16 November 2022

In the Green Room with YCAT: 2021 YCAT International Audition winners Quatuor Agate

By Lark Music

‘Four brains connected to one musical idea’

French string quartet Quatuor Agate were brought together by a chance opportunity and as YCAT artists they are now impressing audiences across the UK with their soulful intensity.

When viola player Raphaël Pagnon was asked to perform in a concert on the French island of Corsica, he discussed it with his three closest fellow students at Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin.

The four musicians, all from France, were enjoying the German capital’s vibrant cultural life but jumped at the opportunity to perform Schubert and Mozart in a church in the Corsican mountains – and escape the dark and cold winter in Germany.

Raphaël, alongside Adrien Jurkovic (violin), Thomas Descamps (violin), and Simon Iachemet (cello), created the ensemble Quatuor Agate for the Corsican concert – a name shared with a semi-precious stone and Johannes Brahms’ second love, Agathe von Siebold – because their rehearsals had sparked a passion for exploring the composer’s quartet repertoire.

“The phantom concert gave birth to something,” Simon Iachemet told Lark Music before the quartet’s November performance at Wigmore Hall, London.

“Our ensemble was yet to take formal shape since, as individuals, we had all been making our own way, but in the spring of 2016 we met German classical violinist and chamber music pedagogue Eberhard Feltz, who helped us learn the dialect of Haydn, the harmonic complexity of Bartók, and the metaphysical power of Beethoven.”

“We realised that if we really wanted to do justice to the art of the quartet, we would have to leave the orchestral academies that had brought us to Berlin in the first place.”

“Our first concert tour? Of course, it was Corsica! The CorsiClassic Festival was started to promote chamber music in an area of the island where there are so few opportunities to experience classical music.”

Since then, the quartet has toured several continents and appeared at festivals in Verbier, Venice, Melbourne, and Montreal.

Simon said: “We are based in Paris and play regularly in France, Germany, and Switzerland, but we did not have a platform in the UK until we became YCAT artists.”

“We knew about YCAT from other musicians and applied for an audition, understanding that to be YCAT artists we would have to bring something special. It was a great honour to be named prize-winners in the 2021 International Auditions.”

“Becoming YCAT artists means there is a team that takes care of different aspects of our business besides music – we find their advice so important.”

“YCAT has also given us more visibility and it has been amazing to build a relationship with Wigmore Hall audiences. It is a fantastic place where we feel a connection with the audience.”

“We feel lucky to be part of YCAT as it brings so much to us, from building the programmes to regular day to day help and advice.”

“It also means a lot to us that Lark Music’s support of YCAT ensures we can focus, not on money, but our art.

“Learning a piece requires a great deal of time. Our job is to get four brains connected to one musical idea and that requires a lot of practice, several hours every day, to get that relationship.”

“We also like talking to the audience and whenever we are in an English-speaking country the response to our music is particularly good.”

The quartet’s latest tour has taken them to many debut venues including Bristol, Saffron Walden, and Mold in Wales.

“We also played in Birmingham where met students from the Conservatoire and gave a few masterclasses,” said Simon.

“We played three Brahms Quartets for the first time at Lammermuir in East Lothian, Scotland – the quartets are quite demanding. The concert went really well and the audience’s reception was very encouraging. These quartets are not played so often, so knowing the audience enjoyed them was a great push to seeing our future.”

“We are going in the direction of digging into and playing one composer for a long period of time, as we did with Brahms, and our project to release a CD of the complete Brahms Quartets for the Naïve label in 2023 is becoming a reality.”


Lammermuir Festival: Simon Thompson, The Times (September 19, 2022)

The four Frenchmen of the Quatuor Agate filled it with a gorgeously warm tone for Haydn’s C Major Quartet, Opus 20, slipping easily from the soulful intensity of the dark second movement into the lightness of the finale.
The Agates played all three of Brahms’s quartets on the final weekend. In the Gladsmuir concert they played his first quartet with restless intensity but with a hint of sweetness behind the severity, sounding both warm and threatening. I suspect the composer would have been pleased.

Concertgoer at Wigmore Hall

I do enjoy these YCAT series of lunchtime concerts and have seen a number of performances over the years. The talent of these young classical musicians is consistently impressive and today’s performance by the Quatuor Agate was just excellent. These four young musicians delivered an outstanding performance with impressive mastery of their instruments resulting in a most enjoyable experience.

Watch the performance here:

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Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concerts have been central to YCAT from its formation almost 40 years ago. It is the international shop window where the artists want to be seen; the best stage in the world to showcase young artists and it means more to them than playing anywhere else.

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