Diotima Quartet

“The new ruins of Athens”: Works by Béla Bartók and Alexandros Markeas

28 MAR 2019 
Upper Stage
Both composers set out to combine traditional and art music, the sounds of their homeland with the feel of their era, and also look back–in their own way–to Beethoven. The concertsʼ works are performed by the internationally acclaimed quartet Diotima.
Béla Bartók's six string quartets, of which we will be listening to the first two, bring together the most characteristic musical innovations of the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, they also have a lot in common with Beethoven's last quartets: their musical material is produced with exemplary economy out of a few musical 'cells', shaped in a free and organic way, inducing intense concentration in the listener, who enters a profoundly intimate world.

Alexandros Markeas relates to Beethoven in a different way: with humour, that verges sometimes to bitter, he paraphrases the title of the German composer’s hugely popular incidental music “The Ruins of Athens” (1811), in which the goddess Athena coexists with characters from Ottoman Athens. What is, for the Greek composer, the sound of the new ruins of his city, what memories do they bring to the surface, and how do they coexist alongside those other ruins which surround us for centuries?


Diotima Quartet

Yun-Peng Zhao: violin
Constance Ronzatti: violin
Franck Chevalier: viola
Pierre Morlet: cello


Béla Bartók: “Quartet no. 2” (1917)
Alexandros Markeas: “The new ruins of Athens” (2018), Greek premiere
Béla Bartók: “Quartet No. 1” (1909)

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"For me, music is a wonderful way to explore otherness. The driving forces of my work, and the foundations of a music I experience as an eminently political art, are: understanding our world through its songs and sounds, being sensitive to its contradictions and its roughness, and decoding the way we think by capturing the sonic phenomenon. 

I set out to underscore the bonds which link contrasting categories in the musical field: art and traditional music, written scores and oral transmission, improvisation and interpretation. I try to combine different times and places in order to achieve a music of our times, multifaceted and contradictory". 
Alexandros Markeas, programme notes for the 2015–2016 season of the Orchestre national de Lorraine

The subject-matter of his recent works—Une autre Odysée [Another Odyssey] (2016), Citoyenne insolente [Insolent citizen] (2014), Trois fois Hellas [Three times Greece] (2013), etc.—deals explicitly with current affairs and with Greece, as does the quartet to be performed here, which was commissioned by the Festival des Arts de Monte Carlo. 

The Diotima Quartet was founded in 1996 by graduates of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris. It has since evolved into one of the most sought-after ensembles in the world. Although the quartet has thrown itself into contemporary music, it does not limit itself to new music and performs important classical works alongside contemporary pieces. The quartet is a regular performer on the international music scene, appearing at all the important European festivals, featuring in numerous concert series, and regularly touring the US, Asia and South America. 
The quartet's recordings, which have received excellent reviews, include works by Helmut Lachenmann, Luigi Nono, George Onslow, the American composers George Crumb, Steve Reich and Samuel Barber, the revised Livre pour Quatuor by Pierre Boulez, the complete works for string quartet by the Second Viennese School, and a new series of portraits by the contemporary composers Miroslav Srnka, Alberto Posadas, Gérard Pesson and Enno Poppe. The quartet’s recording of Béla Bartók's six quartets is due for release early in 2019. A highpoint of Diotima's hectic 2018–19 season will be the start of their three-year residency at Radio France. The quartet received the European Heritage Award from the French Ministry of Culture in 2018. 

Alexandros Markeas (Athens, 1965) studied Piano and Composition at the Greek National Conservatory. He continued his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied Composition under Guy Reibel, Michael Lévinas and Marc-André Dalbavie and took first prize in Counterpoint, Fugue and Composition while simultaneously specializing in improvisation.

He was selected for IRCAM's one-year cursus programme in composition and computer music and for the Composition master class at the Aix-en-Provence festival. His works have been performed over the last 20 years in France and further afield by various symphonic ensembles (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, London Symphony Orchestra), contemporary music ensembles (Intercontemporain, Modern, Court-Circuit, Itinéraire, TM +, 2e2m), chamber groups (the Habanera, Arditti and Danel quartets) and vocal ensembles (Éléments, Musicatreize). He also composes educational works for children and amateur musicians.

In 1999, Alexandros Markeas was made a fellow of the Académie de France at the Villa Medicis in Rome. In 2001, he received SACEM's Hervé Dugardin Prize. In 2006, he won the Critics' Union Award. In 2009, SACEM awarded him their New Music Talent award for the chamber opera Outsider. He has been teaching Improvisation and Composition at the Paris Conservatoire since 2003.

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