Founded by violinist Irvine Arditti in 1974 while he was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Arditti Quartet has established itself as one of the world's foremost chamber ensembles dedicated to contemporary music. Literally hundreds of new works have been written for the quartet, and the group has made it a priority to work closely with the composers it commissions. Among the very long list of composers who have written for the quartet are: Harrison Birtwistle, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, Sofia Gubaidulina, Mauricio Kagel, György Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis. In addition, the Arditti Quartet has performed and recorded most of the major string quartet repertoire of the 20th century.
With an interest in new music, violinist Irvine Arditti began working with like-minded colleagues. One of those was the talented cellist Rohan de Saram, the other pillar of the quartet who joined in 1979 and was a member until 2005. Lucas Fels took over the position in 2006. Second violinist Graeme Jennings began with the group in 1994 and was replaced in 2005 by Ashot Sarkissjan. Violist Dov Scheindlin joined in 1997 and was replaced by Ralf Ehlers in 2002.
As the quartet became established in the 1980s, it was invited to perform at contemporary music festivals throughout the world. The Arditti Quartet has contributed greatly to the revitalization of the string quartet as a relevant musical genre to new audiences and musicians. The ensemble was awarded the 1999 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for life-time achievement, one of the most prestigious prizes in Europe. The group has been honored with many other awards, particularly for its recordings.
By 2009, the Arditti Quartet had released over 180 CDs. The major collections are found on the French label, Auvidis Montaigne, which numbers over 40 discs. These include important historical works from composers such as those of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern); the collected works of prominent composers such as Carter, Pascal Dusapin, Ferneyhough, Toshio Hosokawa, Kagel, and Xenakis; and sets of pieces from different countries and regions, including Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, and the U.S.
In 1982, the members of the quartet were signed on as tutors at the prestigious Darmstadt Summer Course for New Music, returning for each bi-annual session until 1996. Master classes, workshops, and a busy touring and recording schedule continue to be the primary components of the quartet's activities.
While the quartet has remained extremely active for over 25 years, the individual members continue to pursue other musical activities. Irvine Arditti and Rohan de Saram, in particular, have had a number of solo works written for them by some of the composers who have written for the group. The close relation established between the quartet and particular composers has led to a proliferation of different chamber combinations. Carter and Xenakis, for example, have written piano quintets, and Ferneyhough's Fourth String Quartet includes a part for soprano. Electronics have also been incorporated into compositions by Roger Reynolds and Gerard Pape. It is safe to say that through all of its activities and steadfast dedication to the music of our time, the Arditti Quartet has established itself as a vital force in the world of contemporary chamber music.