widely recognised as the quartet most ardently committed to the cause of new music, and its more than 80 albums have received numerous awards. The quartet has collaborated with very many contemporary composers which in turn has resulted in a flood of commissions and first performances. Amongst the composers who have written for the Arditti Quartet are Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Mauricio Kagel, Iannis Xenakis, Friedrich Cerha, Harrison Birtwistle, and György Ligeti. The Arditti Quartet first recorded for ECM New Series in 1986, playing Gavin Bryars's piece "Between the National and the Bristol".

Second violinist Graeme Jennings was born in Australia in 1968 and studied in Queensland and San Francisco. Active as a chamber musician and recitalist, he is acclaimed both for his performances of baroque and contemporary repertoire. In 1991 in San Francisco he formed the Conservatory String Quartet, a group renowned for its marathon single-evening performances of Elliott Carter's complete string quartets. Jennings joined the Arditti Quartet as second violinist in September 1994.

At the time of the Ruzicka recordings (1996 and 1997), the violist in the Arditti Quartet was Garth Knox, who was born in Ireland in 1956 and grew up in Scotland. From 1978 Knox was active as a freelance player in London, working with the London Sinfonietta, the Ballet Rambert, the English Chamber Orchestra and many others. In 1980 Hans Werner Henze wrote a viola sonata for Knox; in 1983 Boulez invited him to join the Ensemble Intercontemporain. After a seven-year sojourn in Paris with Boulez, Knox returned to the UK to join the Ardittis in 1990. He left the quartet in 1998. Recent activities have included a duo with New Series recording artists Kim Kashkashian. They performed together at the ECM festival in Badenweiler in May 1999.

Cellist Rohan de Saram was born to Sri Lankan parents in Sheffield, England in 1939. He studied with Cassádo in Sienna from the age of 12 and also with Casals in Puerto Rico. Increasingly involved with contemporary music, de Saram joined the Arditti Quartet in 1979. Both as a member of the quartet and as soloist he has worked closely with numerous contemporary composers, including Xenakis, Pousseur, Ligeti and Berio. He is also one of relatively few new music interpreters to have delved deeply into the world of improvisation. Previously a member of the innovative ensemble AMM he has also toured and recorded with Markus Stockhausen's "Possible Worlds" group. An ECM New Series recording with Rohan de Saram is currently in preparation.

The Arditti Quartet receive the Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis at an awards ceremony in Munich on June 23th.

CD package includes 36 page three-language booklet with liner notes by Thomas Schäfer.

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