Kepler Quartet formed in 2002 to record all ten of the string quartets of Ben Johnston. Violinists Sharan Leventhal and Eric Segnitz, violist Brek Renzelman and cellist Karl Lavine saw the vital need to secure this composer's musical legacy.
Critics worldwide have conferred unanimous praise on the Kepler performers for CDs 1 & 2 (released in '06 and '11) in bringing this sometimes folk-inspired, sometimes avant-garde and always brilliantly crafted music to the public. The musicians of Kepler Quartet have made the microtonality of String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 & 10 (as well as the 12-tone serialism of String Quartet No. 1) accessible and appealing for listeners.
Previously, none of Mr. Johnston's Just Intonation string quartets -- regarded as "the most thorough-going and beautiful exploration of [the quartet] genre since Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók" (Kyle Gann, American Music in the Twentieth Century, 1997) -- had ever been performed or recorded as written because of the unusual pitch difficulty. (String Quartet No. 1, written in "normal" 12-tone tempered tuning, is included on Kepler's CD2; a sample of this set of Webernian variations is available at the link in the upper right-hand corner of this page.) Mr. Johnston's advanced age and dwindling health highlight the urgency of collaborating with the composer, who moved to Wisconsin in 2006.
As Ben himself says, "The Kepler group doesn't use an existing language, they've actually created an entirely new language."
The proposed CD3 of String Quartets Nos. 6, 7, 8 (currently in production) will complete the Johnston cycle.