Shostakovich Project

Shostakovich Cycle

When Artaria was looking for a challenging and transformative performance project several promising options were considered, but, invariably we kept coming back to the quartets of Shostakovich. Artaria had been introduced to his quartets almost clandestinely as part of a “Festival without End” as grad students in Boston in the 80’s. The faculty asked the budding Artaria Quartet to join them as guest artists on this exciting new celebration of the composer’s works. They assigned us quartet No.7 to perform, a mercurial but modest sized work and we dove in with abandon. A week later one member of the faculty quartet interrupted us mid-rehearsal and announced flatly that they would be playing Quartet No.7 and we would have to learn Quartet No.9, a monumental and significantly longer piece of music. Stunned, but unfazed we got the music from the library and pressed forward. We never looked back.


Shostakovich’s music is gripping, passionate, sarcastic, “in the drawer” - everything our twenty-something minds was looking to embrace. Now more than quarter century further down the road, these values hold somewhat different meanings for us. However the music is no less powerful or important, still full of truth and yearning.


The 15 masterpieces that make up the cycle of Shostakovich’s string quartets are at once overwhelming and yet strangely familiar. The over arching themes of power and fear, anger and sadness, faith and hope, singular and collective pervade each movement and allow the listener a personal journey. No two people come away from a performance moved in the same way – but moved they are and in a significant way.


We started our quartet cycle in the summer of 2011 with the plan of dividing and conquering. As we had other repertoire to perform, all 15 would have been too much for one season, so we decided to perform them over 2 seasons of concerts.


When the Schubert Club heard our plans, they engaged us to present a series of January Courtroom Concerts at the Landmark Center in St. Paul as well as a set of public concerts in downtown Minneapolis. Because of the hour long programs at the Landmark we had to select optimum pairings both in regard to time and what we already in our repertoire. This was how we arranged things:


Shostakovich Cycle


Program 1



Program 2



Program 3



Program 4




Program 5



Program 6



Program 7



Program 8




Year one went splendidly. We were exhausted by the end of February after giving 20 full concerts in 6 weeks! It was exhilarating as the reception was excellent. And the concerts were packed as well, some standing room only. As Rob Hubbard wrote about the Schubert Club concerts we played, “…very satisfying”.


Year Two of the Cycle had to be postponed due an illness in the quartet and was replaced by our East Meets West concerts with our guest artists. When we did resume in the summer of 2013 we were full of urgency to complete the cycle and afraid that we might not. Fortunately we had already begun some of the quartets before our break and it made for an easier ride into the January concerts of 2014. That’s good, because there were 18 concerts, 15 in January alone – quite appropriate of course as there are 15 Shostakovich quartets.


The event was a watershed moment for Artaria and comments from people who had not heard us in years noted that we had improved immeasurably in both confidence and presentation. We look forward to our next project!


Shostakovich Quartet No.12
Live performance at St. Olaf College in February 2012