Formed by four young students at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1945, the Borodin String Quartet is still going strong into its seventh decade.
Such longevity makes the Rolling Stones look like beginners, though since Valentin Berlinsky, now in his early 80s, hung up his cello last year the quartet no longer includes any of the founder members.
But as new members have gradually taken over they have assimilated and extended the Borodin tradition.
And what a tradition. The Borodins have the distinction of having played at the funerals of both Stalin and Prokofiev (who died on the same day in 1953), and had a unique relationship with Shostakovich, who supervised their interpretations of his quartets. It is also one of the world's most admired interpreters of the Beethoven quartets.
Its story of seamlessly passing instruments to new hands reminds me of a myth I once heard about a car endlessly criss-crossing America, picking up and dropping off hitch-hikers. But when I mention this to violist Igor Naidin when he calls me from Moscow to talk about the Borodins' concert at Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday, he objects that the car - unlike the quartet - must be getting older and shabbier.
Naidin himself is coming up to completing 12 years with the quartet. Emphasising that he is speaking on behalf of the whole group - he acts as spokesman here because his English is so good - he reflects on how the quartet has maintained continuity through change.
"First of all the tradition is the way of performing. It all belongs to the same school of Russian string playing, because all our techniques are from that. My teachers were pupils of the older teachers who taught my older colleagues. It's very traceable, this kind of heritage. We were all taught in a similar way of playing string instruments, whether violin, viola or cello."
It is also clear that the recently departed Berlinsky - or "Mr Berlinsky", as Igor scrupulously calls him - was a vital custodian of this tradition.
"It would be most appropriate to say he was the soul of the group. But this is in the past, and the time is going on."
How has life changed for the Borodins in the post-Soviet era?
"Since the end of the 80s there has been no need for permission to leave the country. The next step we hope is that just using Russian passports we'll be able to travel without visas.
"There's no security as there used to be in Soviet countries, but I'm not able to say the quartet is playing more in the west. Even in Soviet times the authorities needed artists to popularise the culture they supported. They were given a small amount of money but they were able to play a lot in the west.
"Maybe now the difference is that after all the changes and troubles the quartet doesn't play as much as before, because now in capitalist times there is less money. Concerts in Russia are more spontaneously planned, less organised than before.
"Maybe this is the change we notice, that we play more now in the west than in Russia. And not just in Birmingham but in tiny places like Crawley, next to Gatwick. When we say we played in Crawley, people are amazed."
Fortunately, the quartet has very happy memories of when it last played in Birmingham.
"On behalf of the quartet I would like to say we were so happy and delighted to play in Symphony Hall, because it's one of the best concert halls in the world. When we were rehearsing I remember that for such a large and beautiful hall the acoustics were perfect for a string quartet. The concert was about half-full, but that was close to 1,000 people, of course."
Thursday's venue is the magnificently restored Town Hall, by general consent now a more suitable venue for chamber music than Symphony Hall, so hopefully the quartet will have another enjoyable experience.
The programme combines two Viennese classics by Haydn and Beethoven with two 20th century Russian quartets - the 13th by Shostakovich and the 13th by his lesser-known contemporary Miaskovsky.
"In Russia everyone knows Miaskovsky's name, but his music is not very well-known. He composed 21 symphonies, but they were all overshadowed by the genius of Prokofiev and most of all Shostakovich.
"This quartet is beautiful and typically Russian, because he was a pupil of Glazunov. It's not conflict music, it has roots going back to Borodin and Tanayev.
"And Shostakovich 13 is one of his last quartets. It's not long, it's just a one-movement string quartet, and it was dedicated to the violist of the Beethoven Quartet, so there's is a prominent viola part, with lots of work for me to do!"
* The Borodin String Quartet plays Haydn, Beethoven, Miaskovsky and Shostakovich at Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday at 7.30pm (Box office: 0121 780 3333).