Irvine Arditti is the first violinist and leader of the Arditti Quartet, an ensemble that he co-founded as a student of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1974. From 1978 to 1980, Arditti served as co-concertmaster for the London Symphony Orchestra, a position he voluntarily left in order to devote more time to the quartet. This turned out to be the right choice, as since then the Arditti String Quartet has become an institution in the realm of contemporary chamber music. The list of new works by contemporary composers commissioned over the years by the Arditti Quartet is of staggering size and comprehension, but among the many figures who have written specifically for the Arditti Quartet are John Cage, Philip Glass, Helmut Lachenmann, Sofiya Gubaidulina, and Wolfgang Rihm. From 1982 to 1996 the Arditti Quartet gave annual master classes at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music.
Irvine Arditti is also widely recognized as a leading soloist and interpreter of contemporary concerto literature for the violin. One of his most famous recordings is for Mode Records containing John Cage's Freeman Etudes, a solo violin work Arditti also premiered. Arditti has also given first performances of concertos by composers Luciano Berio, Brian Ferneyhough, and Iannis Xenakis. Both the Arditti Quartet and its leader have recorded for a wide variety of labels, but most frequently for Disques Montaigne, which was ultimately merged with Naïve Classical. The Arditti Quartet actively performs entire quartet cycles, including those of Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, and Arnold Schoenberg. The group has won numerous recording prizes, including the Deutsche Schallplatten and the Gramophone Awards, both landing in the winner's circle multiple times in these honors.