Szymanowski Quartet

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Discography
 

Agata Szymczewska, violin

Robert Kowalski, violin

Volodia Mykytka, viola

Monika Leskovar, celloMarcin Sieniawski, cello

“It was hard not to fall in love with the Szymanowski Quartet at the Frick Collection on Sunday afternoon. All professionals perform with intensity, but playing from the heart is another matter. The sound was unusually warm, filling this small space to capacity.”
- Bernard Holland, New York Times


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 with which the Quartet has captivated its audiences at prestigious festivals and concert halls throughout Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia.

The Szymanowski Quartet has received numerous prizes and distinctions for its extraordinarily high standards. They won first prizes at the “Premio Vittorio Gui” Competition in Florence and at Hanover’s “In Memoriam Dimitri Schostakowitsch” Competition and were prizewinners at the Osaka and the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competitions. From 2001-2003 they participated in the “New Generation Artists Scheme” of BBC Radio 3 in London. In 2005 they were honored with the “Szymanowski Award” of the Karol Szymanowski Foundation in Warsaw, the first time this was ever given to a string quartet. In 2007 they were awarded the Medal of Honor by the Polish government for their service to Polish culture.

The ensemble performs throughout the world and has appeared in New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vienna’s Musikverein, the Konzerthaus in Berlin and Shanghai’s Symphony Hall. Their regular North American tours have included concerts in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Fe,Vancouver and Montreal. The ensemble is a regular guest at prominent international festivals including Schleswig-Holstein and Rheingau, "Schubertiade" and Schwetzingen as well as Lockenhaus, Luxemburg, Paris, London, Warsaw, Moscow, Cheltenham, Basel, 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.

In 2017 the Szymanowski Quartet released two new recordings: “Les Vendredis” on SWR Music and the Piano Quintet of Dmitri Shostakovich with Michail Lifits on Decca. And recently Avie released a CD of Haydn, Bacewicz and Dvorák. The Quartet recorded a series of 3 CD's for Cavi-music focusing on composer Karol Szymanowski in the context of the music capitals Paris, Vienna and Moscow. Other recent recordings include the Shostakovich and Weinberg quintets for Hänssler Classics and on Hyperion, music of Zelenski / Zarebski, named Choice for the March/April 2013 issue of International Piano Magazine, and and Friedman / Rózycki., released in 2016 Recordings from several seasons of BBC concerts document the early artistic versatility of the ensemble. They were the cover feature for the February/March 2012 issue of Ensemble magazine.

Along with standard classical-romantic repertoire, the Quartet has a strong commitment to contemporary music. They perform the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, Sofia Gubaidulina, Magnus Lindberg, Elena Kats-Chernin, Philip Cashian, Thomas Larcher. Matan Daniel Porat, and Andrew Toowey; several of whom have dedicated their works to the Szymanowski Quartet.

The Szymanowski Quartet studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hanover with their teacher and mentor Hatto Beyerle. They continued to refine their performances working with Isaac Stern, Walter Levin and the Amadeus, Emerson, Juilliard, and Guarneri Quartets.

 

THE MUSICIANS
 

AGATA SZYMCZEWSKA was born in 1985 in Kaszalin, Poland. She was the winner of the 2006 Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition, which launched an impressive international solo career. As winner of the first London Music Masters Award she made her debut at Wigmore Hall in 2009 and with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä in 2010. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist, appearing under such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Sir Neville Marriner and Krzystof Penderecki. As a chamber musician she has performed with many of the leading artists of our time including Martha Agerich, Maxim Vengerov, Gidon Kremer and Anne-Sophie Mutter with whom she toured in the United States in November 2014, including a performance at Carnegie Hall debut. She plays an Antonio Stradivarius violin (Cremona, ca. 1680) on loan from Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben.

ROBERT KOWALSKI joined the Szymanowski Quartet in fall 2016, a longtime friend and colleague of Agata Szymczewska for twenty years. They met, as members of different ensembles, at masterclasses when they were young. He studied in Germany and Switzerland with Waleri Gradow, and influenced by Kolja Blacher and Ana Chumachenco, as well as the masters of earlier generations: Bernard Greenhouse, Ivry Gitlis and Ida Haendel. First concertmaster of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, Robert has many years of chamber music experience at festivals and concert series around the world.  

VLADIMIR MYKYTKA was born into a family of musicians in 1972 in Lviv, Ukraine and started taking violin lessons at the age of five. He later attended the school of music for exceptionally gifted children and youth at the Conservatory in Lviv, where he studied with Artur Mykytka and Alexander Weissfeld. He studied at the Academy of Music F. Chopin in Warsaw with Janusz Kucharski, and later with Hatto Beyerle at the University of Music and Drama in Hanover.
Vladimir Mykytka is a laureate of many 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.  Mr. Mykytka plays a viola made by Hans Schicker (Freiburg im Breisgau) in 1983.

