7 years ago

Volume 18 Issue 6 - March 2013

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  • Toronto
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〉〉 Tokyo String

〉〉 Tokyo String QuartetToronto FarewellBY pamela marglesFrom left: Martin Beaver, Kikuei Ikeda, Clive Greensmith and Kazuhide Isomura.There was a heightened sense of anticipation in Toronto’s Jane Mallet Theatre as theTokyo Quartet walked on stage for their concert in January. This was the 45th concertthe quartet had played in Toronto since their first visit 37 years ago. But it was by nomeans business as usual. They had just announced that this season would be their last.Earlier that day I had a chance to talk with the four members of the quartet, first violinistMartin Beaver, second violinist Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellistClive Greensmith. Both Isomura, who was one of the founders of the quartet in 1969, andIkeda, who joined five years later, had played in that first Toronto performance. After afew other changes in personnel, Greensmith joined in 1999 and Beaver three years later.As we talked over lunch, I was struck by how intently these four very different individualslistened to each other. They finished each other’s sentences, embellished eachother’s stories, commented on each other’s thoughts and recollections, joked with eachother, and laughed a lot. They just seemed to enjoy each other.After their final performance in July at the summer home of the Yale School of Music,where they have taught for many years, the quartet will disband. Fortunately, before that,they’ll be back in Toronto in April to give two more concerts.Pamela Margles: Does performing in Toronto hold specialsignificance for you?Kazuhide Isomura: Yes, we feel that visiting Toronto is almost like comingback to our second home. The Tokyo Quartet’s base has always beenNew York — we started the Tokyo Quartet in New York, and New York isour home. But we have had such a wonderful relationship — partnership— and friendship with Music Toronto over many years. They havereally trusted us, and we’ve trusted them.PM: How did that work?Isomura: We always tried to do something meaningful for the audience— and for us. So we managed to come up with very good projects.We were never too shy to express what we wanted to do, so we wouldset a theme for a series of concerts and, most of the time, Music Torontowould let us do that. So we have been able to be quite adventurous here,in a way, because of that feeling of being at home.Kikuei Ikeda: Also there is another very big element.Peter Oundjian, our first violinist from 1981, and ofcourse Martin, have such strong ties to Toronto.Clive Greensmith: And the audience here has beenso loyal to us. We keep seeing the same peoplewhen we come.PM: How did your teacher in Tokyo, Hideo Saito,influence the quartet in the early years?Isomura: He was the one who taught us the greatnessof the string quartet as an art form — and of thestring quartet repertoire. He was just about everythingat the Toho School in those days. He was thehead of orchestra, strings, cello, chamber music — andthose were just his official roles. His musical influenceon us was so profound.PM: But you formed the quartet at Juilliard. WasProfessor Saito involved at that point?Isomura: Not really. The plan was made by all theoriginal Tokyo Quartet members. We had all studiedtogether with Professor Saito, so it had been ourdream that someday we would reunite, but in NewYork. In those days in New York, it was Robert Mannand the Juilliard Quartet that helped us a lot to getus started.PM: You joined a few years later, Kikuei?Ikeda: I got a phone call in Japan from the originalfirst violinist, Koichiro, asking me if I would be interestedto join the quartet. I took just five seconds tosay yes. Now I’ve been living in America for 41 yearsand my whole life has changed completely becauseof those five seconds.PM: And you, Clive?Greensmith: My wife and I had moved to San Francisco,where I was teaching at the conservatory.Somebody had very nicely recommended me withoutmy knowing, so Kikuei called there and spoketo my wife. But I was in London at the time, doingmy last gig with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.So Misha Kopelman, the first violinist then, calledme and we met in London. On my way home fromLondon we spent a weekend reading together in NewYork, and then they kindly invited me to join. So Imoved from London to San Francisco to New Yorkin eight months.PM: You had an active career as a soloist. Wasplaying in a string quartet part of your plan?Greensmith: It’s a tough life to be a musician inLondon. I had ultimately ended up playing in anorchestra as principal cellist, which was great. But myreal love had been chamber music. So I had this feelingthat hopefully if I moved to America, because it’ssuch a huge country, I might end up having a careerplaying string quartets, which you can’t really do inEngland. And it actually happened. I was just astonishedthat it was with the Tokyo Quartet.PM: Martin, as the newest member of the quartet, how did youcome to join?Martin Beaver: I was a jack of all trades. I was a soloist, but I was also afreelance chamber musician — we had a string quartet called the TorontoString Quartet whose home was Music Toronto. Actually, Jennifer Taylorat Music Toronto was — pardon the pun — instrumental in my joiningthis group. When it was known the Tokyo was searching for a first violintwo people recommended me, Jennifer and Pinchas Zuckerman, withwhom I had done some playing and teaching up in Ottawa.I got an email from Clive, asking me to come and read with them. Ofcourse I said I would love to — obviously with such a great quartet andsuch an intriguing opportunity. At that point I was teaching at the PeabodyConservatory in Baltimore. I loved chamber music, but I hadn’t yetenvisioned being in a quartet full time. So I came up to New York andfor a couple of days we worked on Schubert’s Death and the MaidenPHOTOGRAPH BY peter checchia12 March 1 – April 7, 2013

