Founded as the first permanent and proffesional ensemble of its kind on Croatian musical scene, Zagreb Quartet held their first concert on April 25th 1919. Members at the time were Václav Huml, first violine, Milan Graf, second violine, Ladislav Škatula (later Miranov), viola nad Umberto Fabbri, cello – all of them professors at Zagreb conservatory. During the first couple of decades, many musicians passed through the quartet (Jan Prybyl, Jan Holub, Francis E. Arány, Dragutin Aranyi, Zlatko Topolski, Stjepan Šulek, Aleksandar Szegedi, Ljudevit Dobronji…), which has already took on high standards of performance, making until today a backbone of Zagreb and Croatian quartet music.
In the early stages, the Quartet formed a wide musical repertoire, ranging from classical music such as Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so-called iron quartet repertoire, to contemporary composers with perticular emphasis on Croatian composers. In their perfomances works of Božidar Širola, Josip Štolcer Slavenski, Milko Kelemen, Marko Ruždjak, Frano Parać, Dubravko Detoni and numerous others were regularly included.
In season of 1930 – 1931 members set off on their first international tour to Czech Republic and Germany, earning flattering reviews and often referred to as „the famous“. Regular performances in Croatia and on international tours marked their existence to the present.
Outside Europe, they held many grand tours across the United States, former Soviet Union, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Cooperation with other prominent solo musicians also starts during their early phase.
The first period of Zagreb Quartet was concluded by World War II, new chapter beginning in 1954 thanks to the initiative of musicians from the Academical String Quartet (Akademski gudački kvartet) – Josip Klima, Tomislav Šestak, Dušan Stranić, Zvonimir Pomykal. It was exactly the violin player Josip Klima who, with short interruptions, leaded the quartet for the next two decades until 1987 to be succeeded by Zlatko Balija, Edo Pečarić and Đorđe Trkulja. Other violin players were Zlatko Balija, Edo Pečarić, Nikola Jambrošić, Ivan Kuzmić and Marija Cobenzl, viola players Dušan Stranić i Daniel Thune and cello players Fred Kiefer and Josip Stojanović. The longest experience of performing in the quartet, a time span of 37 years, belongs to the viola player Ante Živković. (Musicologist Hana Breko singled out two main lineups during the second phase, first being Josip Klima, Zlatko Balija, Dušan Stranić and Fred Kiefer, and second Josip Klima, Ivan Kuzmić, Ante Živković and Josip Stojanović.) It should be noted that during that period, news and novelties brought by Musical Bienalle Zagreb (Muzički biennial Zagreb), reflect greatly on the repertoire of the ensemble which performers the latest domestic and international quartet achievements.
In the year 1987, Goran Končar comes to the position of the first violin, marking the beginning of another new period. On that position he stays all the way to 2012, along with Goran Bakrač and later Davor Philips (since 2001) on the second violin, viola players Ante Živković, with Hrvoje Philips since 2005, and Martin Jordan on cello (since 1991). Those times were marked by cycle of concerts in Mimara Museum and Croatian National Revival Hall (Preporodna dvorana) of National Home, and since 2008 in Croatian Music Institute (Hrvatski glazbeni zavod), where the season of Zagreb Quartet is held until present. The reputation of the ensemble is confirmed by international tours and hostings held in 1990s, on which they particularly try to rise the awareness of ongoing war state in Croatia. Tours were held from Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Rudolfium in Prague and St. John’s Smith Squarea in London to the United Nations headquarters in New York and Guangyuan Concert Hall. They performed major compositions like Bach’s Art of Fugue, Beethoven’s last string quartets. One of the performances that should be singled out is Joseph Haydn’s Last Seven Words of Christ, performed in the crypt of St. Anne’s church in Jerusalem.
In 2012, Sergej Evseev and in 2015, Marin Maras briefly take place as the first violin, to be replaced by the season 2017/2018 by Martin Krpan, in line up with other members: Davor Philips, Hrvoje Philips and Martin Jordan.
Rich discography of the Quartet, recorded throughout the last hundred years, includes records for Jugoton, PGP RTB, Melodicom, Sastruphon, Nuova Era Records, ZYX Classic, RCA, Da Camera Magna, Croatia Records, ZG Zoe, Cantus/HDS and many others. Last albums – cooperation Leoš Janáček quartet and Antonína Dvořáka quartet and the historical album for the celebration of the 100 years of existence of the Zagreb quartet – was published by Spona Classics label.
Numerous rewards and prizes include most significant national awards: Zagreb City Award in 1957 and 2001, Milka Trnina Award, Vjesnik’s Josip Štolcer Slavenski Award, Vatroslav Lisinski Award, Vladimir Nazor Award both annual and the lifetime achievement award in 2009.
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