Anders Hillborg and The Stenhammar Quartet reveal that a piece of music is always evolving

For Peter and Mats Olofsson, Tony Bauer and Per Oman of the The Stenhammar Quartet, it was always a dream to play as a string quartet. “For us, it was the highest form of chamber music and the repertoire — from Haydn, Mozart to Beethoven — is so great; there are so many fantastic pieces to play,” says Peter, one of the founders. Today, the Quartet, one of the best known in Sweden, has premièred works of well known Swedish composers and also received a Swedish Grammy nomination for the first ever recording of ‘Late Autumn Leaves’, a composition by the late Lars-Erik Larsson, a notable 20th century Swedish composer. Today, the Quartet will perform the Kongsgaard Variations by Ander Hillborg, in their debut performance in India as part of the Krishnakriti Festival of Art and Culture.

“When they called and suggested that they would like to record the quartet, I said “No”, because I prefer to make a recording after the musicians have played the piece many times but we went ahead and the recording was good,” recalls Anders Hillborg. As a composer, Hillborg is known for his extensive repertoire in choral, orchestral, chamber and even film scores and pop music.

Kongsgaard variations was composed in 2006 and premiered by The Prazak Quartet, but Hillborg reveals that the piece took on a different sound when performed by Peter, Mats, Per and Tony. “It was very liberating for me because there were things in the piece that could not be played by the first quartet. I had told myself it was impossible, but then they (The Stenhammar Quartet) practised and it happened,” explains Hillborg. According to him, The Stenhammar Quartet, which has Peter and Per on violins, Tony on viola and Mats on cello, renders the phrase ‘playing second fiddle’ obsolete. “In the first quartet, the first violin stood out but I think you have the opposite attitude; I get a more full sound coming from the whole ensemble.” Adds Mats, “ Every quartet has its unique voice or sound, suitable to different composition. We have a fairly democratic way of playing.”

As classical musicians with a strong tradition behind them, Anders and The Stemhammer Quartet find that originality is something that requires hard work. “You can’t really control whether or not you have an original voice. You either do or you don’t. I have students coming to me saying they want to find their personal style and I say, “the only thing you can’t do is to imitate the masters that you love – imitate, imitate till you learn what they do until you hopefully liberate yourself from that.”

“Finding you voice as a musician might be a bit similar. There is a violist of a Romanian band, Taraf De Haidouks who said, ‘Learning to play the violin is not something you get, it’s something you steal’ and that’s how I think it is,” says Mats. While the genre is not known for leaving room for improvisation, the Quartet believes that every performance is unique. “You don’t improvise with the notes but there is musical improvisation in timing and articulation,” says Peter. The Stenhammar Quartet will perform Anders Hillborgs Kongsgaard Variations on January 8, 7 p.m. at the Park Hyatt, Hyderabad.