Interview With Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri String Quartet

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It's hard to believe that the Guarneri Quartet is retiring after 45 years(Photo: Dorothea von Haeften/
It's hard to believe that the Guarneri Quartet is retiring after 45 years(Photo: Dorothea von Haeften/

It’s hard to believe that the Guarneri Quartet (“…has no superior on the world’s stages” -New York Times) is retiring at the end of the 2008-2009 concert season after 45 years. Their final concert in Columbus is Saturday, November 29 at 8pm at the Southern Theater.

Meanwhile, here’s a chat with Arnold Steinhardt. The violinist recalls the first rehearsal with the famous quartet (Mozart’s String Quartet in D), his early work with pianist Arthur Rubinstein, and his time with George Szell of the Cleveland Orchestra (“a scary man”), who passed him along to Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti.

He also ponders, reluctantly, what it will be like when the quartet doesn’t meet for rehearsal after four-plus decades.

For further reading, check out Steinhardt’s book: Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit Of Harmony

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Highlights From This Interview:

“As a string quartet player, you get to wear many hats. You can be a soloist, because the most difficult passages in the repertoire are things you can find in the great concerto repertoire. It’s technically hugely demanding. There’s that hat. Then you’ve got a team player hat, where you make beautiful music together as an ensemble. And you have to be a supreme accompanist, as well. The act of moving back and forth between all these roles is very stimulating to say the least.”

“(Szell) would give me hell when I misbehaved. (I was 22 when I got into the orchestra. Looking back, I guess I can forgive myself for being 22-years-old.) He was scary when he made demands on you; he made demands on himself. As scary as he was, he was a very generous man to the people he admired or saw potential in.”

“If it was a frivolous repertoire, you say. ‘Well, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s time to go on to something else.’ Much of the repertoire has such a depth that you play a work a hundred times, and a hundred times you see something different in it. It’s endlessly fascinating and endlessly moving to try and make friends with these works.”