Interview with Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu – part 1
All of us live in Berlin, but nothing is ever quite that easy. In the end, interviewing the members of the Kuss Quartet and violist Naoko Shimizu, who will tour Australia together for Musica Viva, involves a trip to Milan, where cellist Mikayel Hakhnazaryan and violinist Oliver Wille are playing a concert of Brahms with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at La Scala as part of an orchestral tour. This is a kind of busman’s holiday, while the other two quartet members take time off to get married (“but not to each other!” adds Wille in hasty explanation).Shimizu is not touring with the MCO. We meet in a rehearsal room of Berlin’s iconic Philharmonie concert hall, where she works as principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic.
“When I got this job ten years ago, I had to drastically reduce my outside work, because everything was new – there was so much to learn,” Shimizu explains. “But by now I know the orchestral repertoire better, and I’ve recognised that I love playing chamber music – it’s the thing I like most.”
Accounts as to when the Kuss Quartet was founded vary. Some say that the members were 14 or 15 years old at the time; others that they were as young as 12.
“I cannot really remember a time without the quartet,” admits Wille, “but I remember that we had our first rehearsals before the Wall came down, which was 1989.”
The quartet’s founder members were children at East Berlin’s Hanns Eisler music school when their teacher, Eberhard Feltz, urged them to try playing together.
“Out of this first encounter, a strong love developed fast,” says Wille.
In their early years, they lacked not only a violist but also a viola; Wille remembers playing the viola part on the violin. Later they procured an instrument through a member of the Vogler Quartet, and apart from the cellist, all three of them took turns playing the viola part.
© Shirley Apthorp