The Petersen Quartet (Das Petersen-Quartett) is one of the most experienced and interesting chamber music organizations to emerge on the international music stage in the 1990s.
The quartet began in 1979 when four string students at the Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule were formed into a string quartet for learning purposes, as well as for recreation. They were violinists Ulrike Petersen and Gernot Süssmuth, violist Friedemann Weigle, and cellist Hans-Jakob Eschenburg. They continued playing together and giving concerts, but this pursuit was subordinate to their main careers, as principal players in one of the orchestras of Berlin or Leipzig. In the 1980s the four members decided make the Petersen Quartet a full time professional string quartet. They count among their mentors Thomas Brandis, Rudolf Koeckert, and Sandor Vegh.
It quickly became one of the best known quartets from East Germany. It won second prize in the Evian Competition of France in 1985, first prize in the International Chamber Music Competition in Florence in 1986, and second prize in the ARD Competition of Munich in 1987 (no first prize was given). In 1988, the Petersen Quartet was named the official quartet in residence of (East) Berlin Radio, remaining in that position for five years as that organization was integrated into the radio system of the newly unified Federal German Republic.
The position at Berlin Radio led to several recordings with the Capriccio label. It recorded three discs of Mozart; a CD of Berg, Duttileux, and Janacek; late Beethoven quartets; Boccherini string quintets; and two discs of music by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff. The Peterson also has recorded music of Boris Blacher and a pairing of the Grieg and Schumann quartets. It has won numerous recording prizes, including the Deutsche Schallplatten prize in 1993 and 1995 for the two Schulhoff discs, and both the Prix de l'Academie Charles Cros and Choc de l'Annee of Le Monde de Music.
The Petersen Quartet now tours widely and has visited many German cities, as well as Paris, Rome, Moscow, Milan, Florence, Warsaw, Prague, London, major European music festivals, Spain, South America, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Korea.
In 1994, Ulrike Petersen retired from the quartet and was replaced by Conrad Muck as first violin, and later violinist Daniel Bell and cellist Henry-David Varema joined the quartet. It continues to keep Petersen's name. The quartet has played with such renowned guest artists as Stephen Kovacevich, Siegfried Lorenz, Norbert Brainin, and Martin Lovett.