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The Cremona Quartet: Carrying forward the legacy of Stradivari

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 12 October 2017, 12:16 IST
(Priyanka Chharia/Catch News)

Cremona is a city with a rich and storied musical tradition. Home to the greatest luthiers (violin makers) ever – from the Amatis to Guarneri and, of course, Stradivari – the city's proud musical legacy carries on even today. So, when you hear a string quartet from Cremona is town, the expectations are naturally sky high. For those expectations to then be exceeded, and comfortably so, is a testament to just how good the Quartetto di Cremona are.

The highlight on day four of IIC's Festival of the Arts, the Italian quartet was in sublime form as they mesmerised the audience with their diverse repertoire. From light and soothing to tense and ominous, each piece by the talented group seemed to take the audience on a journey, telling stories through music.

Now one of the most acclaimed string quartets in the world, the ensemble originally met some two decades ago in their native city of Genoa. “We've been together as a group 16 years, since the end of 2001. However, we met earlier when we all studied in the same conservatory in Genoa,” violinist Cristiano Gualco told Catch.

Priyanka Chharia/Catch News
Priyanka Chharia/Catch News

Indeed, it would only be a few years later, after a spell where each one went abroad for further studies, that the group would actually be formed. “After our time abroad, Simone and I formed the quartet in Cremona, and shortly after Giovanni and Paolo joined,” Gualco says, recounting the formation of the group.

While many classical musicians tend to ply their trade in orchestras, the quartet came together out of a shared need for freedom. “In a quartet you have the freedom to actually decide whatever you want about the music. You have the freedom to actually make your own interpretation, and the luck to be able to play one piece for many years and really grow with the music,” Gualco explains.

While the groups members do perform as soloists from time to time, the main focus is on building the quartet's legacy. “90% of our career is with the quartet. This is our first priority. From time to time we can do a concert as soloists, but our main goal is to be together as a quartet and continue to build the name of the quartet,” the band explains.

Priyanka Chharia/Catch News

Given that the group is called the Quartetto di Cremona, it's understandable that the ensemble would feel the pressure to build on Cremona's rich legacy, but Gualco says that isn't the case. “I do not know if I'd call our Cremona connection pressure. Actually, there is a lot of pride.” 

In fact, as the ensemble tell us, they didn't even have the city's musical history in mind when they first came up with the name. “Honestly, when we started, we were much younger and we didn't think of the violin making of Cremona. We just thought that since we started the quartet in Cremona, so why not call ourselves after the city,” they reveal.

However, with time, as the ensemble has continued to gain acclaim, their relationship with the city has strengthened to the point where they are now honorary citizens of Cremona. “In time we realised that we were also representing the city's tradition of violin making, and now we're very proud of it because we play instruments from Cremona, we teach there, we have a very good relationship with the city,” Gualco admits.

It is this connection with Cremona that has seen them bestowed with the honour of performing on instruments crafted by the famous luthier Antonio Stradivari. “We are ambassadors for Friends of Stradivari, an association that is based in Cremona. The aim [of the organisation] is to bring back for exhibition and concert all the fine violins made in Cremona – of course Stradivaris, Guarneris, Amatis. Through this organisation and their connection with the Nippon Music Foundation we have received four Strads,” viola player Simone Gramaglia told Catch

The honour was all the sweeter for the ensemble as the instruments were originally owned by Niccolo Paganini, arguably the finest violinist of all time, who also hails from the groups home town of Genoa. They do full justice to this pedigree, with every note of theirs a joy to behold. This was the group's first time in India, music lovers will be hoping it isn't the last.

Priyanka Chharia/Catch News
First published: 11 October 2017, 18:59 IST