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Currently making international appearances to mark Beethoven’s 250th birthday as well as celebrating 20 years since its foundation, the Ébène Quartet is riding high now that violist Marie Chilemme has become an established member. But, the players tell Charlotte Gardner, replacing former violist Mathieu Herzog was no easy matter following his departure in 2015
The Ébène Quartet on its 2019–20 Beethoven around the World tour Shanghai Symphony Hall, China; New Zealand’s Wellington coast; Tongyeong Concert Hall, South Korea; Princeton University, US; Raumati Beach, New Zealand

You never know quite how it’s going to go when interviewing a string quartet: not because string quartets are inherently the natural habitat of tricky personalities, but simply because the ratio of one to four isn’t always ideal for establishing a genuine human connection. It’s especially true when this particular brand of foursome can represent such a mighty single unit if all is working well. And all is certainly working well for the Ébène Quartet. For starters, there’s its sheer longevity: near enough to 20 years together for its three long-term members, violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, and cellist Raphaël Merlin; and although violist Marie Chilemme joined as recently as 2017, she seems to be spun from exactly the same musical DNA. Then there’s the scale of the group’s international success since its 2004 victory at the ARD Music Competition: the string of award-winning albums, the relationships established with the world’s greatest concert halls and festivals, the fact that the players are as acclaimed as jazz musicians as they are as classical ones – and now there are the quartet’s projects to mark Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

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About The Strad

In a French-themed issue, the Ébène Quartet discuss their huge Beethoven project and we examine the early violins of J.B. Vuillaume. There’s a look at Michel Colichon and Nicolas Lupot, and Jean-Luc Ponty gives his Sentimental Work. Plus a Masterclass on Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata.