Founded in Warsaw in 1995, the Szymanowski Quartet has developed into one of the most exceptional international string quartets of its generation. Their sophisticated programs present a perfect balance between intellect and passion, characteristics that have captivated audiences at festivals and concert halls throughout Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australia.
The Szymanowski Quartet has received numerous prizes and distinctions for its extraordinarily high standards. They won first prizes at Hanover's "In Memoriam Dimitri Schostakowitsch" and at the "Premio Vittorio Gui" Competition in Florence, and were prizewinners at both the Osaka and the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competitions. From 2001-2003 the Quartet participated in the "New Generation Artists Scheme" of BBC Radio 3 in London. In 2005 they received the "Szymanowski Award" of the Karol Szymanowski Foundation in Warsaw, the first time given to a string quartet, and the Polish government awarded them the Medal of Honor for service to Polish culture in 2007.
The ensemble performs throughout the world in major concert halls: New York's Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vienna's Musikverein, the Konzerthaus in Berlin and Grünewald Hall in Stockholm. Their annual North American tours have included concerts in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver and Montreal. The ensemble is a regular guest at prominent international festivals including Schleswig-Holstein and Rheingau, Mozartfest Würzburg, Bregenz and Schwetzingen, Niedersächsische Musiktage as well Lockenhaus, Luxemburg, London, Cheltenham, Bath and Perth. In 2008 the SQ founded the Lviv Chamber Music Festival at the UNESCO World Heritage site on the border between the Ukraine and Poland.
Along with standard classical-romantic repertoire, the SQ's strong commitment to contemporary music includes music by Magnus Lindberg, Elena Kats-Chernin, Philip Cashian, Thomas Larcher and Andrew Toowey, several of whom dedicated their works to the Quartet. Recordings from their BBC concerts document the artistic versatility of the ensemble. The Avie label has released a CD of Haydn, Bacewicz and Dvořák and a classical / jazz crossover recording, "Pure Desmond." In 2009 the Quartet launched the Cavi-music record label, focusing on composer Karol Szymanowski in the context of the music capitals Paris, Vienna and Moscow. Recent recordings include the Shostakovich and Weinberg quintets for Hänssler Classic and music of Zelenski and Zarebski released on Hyperion in December 2012. The Szymanowski Quartet was the February / March 2012 cover feature of "Ensemble", the German magazine for chamber music, interviewed in an article entitled "Intellect and Passion."
The Szymanowski Quartet studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover with teacher and mentor Hatto Beyerle. Further study has been with Isaac Stern, Walter Levin and the Amadeus, Emerson, Juilliard and Guarneri Quartets. The Szymanowski Qaurtet has been the "Quartet in Residence" at the Musikhochschule Hanover since 2000.
AGATA SZYMCZEWSKA was born in 1985 in Koszalin, Poland. She won the 2006 Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poznań and was the first winner of the London Music Masters Award, making her Wigmore Hall debut in 2009 followed by a 2010 invitation to play at Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vanska.
She has since performed with orchestras and in chamber music performances across Europe and in Israel, Canada, China, Korea and Japa, and joins Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi on its first North American tour in November 2014. Her discography includes chamber performances of Grażyna Bacewicz’s Piano Quintets, and a recording of Bruch and Mendelssohn violin concertos paired with Wieniawski’s Legend. Agata Szymczewska plays an Antonio Stradivarius violin (Cremona, ca. 1680) on loan from Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben.
GRZEGORZ KOTÓW was born in 1972 in Walbrzych, Poland. After studies in his home country he transferred to the University of Music and Drama in Hanover, working with Krzysztof Wegrzyn and Hatto Beyerlee on scholarships from the DAAD and the Polish Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs. He is laureate of numerous national and international competitions. His performances both as soloist and in chamber music have taken him throughout the world. He currently teaches chamber music at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover. Grzegorz Kotów plays a violin made by Hans Schicker (Freiburg im Breisgau) in 1999.
VLADIMIR MYKYTKA was born into a family of musicians in 1972 in Lviv, Ukraine. He began violin lessons at age five, later attending the school of music for exceptionally gifted youth at the Conservatory in Lviv. He later studied at the Academy of Music F. Chopin in Warsaw with Janusz Kucharski, and with Hatto Beyerle at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover. He is a laureate of numerous international competitions and teaches chamber music at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover. In addition to the Szymanowski Quartet, he works closely with other world-class musicians, playing regularly as a duo with pianist Claudia Rinaldi. Vladimir Mykytka plays a viola made by Hans Schicker (Freiburg im Breisgau) in 1983.
