Thursday, January 4, 2007
It was nighttime in New York City during a busy season when I spoke with Kazuhide Isomura by phone. In his 38 years as founder-member and violist of the Tokyo String Quartet—an ensemble considered by many to be one of the greatest string quartets in the world—Mr. Isomura has likely given a thousand interviews, but he was gracious. I was invited to call him Kazu. He had had a little wine. I had not, alas, but the conversation was easy. It was about the music.
The program that will be performed by the Quartet at Sunset Center on Friday, Jan. 5, represents exquisitely the obsession and the virtuosity of this great ensemble. Two works, Mozart’s Quartet in E flat Major. K.428 and Schumann’s Quartet in A Major, Op.41, No.3, are pinnacles the classical quartet repertoire; An Exaltation of Larks, by American composer Jennifer Higdon, demonstrates the ensemble’s commitment to contemporary composers.
The evening will begin with one of six early quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn. “In this very serious quartet I see Mozart trying hard to compose an idea—the essential string quartet,” said Isomura. “The music seems simple and almost humble.
“In his later quartets, the work is very imaginative and free-spirited, with more focus on individual voices. In contrast, these works dedicated to Haydn emphasize how four voices can be beautifully united—a very essential piece of writing, not fussy or dramatic but pure and deep and profound.”
Jennifer Higdon’s An Exaltation of Larks will be a West Coast premiere of the work commissioned by the Tokyo Quartet. “I find this piece very American, beautifully American,” Isomura said, “in a way that some of Copeland’s works are—lyrical and atmospheric, reflective of nature.
“Until we saw the score we didn’t have much idea of what she would do. When we received this piece we had to get used to it. We’ve never played any of this kind of music before. It was refreshing.”
The Tokyo String Quartet has a long history of working with contemporary composers.
“We really believe that it is our duty to have close communication with composers, to try to inspire each other,” Isomura said. “Composers need our support.” He pointed out that originally, composers performed their own music, and later, when works became more virtuosic, performers and composers would exchange ideas at salons.
“Now they are very separate from each other,” he said. “Players should really try to communicate and inspire composers more. And if they write a wonderful piece, we should introduce it to the public.”
The program ends with Schumann: “A deeply romantic composition,” Isomura said. “Schumann wrote wonderful songs and piano and symphonic music, but only three string quartets. We find this the most unique and original of his works.”
~ ~ ~
The Tokyo String Quartet was founded in New York City by four Japanese musicians who had studied with Hideo Saito in Tokyo and then in New York at the Juilliard School of Music.
“We had so much passion to play the great quartet repertory,” Isomura recalled. “In the beginning the similarity of our backgrounds gave us a real unity in our performances.
Through subsequent changes— Isomura is the only remaining founder member—the Quartet remains committed to a core musical idea.
“Rather than using the quartet repertoire as a vehicle to express ourselves,” he said, “we really try to grasp the essence of the music, and let the music talk. We are totally devoted to this.”
THE TOKYO STRING QUARTET performs at 8pm Friday, Jan. 5, at the Sunset Center, San Carlos Street and Ninth Avenue, Carmel. 625-2212 or chambermusicmontereybay.org.