[The Tokyo String Quartet playing the fourth movement of Beethoven's string quartet op.59 no. 3.]
The Tokyo String Quartet–Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola), and Clive Greensmith (cello)–will be in residence at Centrum June 22-29 as faculty members at the Port Townsend Chamber Music Festival.
Membership in the Tokyo String Quartet has changed over the decades, but the group’s trademark ensemble purity and dedication to the classical repertoire—as well as to contemporary work—remains the foundation for the group’s success.
The quartet’s current membership includes violinist Martin Beaver, violinist Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazu Isomura, and cellist Clive Greensmith, who perform over one hundred concerts annually. And although the group registers tremendous sales, the quartet members don’t find relevancy in numbers, but in the music itself, and in giving back to the next generation of chamber music students.
Playing and commissioning works by modern composers, such as Toshio Hosakawa and Lera Auerbach, are important to the quartet, as well.
“In the Romantic era, with support from the aristocracy, there was much communication between composers and performers. These days, there is often not that level of communication, and so we try to collaborate with composers and try and create new music,” Isomura says. “Obligation is not quite the right word, but it’s a musician’s duty to find wonderful new music and introduce it to the public.”
The Tokyo String Quartet also digs deeply into the music of the classical composers. They plan to complete the Beethoven cycle of string quartets in one of their next recordings.
“The quartets are arguably the cornerstone of the entire repertoire and represent a substantial chunk of Beethoven’s life,” Beaver says. “They are such profound works. One feels a duty to play them.”
“The Beethoven quartets are part of a great heritage from European cultural history. I feel almost an obligation to carry on this heritage,” Isomura says.
“For Beethoven, it was his life’s work, so for the Tokyo String Quartet, playing the quartets at our best is our life’s work,” Isomura says. “When we study, perform, and record one quartet after the other, we learn so much about Beethoven’s process—how he managed to achieve greatness in his music.”
Since 1995, the Tokyo String Quartet has performed on the “Paganini Quartet,” the renowned, matched set of Stradivarius instruments named for the legendary Nicola Paganini, who acquired and played the instruments in the 19th century.
The matched set of Stradivarius instruments enhance what critics have described as the Tokyo String Quartet’s uniquely balanced and nuanced ensemble sound.
Although officially founded at the Julliard School of Music, the founding members trace the origins of the Tokyo String Quartet to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where they were profoundly influenced by master cellist Hideo Saito.
“We can’t ignore his presence,” Ikeda says. “For me personally he was like a seed.”
“The members who never knew Hideo Saito might have worked with someone who worked with him,” adds Martin Beaver. “He’s someone we hold dear.”
The Tokyo String Quartet, having learned from the masters, now passes down the tradition to younger students. In addition to their work at Yale, the quartet’s outreach includes concerts at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where they work with schools to reach a large number of students.
“Being in touch with the young generation is really important for us,” Ikeda says. “It’s great when a busload of kids pulls away after the workshop and they call out ‘That was a nice show!’”
The Tokyo String Quartet has also worked with many serious young chamber music groups like the Alana, Attacca, Jasper, and Micro quartets.
“Important chamber music societies are going strong,” says Isomura. “Audiences are more enthusiastic than ever and can take more creative programming. We meet many talented and eager chamber music students. And that’s the future of classical music.”