MARCIN SIENIAWSKI was born in 1970 in Warsaw, and began cello lessons at age eight. Following early studies in Poland, he trained at the National Conservatory P.I. Tschaikovsky in Moscow and at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover with Hatto Beyerle, winning several national competitions. His chamber music concerts have taken him throughout the world. He currently teaches chamber music at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover. Marcin Sieniawski plays a cello made by Hans Schicker (Freiburg im Breisgau) in 1996.
Additional live recordings available for download:
Ludwig von Beethoven - String Quartet in C major, Op. 29: Presto
Recorded at Kammermusikfest, Lockenhaus, Austria on July 9, 2007
With Dimitri Murrath, viola
Karl Szymanowski - String Quartet No. 1, Op. 37: Lento Assai. Allegro moderato
Karl Szymanowski - String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56: Vivace, scherzando
Recorded at Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hanover, Germany on April 20, 2007
Ludwig von Beethoven - String Quartet in G major, Op. 18/2: Allegro Molto. Quasi Presto
Recorded at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England on March 4, 2007
IN THE PRESS
Blessed with all the virtues in Wolfratshausen, Germany: "In an exceptional chamber music concert, the Szymanowski Quartet drew the large audience to applause with a lush program of Russian string quartets. Blessed with every conceivable musical virtue, the four virtuosi played the music consistently seamlessly with an inspired interpretation."
- Merkur - May 19, 2014
Coffee Concerts in the United Kingdom: "Britten blew us away last season and on Sunday Szymanovski joined the list. The Szymanovskis comprise four different, fascinating and engaging personalities and stage presences. Each projected his performance individually. Each threw himself fully into it. So enraptured was the audience that there was an encore: the strikingly direct Melody by Skoryk. Kotów gave themes character and was mindful of classical style in a way that awakened and alerted the ear. Bielow reveled in the high topstring regions he was sent to by Szymanovski and Dvorak, satisfyingly rounded off another remarkably expanding Coffee Concert Series."
- Chichester Observer - March 25, 2014
Munich's Residenz palace: "The Szymanowski Quartet plays in such a highly communicatative way. They demonstrated that music at once joins together different characteristics, the unity of diversity, while at the same time allowing diversity to unfold. A distinct sense of humor, bold contours and tonal nuances distinguish this ensemble. Gubaidulina's 3 Quartet was a success, like listening to all manner of wind and breath sounds, from the tempestuous wind that then vanishes with gentle sighs. Their Beethoven Op. 59/3 was so infused with fresh humor that the piece suddenly seemed surprisingly modern, crazy and playful. There was tremendous applause."
- Süddeutsche Zeitung - February 20, 2014
Buffalo Chamber Music Society: “They arrived with Szymanowski’s Quartet No. 2 that gratifyingly filled a gap in repertory of the distinguished Buffalo Chamber Music Society. The hushed, whispering opening seemed like a moonlit landscape. The central Vivace was original and gritty textured, while the concluding Lento soon escalated to a furious level before ending with a stunning coda of four brazen, fortissimo, double-stopped chords. Mozart’s Quartet in D minor was played in a pensive, questioning and quietly cautious mood, closing with an intense flair. Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E minor concluded the program, with the quartet at the top of its form. It’s a stern but beautiful work that was given a strikingly effective performance.”
- Buffalo News - January 29, 2014
“The musicians captured the enchanting, singing central Andantino with seductive finesse and delicacy, dance-like virtuosos that fueled the Finale. This exquisite Szymanowski plea was unquestionably the highpoint of the evening. The heart of the delicate presentation was the wonderful slow movement, which the Quartet celebrated as an actual poetic gem. The very same ensemble brought a captivating, spirited and joyfully detailed Beethoven in Opus 59/2. This refreshingly clear and unaffected interpretation brought great pleasure.”
- Rhein-Neckar Zeitung, - Oct. 2, 2013
International Bodensee Festival with pianist Rudolf Buchbinder.
“Stunning and exhilarating: A great concert”
“This combination gave an incredible and unforgettable concert experience. On one hand, they gave the audience edification and amusement. On the other, the musicians were always in a thrilling high communication with each other. Buchbinder waited with bated breath and respect as violinist Grzegorz Kotów ended a cantilena. Violinist Andrei Bielow could respond with eyes closed, reveling in the vigilance of his teammates. All arose from the need to serve the music perfectly. As they ‘sang’ together, it was stunning. In Szymanowski’s Quartet No. 2, each of the musicians has the opportunity to shine as a soloist, and then always find each other again in homophony. Dvorák's Piano Quintet united all five musicians with devotion. Nothing better could be possible.
