Trout Week: Tokyo String Quartet
Catch of the Day: Free download of the Tokyo Quartet playing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 (Op. 130): Presto
Thursday, April 07, 2011
The devastation in Japan has brought attention to one facet of the country’s cultural life: its vibrant classical music heritage. As the Montreal Gazette recently reported, the world's third-largest economy encompasses the world's second-largest music market. And unlike the more recent boom in China, Japan’s classical heritage reaches back several decades.
The Tokyo String Quartet is a prime example. Formed in 1969 by four Japanese musicians studying at the Juilliard School of Music, they trace their origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where the founding members studied under Hideo Saito, the legendarily skilled and tyrannical pedagogue. The ensemble was at first a casual endeavor -- a "study quartet" -- but it got serious quickly.
A series of awards came in the early 1970s. In 1976 they joined the faculty of the Yale School of Music. Television appearances (Sesame Street, CBS Sunday Morning, PBS's Great Performances) followed, recalling the days when mass media exposure was a routine feature of quartet life.
Like most major string quartets, personnel changes have reshaped the ensemble even down to its ethnic identity. These days, there are two non-Japanese players, the British cellist Clive Greensmith, who joined in 2000, and Canadian Martin Beaver, who joined the quartet as first violinist in 2002. Second violinist Kikuei Ikeda joined in 1974 and violist Kazuhide Isomura is the group’s remaining original member.
Adventures in obscure and modern repertory have never been the Tokyo’s main focus. Yet over the years, the group’s cycles of Beethoven and Brahms, Mozart and Haydn have been widely respected as have their detours in Bartók, Janácek and Barber. Last fall, the quartet released the fourth and final volume of its Beethoven string quartet series on Harmonia Mundi label, which received the French "Diapason d'Or" critics' award.
In The Greene Space the Tokyo will apply its "Paganini Quartet" of matched Stradivarius instruments to works by Haydn, Bartók and Beethoven. Don’t miss the night’s final piece: Beethoven’s immense and involving Grosse Fugue.
Free lunchtime concert: Today at 12 pm, fresh from their impromptu gig at the Zabar’s fish counter, the Escher String Quartet performs in The Greene Space.