A notable partnership

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Acclaimed Chinese quartet becomes brand ambassador for well-known German urtext publisher.

Around 2016, Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, a German musicologist, traveled to Beijing and visited the Central Conservatory of Music, one of the country's top music schools.

He went to a bookstore near the school that had a cafeteria inside and sat down for a coffee.

A young man, being curious about the arrival of the foreigner, walked by and started to talk to him. After learning that he was the president of G. Henle Verlag, a noted publishing firm located in Germany and known for its authentic scores of great compositions by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Bach, the young man, named Qi Wang, who is the violist of Amber Quartet, a Chinese string quartet established in Beijing in 2005, imparted that he was a fan of Seiffert's company.

"He also told me about Amber Quartet and to be honest, I was skeptical about their level of ability," recalls Seiffert, in an online interview with China Daily.

Seiffert then received an Amber Quartet CD as a gift and after listening to it upon his return to Germany, he was amazed by the recording.

Earlier this year, Amber Quartet became the Chinese ambassador of the publishing company.

"I trust their understanding about classical music, their balance and cooperation as an ensemble, and their understanding of Henle's urtext," says Seiffert. "For the general 'ambassadorship' for Henle, Amber Quartet is the first and only representative from China."

The word "urtext" is German meaning an original text, pertaining to musical scores or literary works, intended to reproduce the original intention of the composer as exactly as possible. On Oct 20,1948, diplomat, politician and industrial magnate Gunter Henle (1899-1979) founded his eponymous "publishing house for urtext editions" in Munich, Germany.

An accomplished pianist himself, Henle realized that "there were scarcely any editions that accurately reproduced the composer's musical text". Most editions were marred by unnecessary, and often incorrect, additions from later editors and arrangers. The goal was to reconstruct the correct and authentic text of great compositions.

It soon became apparent that Henle's idea of creating a modern urtext edition was the right decision and one with far-reaching consequences.

"It's an honor to be the Chinese ambassador of such an established company, one which we have admired since we were young students," says Yang Yichen, co-founder and cellist of Amber Quartet.

"The musical texts reflect the composers' ideas and intentions. Henle editions help us to see the music beyond the notes.

"A small change on a musical text can lead to a totally different interpretation, which is why authentic and accurate editions are crucial for delivering the ideas of a composer," Yang says. "For example, notes with a slur tell the musicians to play their instruments without taking any pause in between notes, like singing. Notes without a slur mean the opposite."

This year, as the ambassador, Amber Quartet will regularly share their experiences using the Henle editions on their social media platforms. Since the members of the Amber Quartet are all teachers at the Central Conservatory of Music, they will use the Henle editions in both their teaching and their performances. The company has provided Amber Quartet its complete core repertoire of string quartet music, from the classical to the romantic period.

In June, Amber Quartet will give a concert at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing, with a program of string quartet works by Mendelssohn, where they will also talk about and provide background knowledge of G. Henle Publishers and urtext.

In 2022, the company is presenting its "string quartet year", which will feature world-famous quartets at different venues around the world.

Amber Quartet is one of the most successful Chinese quartets and has won much critical acclaim. In early 2013, it became the first chamber music group to receive funding from the Chinese government for overseas studies-the group was accepted to study for two years at the International Institute of Chamber Music of Madrid in Spain.

In the same year, the quartet won three awards at the Asia-Pacific Chamber Music Competition in Melbourne: the Grand Prize, the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Prize, and the Hamer-Tribe Trust Prize. It was the first Chinese quartet to win a "hat-trick" of prizes at an international chamber music competition.

Seiffert, who has frequently traveled to China since the late 1990s, says he is impressed by the country's fast development of the classical music scene. He also notes that a greater number of Chinese musicians are getting jobs in top European orchestras.

"Every time I visited China, I slept just a few hours, hoping to explore the country as much as possible," he says. "I was amazed by the progress of the musicians' playing and their proficiency with the instruments they used."

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Seiffert, 62, gained his PhD in musicology from the University of Munich in 1990. In the same year, he became an editor at G. Henle Verlag and in 2000, he became the president of the company. He is keen on bringing high-quality urtext editions to Asia, especially to China and South Korea, as well as developing digital urtext editions and opening the catalog to contemporary compositions.

The cooperation between musicologists and musicians is very important to enriching research of composers' musical texts, he says, though in earlier times, the two parties used to be much more supercilious toward each other.

"These days, the situation is more of a friendly respect," says Seiffert. "We have to acknowledge that both sides have something to learn from working together.

"Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, I can watch an Amber Quartet concert in China," he adds.

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