- Südkurier - May 21, 2013
“Saturday’s concert was world-class to the end; pianist Rudolf Buchbinder playing with the Szymanowski Quartet in the Great Hall of the baroque palace. Sold out in advance, still numerous music-lovers tried to snag a ticket.”
- Schwäbische Zeitung – May 21, 2013
Tilburg, The Netherlands:
“One of Europe’s top quartets, it stunned the audience with its extravert, analytical style and highly effective narrative power. The Szymanowski's are great advocates of the music composed by their namesake, Karol Szymanowski. Gorgeous, expressive music, full of yearning, profoundly touching and utterly gut-wrenching: a sound-world which the Szymanowski Quartet knew precisely how to depict."
- Brabants Dagblad, May 8, 2013
“This afternoon in Herbst Theatre, Chamber Music San Francisco launched its 2013 season with a recital by the Szymanowski Quartet, violinists Andrej Bielow and Grzegorz Kotów, violist Vladimir Mykytka, and cellist Marcin Sienawski. The program consisted of the fourth of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 18 string quartets in C minor, Maurice Ravel’s Quartet in F Major, and Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 106 in G Major, which gets far less attention than its composer’s Opus 96 (the “American”). The program had novelty for many in the audience.
All four seemed intently focused on the many twists in the Ravel’s rhetorical devices. The balance across the four instruments revealed all the subtlety, along with the composer’s keen ear for blending sonorities and the imaginative ways in which striking harmonies emerge from the contrapuntal interplay of the voices.”
- San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 10, 2013
“The Szymanowski Quartet shone with their wise interpretation of Haydn and highly romantic Dvorak in the Vienna Konzerthaus. An especially gratifying evening, their interpretation gives every element of melodic design its own character, with tempo and phrasing nuances that keep the mind of the listener alert with the most amazing detail. In the Second String Quartet of their namesake, the sound becomes an architectural element. The range of impressionistic colors and the rhythms unite with an expressive style to make miniature dramas. With Dvořák's G Major String Quartet, the Szymanowskis demonstrated its expertise in high Romanticism: ranging from dreamy stillness to the roaring desire to dance: all brought together by the young musicians of this quartet.”
- Die Presse - Jan. 16, 2013
Zelenski: Piano Quartet; Zarębski: Piano Quintet
“The combination of Hyperion’s state of the art recording, an inspired repertoire choice and committed, musicianly performances makes this disc a winner. A fascinating disc, lovingly produced.”
- International Piano - March / April 2013
“The Szymanowski Quartet have this music in their blood. These pitch-perfect performances should go a long way to rehabilitating some fine music.”
- Limelight - March 21, 2013
“There’s no lack of underlying conviction - the pianism meshes with the strings in a masterclass of responsive ensemble playing.”
- International Record Review - Jan. 2013
“Played with a warm, rich sound and finely crafted lines, its many subtleties of character and shifting musical currents are finely elucidated by these artists, with playing of authority and great beauty.”
- The Strad - February 2013
“The playing is first rate.”
- Grammophone - February 2013
“The playing by the Szymanowski Quartet is superb - a CD no one who loves chamber music will want to be without.”
- Classics Today - Feb. 26, 2013
“An immensely talented team tackle and vanquish this brilliant flourish of a bygone age.”
- Audiophile Audition – Feb. 13, 2013
“The Szymanowski Quartet delivers Zarabski’s ripe, folk-tinged Romanticism, indebted to Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, with real elan. Nevertheless, the Piano Quartet in C minor by Władysław Zele´nski (1837-1921) makes the bigger impression. Most notable is the Quartet's slow movement, a gorgeous romanza with a haunting main theme, which Plowright and his colleagues float exquisitely.”
- Andrew Clements, The Guardian - December 20, 2012
“The performances are outstanding and could hardly be bettered. The Szymanowski Quartet originated in Warsaw in 1995 and has gained a reputation as one of the leading string quartets of the present time.”
- Classical Music Guide - Dec. 2012
From Poland with Polish: the Szymanowski Quartet’s Passionate Recital.
“Zarebski’s Piano Quintet has suffered undeserved neglect for far too long. That may be about to change. Jonathan Plowright has teamed up with the Szymanowski Quartet to give an outstanding account, capturing the score’s emotional intensity. Virtuosity is caught here in a performance of passionate warmth. Making this CD doubly valuable is the even rarer Piano Quartet of Zelenski. The performance is impeccable. This represents an invaluable release.” Performance: ***** - BBC Music - December 2012
Concert at the Markgräfler Musikherbst: “It could move you to tears”
“From the outset, the world-renowned ensemble guaranteed that this would be an evening of outstanding chamber music. Their reading of Mendelssohn’s extraordinary work was enormously expressive, infusing the composer’s musical cry of pain with almost unbearable tension. Powerful chamber music and magnificent quartet playing! The pinnacle of this stunningly authoritative performance was reached in Schumann’s Piano Quintet. The musicians propelled their overwhelming interpretation to a powerful conclusion that left players and listeners alike on the edge of their seats. The entire auditorium celebrated with cheers and jubilant applause.”
