The two remaining Japanese members of the Tokyo String Quartet – including its founding violist – will retire in June 2013, the ensemble announced today. The violist, Kazuhide Isomura, 65, co-founded the quartet in 1969. Second violinist Kikuei Ikeda is also retiring, after more than 25 years.
The other two members, the Canadian violinist Martin Beaver and English cellist Clive Greensmith are in the process of auditioning potential new members, which the quartet will announce in the spring of 2012.
The Tokyo Quartet has been on the faculty of the Yale School of Music since 1976 and is also quartet-in-residence at the 92nd Street Y.
In a phone interview, Greensmith described the transition as "very serene." He noted that the quartet arrived at the decision after a very busy stretch that included a Beethoven recording cycle and several commissioned works. "It’s been a gradual process and an understanding that we were looking at a turning of the page," he said.
The Tokyo was formed in 1969 by four Japanese musicians studying at the Juilliard School of Music, but 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. (In a recent appearance in The Greene Space at WQXR, the members of the Tokyo Quartet discussed their teacher’s influence on the Japanese classical music scene.)
A series of awards came in the early 1970s. Besides joining the faculty of Yale, they made television appearances (Sesame Street, CBS Sunday Morning, PBS's Great Performances) and began recording for RCA and later CBS, EMI and Deutsche Grammophon.
Like most major string quartets, personnel changes have reshaped the ensemble even down to its ethnic identity. The cellist Greensmith joined in 1999, and Canadian Beaver came aboard as the first violinist in 2002.
Greensmith acknowledged that the group is auditioning musicians from Asia but said ethnic identity won't be a factor in finding successors. "You could say, for a group called the Tokyo Quartet, it’s a bit of a curse in a way because it has such a specific ethnic connotation," he said. "But in the end, you go with the player that fits. The quartet has always been international."
“As a founding member of the ensemble, I have performed with the Tokyo String Quartet for more than 40 years, which has been fascinating, intense and very satisfying,” said Isomura in a statement. He added: “Quite recently, I began to realize that I could not do this forever.”
Isomora and Ikeda plan to continue teaching and performing.