Croatian cellist MONIKA LESKOVAR  was born in 1981 in Kreutztal, Germany.  A student of David Geringas in Berlin, she was prize-winner at numerous international cello competitions, and was in masterclasses with Mstislav Rostropovitch and Bernard Greenhouse.  Monika has performed as orchestra soloist with major orchestras of Europe and Russia (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Symphonic Orchestra, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, etc.), with conductors including Valerij Gergiev, Thomas Hengelbrock and Krzysztof Penderecki.  She appears at important festivals in Europe and Asia in solo recitals and chamber music. Her collaboration with cellist/composer Giovanni Sollima was released by Sony/BMG, and she has also recorded for OEMHS classics. Monika Leskovar plays a cello by Mantegazza, Milano 1765 loaned to her by Kronberg Academy.

 

IN THE PRESS
 

Szymanowski Quartet Brings Strength and Beauty to Mozart String Quintets
“It has been years since the complete Mozart String Quintets have been performed here, and this traversal by the Szymanowski Quartet was especially rewarding. The quartet’s warm, burnished sound, transparency in voicings and structural awareness remain as conspicuous as before, and these are attributes that can be put to good work in Mozart. The works have almost unrivalled diversity and depth and demand unflagging concentration. Overall, the Szymanowski’s traversal found many instances of great beauty and insight, mining the rich diversity in the constructions and putting the finishing touch on the cycle with a strong reading of the heavenly G minor Quintet. One ingredient in the success of these performances was just how well each of the two violins and violas managed to work together, finding strong interactions in and between their voices, as set on top of Leskovar’s anchoring cello. The style of the playing was deliberative and patiently detailed. There was also a degree of rustic color present, in both accents and nuance. The sense of patience reminded me of the Chilingirian Quartet; the accents and color recall the Talich Quartet’s esteemed integral recording. Starting with the B flat major Quintet K.174 to the E flat major Quintet, the two were paired and received very convincing readings. The rhythmic cogency and colour of was inspiring: the counterpoint was judiciously exposed, with a consistently rewarding balance between the voices. This was playing of real character: the tonal strength and leadership abilities of first violin Agata Szymczewska were always on display, as were the colour and sinew of the violists. The second concert opened with the tempestuous C minor Quintet, and the Szymanowski Quartet certainly dug into its intimations to give a romantic, almost Schubertian, reading. By all standards, this was a thoughtful and beautiful account, deeply felt, full of subtle allusions and dramatic narrative. On its own terms, it was quite eye-opening in what it probed, and unusually sensual in the way some of the instrumental timbres were explored.  The most of exalted piece of them all, the G minor Quintet, brought everything home in fine form: a judicious tempo for its famous opening Allegro, wonderful feeling and suspension in the final Adagio, followed by uplifting spring and purpose in the closing Allegro. These two concerts were a wonderful treat – and a remarkable success. The Szymanowski’s interpretations tend to the broad and sometimes romantic side. Nonetheless, in those readings which stand as the group’s most finished products one would be hard-pressed to find playing of greater thoughtfulness and tonal beauty. “

- Seen and Heard International - March 6, 2018

 

Passionate game of longing and death shadows at Landenargen Castle: “The program suited the evening wonderfully, with the listeners honoring the intense, virtuoso performance of the world-famous quartet with hearty applause. Mozart’s C Major led to ever new, clear heights. The dialogue of the first violin and cello in the second movement was subtle. The third brought lightness and dark effervescence, the fourth playfully combining minor tones and cheerfulness. Between the wild forward rushing and the dancing, there were tender elements achieved in their interpretation. Violinists Agata Szymczewska and Robert Kowalski harmonized harmonically with Vladimir Mykytka on viola and Marcin Sienawski on cello. The Allegro assai was feverishly agitated, torn between restlessness and longing for peace. Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella was mysterious, profound and unreal, yet interwoven with the folksong came the distant hint of wildly foaming, ardent passion. With an overt polka and a dreamy piece from the legendary ‘Les vendredis’ of St. Petersburg, the artists closed this concert.”

Schwäbische Zeitung – July 2, 2017

 

The Szymanowski Quartet: masters onstage “This now-famous quartet, who appeared at the first Ammerseerenaden Festival in 1995, brought something very special: Schumann’a Piano Quintet. The players produced an amazing homogeneity, finding lyrical responses to powerful passages, the synthesis that Schumann had thought when he first established the genre with this work. Vigor and freshness was heard, which the audience understood from the first notes. The four musicians are a captivating narrator who constantly create scenes and images that fit into a coherent context with each other. How easy and carefree the musicians brought the work to blossom, no less for its intense connection to the audience. Its members are all brilliant musicians. The evening’s culmination was the emotionally heightened intensity of Beethoven's third Razumovsky Quartet. The dramatic development of the concert program was a high point with its increasing tension from a heaving dialogue in the opening to the spectacular finale. A great musical production that left the audience euphoric.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung – September 2, 2016

 

“The Szymanowski Quartet made a really meaningful contribution for the 175th anniversary of Dvorák at the Rheingau Music Festival. The music sparked with a greater boldness in Dvorák’s Piano Quintet, with potent accelerations and decelerations, accents and impulses.”