- Badische Zeitung - Oct. 9, 2012
Opening concert of the 9th Chiemgauer Spring Music:
“The Szymanaowski Quartet opened with Beethoven's early Op.18, No. 2 in a serene, almost happy, loose interpretation. A highlight was the playful scherzo: a delight of subtle, delicate art. The Allegro molto of the conclusion made for an intense, yet relaxed ‘conversation’ performed at the highest level. With an extraordinary sense of tonal balance and deep commitment, the Szymanowski Quartet shaped Mendelssohn’s F minor String Quartet into a sublime work of art that touched the audience deeply. The lament of the Adagio was shaped by the Stradivarius of Andrej Bielow into a fine cantilena, the phrases heard in a large, quiet tension as a breath.”
- OVB Online - June 13, 2012
“The Szymanowski Quartet amazed and delighted the Beverly Hills audience. It is unlikely that any of the audience will ever forget the name of composer Karol Szymanowski. This Quartet has developed into one of the most exceptional international string quartets of its generation. Their sophisticated programs present a harmonious and perfect balance between intellect and passion; characteristics with which the Quartet captivates its audiences. Szymanowski’s Nocturne and Tarantella, an enchanting and evocative piece, received thunderous applause and brought the rather calm, cool, collected audience to a complete standing ovation. Beethoven’s Quartet in e minor was played masterfully and superbly. It also received an emotional, thunderous standing ovation, which brought the Quartet back for an encore. I have never seen such an overwhelming display of emotion, affection, applause and appreciation as for the Szymanowski Quartet.”
- Polish Music Center News, USC - March 2012
Concert in memory of Andrzej Panufnik:
“The initial introspection grows in conviction towards an affirmative close which also brings the work’s conflicting elements into unified accord – an accord that the Szymanowski Quartet conveyed in full measure with this vibrant and increasingly impassioned performance. If these artists are contemplating a recording, then so much the better, as the piece cries out for a modern account to enhance its profile as a chamber work of high standing. An impressive culmination to this concert.”
- Classicalsource.com - Oct. 28, 2011
“The Szymanowski performs with impeccable technical prowess and professional polish. The SQ’s debut album was well received. The present program is well-played and recommended.”
- Fanfare Magazine – September / October 2011
Beethoven, Schubert, Webern, Szymanowski
Cavi-music/HM CD 260085531592 (56’)
Music ***** Sound ***** With Strong Character
“To obtain an impression of the formidable intensity of this recording, a sampling of Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” would suffice. The work starts off in a near inaudible whisper, but very quickly reaches full throttle, as though it is on tenterhooks. This gripping and unusual approach also marks the early Quartet Op. 18/2 by Beethoven. Time and again the strings break the conventions regarding the kind of inflections used in classical style, driving the cheerful character of the Scherzo to the brim of over-excitement by choosing a very fast tempo and by letting the violin suddenly shriek like a slightly hysterical person. In the Finale the primarius lays into the strings several times, as though wanting to protest against the pleasant main theme, only to be purring again sweetly the next moment. These readings, full of strong character, together with the slow movement by Webern provide the context for Szymanowski’s Second String Quartet. After their first CD, entitled “Paris”, the ensemble now places the music of the composer from whom they derived their name against the backdrop of Vienna, the city in which Szymanowski lived from 1911 to 1913. The Second Quartet unites connotations of Wagner with French refinement and polytonal dissonances à la Stravinsky to form a masterpiece. The strings savor the work’s dazzling wealth of colors with luminous power. A great achievement!”
- Marcus Stäbler - Fono Forum, May 2011
“The Bohmter Kulturring’s closing season concert was an unqualified success with a presentation by the internationally renowned Szymanowski Quartet. It was clear what a top-class ensemble we were hearing. Full of charm and wit, the musicians shaped the amazingly mature Quartet in G Major of Beethoven. Every nuance was thoroughly explored, the motivic work illuminated and crystal clear, every ramification of the single voice modeled accurately to the irresistible energy of the youthful composer. A quotation from Goethe was brought to life, that with a string quartet we have an intelligent conversation among four reasonable people. For now in the world of highly gifted young string quartets, the Szymanowski Quartet ranks far ahead.”
- Oznabrücker Zeitung - March 16, 2011