Arditti Quartet Credit: Astrid Karger

The Hungarian composer György Ligeti will be feted during the University of Chicago’s 2017-2018 concert season with a thrilling series of performances by high-caliber artists including Imani Winds, Eighth Blackbird and Amadinda, and Third Coast Percussion. The program gets off to a stellar start with the Arditti Quartet, arguably the most consistently adventurous and precise contemporary-music string quartet of the last quarter century. Ligeti (1923-2006) wrote only two string quartets in his life. The first, Métamorphoses Nocturnes, was composed between 1953-’54 when Hungary was isolated deep behind the iron curtain. Ligeti wrote that the piece “was intended only for my bottom drawer,” as the communist regime allowed only music that promoted its nationalist agenda. But though it was banned in its home country, the composition could be freely played abroad, and it was debuted by the Ramor Quartet in Vienna in 1958. Inspired by the third and fourth string quartets of Ligeti’s fellow Hungarian Bela Bartók (most of whose work was also banished at the time), Métamorphose Nocturnes is a single 20-minute-movement in which the dynamic chromatic variations of the opening theme fly at the listener in a steady procession of alternating fast-slow sections. When Ligeti composed String Quartet no. 2, in 1968, he’d ditched every aspect of the first except for the chromaticism. By then an internationally acclaimed force, he’d absorbed a world of ideas from other living composers that had led him to dramatically recalibrate his focus. The work is a masterpiece of polyrhythms and textures—a five-section juggernaut of slashing lines, striated timbres, and fragile, burned-out pizzicati that retracts into a tender puddle of fluttery long tones that whisper away into the ether. Both quartets have been part of Arditti’s vast repertoire for decades—the group’s mastery of the second is especially acknowledged. The program also features the two Bartók quartets that inspired Ligeti while he was cloistered in Budapest all those years ago.   v