The Tokyo String Quartet plays one last show in Seattle

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From left: Kazuhide Isomura (viola), Martin Beaver (violin), Kikuei Ikeda (violin), and Clive Greensmith (cello) (Photo by Christian Ducasse)

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

“Seattle is so beautiful,” Kikuei Ikeda of the Toyko String Quartet said in an email interview.

“One thing I particularly love about that area is the nature — the city has both a beautiful mountain and a beautiful ocean — it is almost like the feeling I have when I’m in Japan.”

Ikeda is coming to town for the last time, at least as a member of the Tokyo String Quartet, on April 17. After 43 seasons as an ensemble, the highly regarded classical music group is packing it in with a series of farewell concerts.

The ensemble’s origins go back to 1966, when, according to Ikeda, “The Juilliard Quartet came to Japan and gave a workshop. Kazu Isomura, Sadao Harada, and Koichiro Harada were there and began to dream about forming a quartet of their own. One by one, in different ways, they came to the United States and in 1969, they formed the Tokyo Quartet. Yoshiko Nakura did a fantastic job as a temporary second violinist until they could find a permanent one.”

Ikeda now serves as the Quartet’s latest, and last, second violinist. As he confesses, however, “Classical music wasn’t the first love of my life — my first love was playing baseball. I played baseball every day, so I didn’t practice all that much. My mother knew I wasn’t practicing and would send me that message by hiding my violin, so that when it came time to bring my violin to my lesson, it wouldn’t be in the normal place and I’d have to search for it!”

“Deep down,” he continued, “I did like playing the violin and I did start practicing after that.

The more I played, the more I felt attached to it. In junior high, when my teacher told me I should stop playing the violin, so I could better prepare to get into the university, I couldn’t stop, and that was when I decided to become a professional player.”

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The Tokyo String Quartet in performance. (Photo by Pete Checchia)

Describing the pieces they’ll perform at their final Seattle appearance, Ikeda comments, “We’re playing Mozart’s ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet, and lately, I’ve really been noticing the subtle color changes and harmony changes in the piece, and find them fascinating — the more I play the piece, the more I appreciate it.”

He continued, “The [Lera] Auerbach piece, ‘Farewell,’ was written for us. I believe that in the writing, Lera was trying to describe the life of the quartet player—in the beginning, it is chaotic and argumentative, becoming more peaceful and thoughtful in the second movement. I believe Lera was able to describe our quartet life with this piece. Then, of course, we’re playing the Ravel [String Quartet] — interestingly, he wrote only one quartet, along with Debussy. It’s a masterpiece, but it also tells you how challenging it is to write a quartet. This quartet was not received so well in the beginning — people thought it was not Germanic enough. It’s true, it’s very French. Ravel is quite detail-oriented in his dynamics and expressive markings — in the first eight bars alone, you see ‘p’ (piano) [soft], ‘pp’ (pianissimo) [very soft], and ‘pp espressivo.’ ”

Asked about the differences between Japanese and Western classical music appreciation, Ikeda responds, “Japan is much more Westernized than it was, but still there is a difference — for instance, the audience in Japan is very polite and doesn’t easily go crazy, you don’t see so many standing ovations. After a performance, they show their appreciation by clapping for a long, long time. Sometimes, you have to please them by playing many encores!”

For such an impressive ensemble to quit is, of course, sad.

“I think the main reason [for the split] is that we wanted to go out when we’re still on the top of our game — for Kazu (first violinist Kazuhide Isomura) and myself particularly. Once you start feeling that your quality of playing has declined, it declines very quickly. We didn’t want to get near that point.”

“Personally,” he concluded, “I’m going to teach more — I’ll be teaching at NYU, and Kazu will be at Yale. We’ll both hold visiting professor positions in Japan, and will visit there several times a year. But both of us will continue to live in America. I’d like to learn how to play jazz— I want to learn how to improvise! Martin and Clive will join the Colburn Conservatory of Music as directors of the school’s string chamber music program, and we’ll all be doing freelance and solo playing. Martin Beaver, violist, and Clive Greensmith are making plans to form a piano trio.” (end)

The Tokyo String Quartet plays its farewell Seattle appearance Wednesday, April 17th at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. For prices, directions, and other information, visit http://www.meany.org and/or http://www.tokyoquartet.com.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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