The Yggdrasil Quartet emerged as one of the most exciting new string quartets in the 1990s and has become a champion of new quartet music in Europe.
Its members, Frederick Paulsson and Per Öman (the violinists), Robert Westlund (viola), and Per Nyström (cello) studied at the same time at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. They went on to further studies with Hungarian composer György Kurtag, then in classes in interpretation with Norbert Brainin, the leader of the Amadeus Quartet.
In 1990 the four officially announced themselves as a regular string quartet. They chose the name Yggdrasil, which is the name of the great ash tree at the center of much Nordic mythology. (In Wagner's Ring, it is this tree from which Wotan made his spear and ultimately cuts down and places around Valhalla in preparation for the final conflagration.) The Yggdrasil Quartet began by entering competitions and gained international notice when the won the London International String Quartet Competition and the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition.
In 1995 the municipal government of Aberdeen, Scotland entered into an arrangement with Aberdeen University to create a unique residency program wherein a string quartet would live, perform, and teach in Aberdeen for several months a year over a four-year period. The process of choosing the quartet was an intense open competition, which the Yggdrasil won.
Following that, the Concert Hall of Stockholm recognized the Quartet with its Swedish Rising Stars award for 1996. By then they had started recording for the Stockholm-based Bis record company. Their first recording was a set of string quartets by Icelandic composer Jon Leifs, which went on to win the Cannes MIDEM Award for the best chamber music disc of 1996. They recorded the complete quartets of their countryman Franz Berwald. This release was nominated for a Gramophone Award.
The have embarked on an integral recording of the fifteen Dmitri Shostakovich string quartets, and with pianist Fumiko Shiraga premiered the original versions of the two Chopin piano concertos, which were first written for piano and quartet, at the Norwich Festival in 1998, following that with further performances in Palma, Majorca, in Munich, and on a Bis CD. This program has proven popular, and was repeated in 1999 in the Netherlands, Austria, Turkey, and London.
Contemporary composers have been attracted by their virtuosity and sympathy for modern style. One of the first new works was the result of a commission from the Highland Festival for Nigel Osborne to write a work for them. The result was a quintet called Forest, River, Ocean for String Quartet and Calyx (the ancient Celtic war trumpet). This, in turn, inspired the leading British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to write a Quintet for Trumpet and Strings for the Yggdrasil and trumpeter John Wallace. Continuing their string of unusual new quartets, the Yggdrasil collaborated with Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie in the premiere of Haflidi Hallgrimsson's Quintet for Percussion and Strings at the Northlands Festival.