The Vertavo Quartet

Øyvor Volle, violin
Annabelle Meare, violin
Berit Cardas, viola
Bjørg Lewis, cello


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 began to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.


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!


“…what impresses most is the integrity and imagination… With phenomenal expressive flexibility, the Vertavo moved from warmest sensuality to knife-edge bitterness” The Guardian


If our playing was determined, our look was dubious. Between us we sported feathered haircuts, perms, big blue plastic-framed glasses, braces (on our teeth, not our 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.


“…the Norwegians with their flair, their physicality and their communicative urgency, were the most compelling chamber ensemble I have heard in years” Norman Lebrecht, The Daily Telegraph


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.


“The whole concert was treasurable, the musicianship impeccable, and over all shone the extraordinary beauty of the Vertavo players’ tone. May the quartet return, soon and often” Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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 now in its 27th season. Twenty-seven years of concerts, recordings, festivals, collaborations and awards. We are Artistic Directors of the Elverum Summer Festival and holders of the Diapason d’Or and Scandinavian Grammys for our recordings. We have received Norway’s highest musical honour, the Grieg Prize.


“…the Vertavos created fireworks with their tangible joy in playing: it is moments like these that make music truly magical” Hamburger Abenblatt


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