and an early Haydn quartet, which are both very revealing in their ownways. Then there was a Japanese meal where I was tested to see whetherI could eat Japanese food. Since my wife is Japanese I passed with flyingcolours. And that was it. They gave me about a week to decide, andin that time I flew out to Vancouver and played the Glazunov concertowith the symphony there. For me that was very bizarre, being in concertomode and at the same time thinking of devoting my life to playingstring quartets. But it’s certainly a decision I’ve never regretted.PM: Has it left any time for your solo career?Beaver: With this group it’s absolutely full time — there’s very littletime for anything else. In the 11 years that I’ve been with the group therehave been some occasions to play the odd concerto or recital here andthere, but, really, we’ve been so busy. There’s always been in the TokyoQuartet a deep commitment to the group, and I’ve very happily done that.PM: Do you speak Japanese?Beaver: Not really. My wife was born in Japan, and even though she leftwhen she was quite young, she speaks somewhat. So in a way my familiaritywith Japanese culture helped, certainly in our initial interactions.Greensmith: My wife is also from Japan — from Tokyo. There’s a lovelystory about how Kikuei’s wife called up my wife. They were speaking inEnglish, then both of them heard the accents — and they switched intoJapanese. Kikuei’s wife said, ”I’ve heard very good things about yourhusband.” But my wife knew she had to be extremely humble and say,“Oh no, he’s not very good.”PM: Was it a big leap for the quartet the first time you took on thefirst new member who wasn’t Japanese and didn’t have the samemusical backround? That would have been Peter Oundjian.Ikeda: In a way, but when I joined in 1974, that was a leap too, becauseI was the first new member. Before me there had been a lady, but nowthere were four men for the first time. I think whenever you have anew member there is always a leap. You can’t keep continuing the sameway. Of course nationality has a big part, but to me each new memberbrings changes.Isomura: Actually, many of our friends — and concert presenters,agents, recording people — suggested we should stick with the Japaneseidentity of the Tokyo Quartet. We tried to listen to them and find a newJapanese first violinist, and of course we auditioned Japanese musicians.But we knew the music was more important than nationality.Ikeda: In Peter’s case the biggest change for us was the language. Wehad always spoken in Japanese. Of course we could all speak English,but when you are rehearsing it’s an entirely different matter. Communicationis done very differently in English — not just the language butthe mannerisms, and how you speak to each other. In a way it freed usfrom being very Japanese-polite — now it was okay to disagree. To me, itwas a very interesting change, with more communication and equality.Isomura: When we communicate in Japanese, we Japanese quite oftendon’t say things 100% clearly. The way we express ourselves in Japaneseis often not the most direct way. We leave some space for the other’simagination ... am I right? There’s quite a bit of implication involved inJapanese communication. Especially when we are discussing sensitivethings, we can be kind of ... tricky. Tricky is perhaps too negative aword, but one has to be sophisticated, one has to really try to read theother’s mind. It can get complicated.PM: In what way?Greensmith: Like not answering — “maybe,” “could be,” “I see yourpoint” — that kind of thing.Isomura: Or silence.Beaver: Instead of saying, “Can someone please close the window,”they’ll say, “Oh, it’s a little bit chilly in here.”Isomura: So when we started to communicate in English — and ourEnglish was much more primitive than now — we began to expressourselves in quite a straightforward manner. In a way, it made ourcommunication easier.Beaver: These guys have often said that when they switched to Englishtheir rehearsing became much more efficient. You didn’t have thedancing around with implying things, and you didn’t have to be deferential.So everybody was on a much more equal footing and was ableto just speak directly.PM: But in my experience the British can also be understated andindirect as well, by North American standards.March 1 – April 7, 2013 13

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