Wiesbadener Tagblatt - August 8, 2016

 

 “A virtuoso arrangement of the Nocturne and Tarantella acts as a fitting prelude to the Parisian pairing of a suavely played Ravel F Major Quartet and a suitably intense account of the 1945 Quartet by Szymon Laks. The Vienna disc centres on an absorbing, authoritative performance of Szymanowski’s multifaceted Quartet No.1. Beethoven’s Op.18 No.2 is fresh-faced, the players capturing its Haydnesque whimsy, while Schubert’s Quartettsatz is vigorous and well-articulated and Webern’s Langsamer Satz warm-hearted and touching. In Moscow, Szymanowski No.2 meets a hard-driven account of Prokofiev’s Second. Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet is played with much warmth and Romantic ardour, and Skoryk’s Melody in A minor makes a fitting conclusion. All three discs have been sensitively recorded and their diverse and well-chosen repertoire means that each can be enjoyed at a single sitting, the more so given the special qualities of the Szymanowski Quartet’s excellent sense of ensemble and interpretative freshness.”

The Strad - April 27, 2016

 

 “From the beginning they showed an excellent sense of sound and ravishing musicianship demonstrated in the interpretation of the third Shostakovich string quartet, with cantabile playing and elegiac action in the Adagio and thrilling style. We are grateful for the vital, spirited playing in Dvorak, Op. 105. There was a sensually opulent tone in the subdued string sound - a showcase concert.”

Weisbadener Kurier - March 17, 2016

 

 “The Szymanowski Quartet gave a splendid recital in Herbst Theater. The performance was evocative and deftly colored. The group boasts a distinctively understated sound, at once silky and emotionally urgent, and it deploys that texture in the service of readings that are dramatic without ever sounding overblown. Those qualities emerged most tellingly in Beethoven’s Op. 59, No. 3. From the sprightly rhetoric of the opening movement to the briskly contrapuntal finale, the quartet turned each musical paragraph into something that was both logically cogent and expressively direct. Most effective of all was the slow movement, rendered with a soft-grained intensity that made each melodic phrase and each rich harmony sound inviting.”

San Francisco Chronicle - Feb. 16, 2016

 

 “Chamber Music San Francisco began its season with a return visit from the Szymanowski Quartet, an exploration of the exotic, well compensated by the attentiveness with which each player listened to the others and some well thought-out approaches to both dynamics and phrasing. The Quartet chose to play the last of the quartets from Beethoven’s Opus 59. The ensemble rose admirably to its challenges. The execution turned up thematic phrasings that endowed the entire composition with a stimulating freshness. The encore: the collaborative effort of Sokolov, Glazunov, and Lyadov, was clearly the result of all three artists enjoying themselves, and the Szymanowski Quartet delighted just as much in sharing the full measure of that joy with their audience.”

San Francisco Examiner - Feb. 15, 2016

 

Passionate interpretation by Szymanowskis:

“With this new CD the Szymanowski Quartet concludes a trilogy that leads from Paris via Vienna to Russia, playing works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Myroslav Skoryk - and its namesake Szymanowski. The four players bring this music to the boiling point.”

Deutschlandfunk - January 1, 2016

 

Tettnang, Germany with actor Dominique Horwitz:
“They merged spoken word with music as new. Horwitz compiled excerpts from Bohumil Hrabal’s world of seemingly big events and everyday trifles. The string quartet responded to the different moods and events of the story, focusing on the String Quartet in F minor by Mendelssohn. Particularly striking, this tension erupted in an enthusiastic, prolonged applause for Horwitz and the Szymanowski Quartet.”    

Südkurier - May 16, 2015

 

“The Szymanowski Quartet made a meal out of its program at the Segerstrom Center. It was impressive and always intense music making. They play in a manner that seeks intense expressivity from every phrase and every detail. They hone in on poetic flights, whispered asides and glowing rapture. The players do it very well and with the same mind. It is fine playing.”

Orange County Register - February 1, 2015

 

 “The Szymanowski Quartet was the highpoint of Basel’s Christmas gifts this season. These musicians gave a concert full of contemplation. Elgar Op. 84 marked the end of a truly impressive and moving concert.”

Neue Merker - December 30, 2014

 

 “The Haydn was a subtle, elegant, naturally flowing with sparkling spirit and, in the Finale, full, vital elan. Szymanowski’s second quartet was the perfect accompaniment, playing with great color and selective tone. So it went with the elegant, small miracle of Mozart, with many living colors and delicate facets.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung – October 2, 2014

 

“In place of the Guadagnini violin comes a brighter Stradivarius in the hands of the award-winning violinist. Agata Szymczewska fits in seamlessly in the sensitive and emotional playing of the Szymanowski Quartet, packing power and precision. Haydn was extremely rich and engrossing; a pearl in the gallant, lively dance of the Andante; the dramatic galloping finale, a swirl of design. Mendelssohn was a firework of colors and emotion, earning a prolonged ovation.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung - September 6-7, 2014

 

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