tue 17/09/2019

Arditti Quartet, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Arditti Quartet, Wigmore Hall

Arditti Quartet, Wigmore Hall

Two difficult British exile composers receive ardent championship

The indefatigable Arditti Quartet:
Being a composer of contemporary classical music is a treacherous business. It's about the only art form in which stylistic choices can still force a creator into permanent exile. Two composers who have fallen foul of the British house style in recent decades and have sought musical asylum in America and Europe, Brian Ferneyhough and James Clarke, were receiving an extremely rare London premiere of their new string quartets at the Wigmore Hall last night. And you could see why Britain had shown them the door.

I came away from Ferneyhough's Sixth String Quartet defeated. Bafflement refused to give way to enlightenment

Share this article


Igor, I'm glad you were able to admit defeat with the Ferneyhough, simply because I think it's a position one doesn't often read from a critic. I've often heard things that I've really not got on with, but realised that I might not be clued up enough to grasp the work of a particular composer. I often think that bafflement either produces a reversion to critical clichés or critical dismissal of the work in question, so it's good to see someone honestly admitting to not understanding something. Although, there is always the possibility that it just wasn't very good!

My most rewarding experiences in music have all come with works that at first left me "baffled". When I come across a work by an established composer like Ferneyhough ("not very good"? I don't think so!) that I don't understand I am delighted. It means I have an opportunity to learn something- and often about deeper things than appreciating complex music. Stockhausen said, (though I doubt he was the first) "If you completely understood it you would learn nothing from it."

But if you don't find something to hook you in the first place, Paula, and you're not an academic or a musicologist, what's the point in continuing? If it leaves you completely cold and you decide it's entirely head-music - and Ferneyhough does that for me, though I will admit that there's so much intellectually I haven't grasped - then trust your judgment. And remember that the essence should be communication, a point Boulez mused on in a Q&A when he actually said something to the effect that composers like him might not have sufficiently taken into account the audience...

At last someone has recognised what boring and pointless sou]nds Fernyhough makes Kings new clothes? Please spare us more of this

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.