Øyvor Volle - violin • Annabelle Meare - violin Berit Cardas - viola • Bjørg Lewis - cello

Vertavo Quartet is internationally recognised as one of the most masterful string quartets playing today. Since four very young teenagers got together in Norway in 1984, Vertavo’s performances - now rich in maturity and of the most captivating sound quality - delight audiences wherever they play.

Now at the cusp of 40 years on since their formation, Vertavo are most probably the world’s longest performing all-female string quartet. Øyvor, Berit and Bjørg are all founder members and Annabelle has been with the quartet for the past 12 years. ‘Assiduous work, solid cohesion and the urge to tell a story in music – this is our holy trinity,’ says violist Berit Cardas.

Vertavo play at all the major concert venues in the world. They have toured throughout Europe, Scandinavia and the US and are invited to participate in some of the most prestigious festivals and at the greatest chamber music venues such as the Wigmore Hall in London, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall in New York.

As well as excelling in the core string quartet repertoire, Vertavo have a visceral and compelling affinity with contemporary music, which has led them to give commanding performances of works by Ligeti, Adès, Widmann, Gabriela Frank, Kaja Saariaho, Sofia Gubaidulina, Judith Weir and many others besides. They gave critically acclaimed first performances of the latest string quartet by Poul Ruders at the Barbican Hall and the Aldeburgh Festival.

Vertavo have collaborated with many of the world’s finest musicians such as Leif Ove Andsnes, Håkan Hardenberger, Martin Fröst, Isabelle van Keulen and Lawrence Power.  To great critical acclaim, they undertook a quintet tour with the world-famous British pianist Paul Lewis and also opened the prestigious Proms Chamber Music season at Cadogan Hall in London with him. In September 2023, together with Paul Lewis, they played a live lunchtime concert from the Wigmore Hall for BBC Radio 3.

The quartet’s discography includes Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Debussy, Bartok, Nielsen, Asheim, as well as the Mozart Clarinet Quintet with Martin Fröst. Their Debussy and Grieg String Quartets recording received the Diapason d’Or. Their most recent recording of Verdi and Sibelius Quartets was released in 2020. For this recording, Vertavo was nominated for Germany’s 2021 OPUS Klassik Ensemble of the Year.

In 2005, the quartet received the Grieg-Prize: the most significant Norwegian cultural prize, bestowed on artists of the highest international standing. Ten years previously they won First Prize at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition where they were also awarded the Audience Prize and the Critics’ Prize.

Vertavo Quartet started its own international chamber music festival, Vertavofestivalen, in Norway in 2016. This gives them the chance to devise programmes featuring their world-class colleagues, delving deep into the wider chamber music repertoire.

Recent BBC broadcasts included Dvorak’s American String Quartet and Bartok’s 5th and 6th String Quartets as part of LSO St. Luke’s Bartok Plus series and a broadcast from the Royal Conservatoire Scotland of Grieg and Smetana String Quartets.

In celebration of their 35-year anniversary, Vertavo Quartet curated a project called Absolutt Haydn! Together with 15 other string quartets, including the Attaca Quartet, they performed all of Haydn’s string quartets at Sentralen in Oslo in 28 hours. It was a unique experience, and a worthy celebration of an ensemble, who embody values of excellence, dedication and generosity.

It was 1984. Some men in Russian fur hats and coats decided to host a string quartet competition in the north of Finland in the middle of winter.

How about a trip, we thought? Great idea. But what should we call ourselves? The Vertavo String Quartet was officially formed. And what should we learn? The debut repertoire was Bartok Four, Schubert's Death and the Maiden and Mozart's Dissonance. Four young Norwegian girls barely in their teens began to practise and practise and practise.

We were bold. No fingering was too risky and no musical idea too strange for us to embrace. Our teacher Leif Jørgensen had a love of quotations, his favourite warning coming from Revelations: "But since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth". Our goal was to play everything at the extremes of temperature.

If our playing was determined, our look was dubious. Between us we sported feathered haircuts, perms, big blue plastic-framed glasses, braces (teeth, not trousers), home-knitted mohair sweaters and spotty foreheads. Four giggling, shy girls, who barely dared to walk on stage. But when we sat down to play, there was such force and commitment, that those judges in the north of Finland in the middle of winter were simply blown away.

Invitations came. The violist from the Alban Berg Quartet, Hatto Beyerle, offered to teach us. And so we studied in Austria, Germany, Italy and England with Beyerle and others from the best quartets. Concerts followed and summers brought a constant string of festival performances. Suitcases were packed with as many as 40 different scores. We travelled and played as a quartet for up to 270 days of the year. And that was our life for 15 years.

Then the children started arriving.

Now we weren't just a quartet with boyfriends or husbands, but babies too. Not a problem. Scandinavian women are resourceful, and our little car became a nine-seater bus with room for grandparents and nannies. The suitcases were now packed, not just with scores, but nappies, bottles and baby clothes.

Across America, Japan, Australia and Europe we wore out buggies, prams and car seats. In the day we practised, in the evening we played at Carnegie or Wigmore and in the middle of the night we paced up and down hotel corridors with a baby who had forgotten that the time zone had changed. On those late-night walks we occasionally thought: how can this possibly keep working?

But it does. Vertavo is just about to reach its 40th season. Forty years of concerts, recordings, festivals, collaborations and awards. We are Artistic Directors of Vertavofestivalen and holders of the Diapason d'Or and Scandinavian Grammys for our recordings. We have received Norway's highest musical honour, the Grieg Prize.

Four musicians. One quartet. We couldn't ask for a better life.

Vertavo Quartet are participants in the Dextra Musica scheme. This offers Norwegian musicians the opportunity to play on some of the world's most prized stringed instruments.