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Guarneri Quartet Calls It Quits

45 years later, members of the quartet hang up their bows

After 45 years of concerts and globetrotting, the Guarneri String Quartet has decided to call it quits after the 2008-09 season. Violinist Arnold Steinhardt says the timing is right for the group members to part ways. "We are still getting along wonderfully and enjoying ourselves tremendously," he says, during a phone call from his home. "It's a healthy thing and a wise thing to quit while you're playing well. We would like to go out sounding the way people expect us to sound and the way we expect ourselves to sound."

It was in the summer of 1963 that Steinhardt and violinist John Dalley, violist Michael Tree, and cellist David Soyer began to seriously consider forming a quartet. The Guarneri String Quartet debuted the following year at the Marlboro Music Festival.

"We have kind of a spiritual connection to the place," says Steinhardt, preparing at the time of this interview for his 11th appearance at Marlboro.

From that first performance, the quartet went on to play in prestigious halls in North and South America, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

In 2000, cellist Peter Wiley joined the group in its travels, replacing his retiring mentor, Soyer. "We've known Peter since he was 11 years old," Steinhardt says. "We knew him as a young budding professional, and then he became a colleague of ours."

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For the group to continue as the Guarneri String Quartet, Wiley had to join. "[Wiley] was not only the obvious choice," Steinhardt says, "he was the only choice for us."

Wiley says he had to think long and hard about the offer because he could never imagine the quartet without its original members.

"I don't think anybody fills shoes like that," Wiley says. "But it's a decision I'll never regret. It's been an incredible experience."

Steinhardt says this second chapter for the group has been enlightening as Wiley brings new ideas and a different perspective while they reexamine their work.

Being a fixture in the music community, the group has had music tailored specifically for them by such composers as Richard Danielpour and Lukas Foss. Danielpour says he was honored to have had the benefit of working with the quartet before and after it made the transition with Wiley. "I got to know them very well," Danielpour says, "not only as players, but as individuals."

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