The Takács Quartet travels to New Zealand today after their final concert in Sydney last night. As testament to the number of educational activities the Quartet has undertaken on their recent Australian visits, the hall was noticeably full of music students. Perhaps one of the more unusual lessons a member of the Quartet has given, however, took place yesterday at Circular Quay, as outlined in the below article from today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
SHE’S played in some of the world’s leading music venues as part of the Takacs Quartet and is one of America’s most-respected viola teachers, but yesterday Geraldine Walther stopped by a Circular Quay fruit stand for a brief one-on-one lesson with a local musician, after coincidence brought them together. Walther, who is in town with the Quartet for Musica Viva, had been on her way to rehearsals two years ago when she stopped at the fruit stand near Customs House to buy bananas. ”That’s a viola case there, isn’t it?” asked Bill Haire as he sold her the fruit. ”How did you know?” she shot back and they started chatting. Bill’s son Ben was a violist he explained, studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Their friendship grew and this year when she was coming back to perform, Walther asked if the budding musician might want a few pointers. Unsurprisingly he did, leading yesterday to one of the most unusual lessons and from two of the most unlikely performers the Quay has ever hosted. ”Ben is a fantastic young violist,” Walther said, ”it was a real pleasure to meet him and have a lesson with him. He’s a really talented young player!” Ben, in his second year of a bachelor of music, was suitably happy with the moment and said, one day he hoped to have a similarly successful career as Walther.
It’s hard to believe the Takács Quartet’s Australian tour is nearly over – the group has only three concerts to go, in Newcastle, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as a private performance for members of Musica Viva’s Amadeus Society, helping to build an Artistic Initiatives Fund which will help secure tours to Australia by stellar international artists.
The group has certainly upheld its commitment to education on this tour, giving masterclasses in Perth and Brisbane, an open mentoring session with Musica Viva Rising Stars ensemble the Enigma Quartet, and a special masterclass and discussion as part of ANAM’s Viola! festival. (A pleasing result of the Takács Quartet’s involvement in the 2011 Musica Viva Festival is that one of the ensembles they mentored there, the Orava String Quartet, will soon be moving to Colorado to undertake the Graduate Quartet program with the Takács.)
On Tuesday the Quartet travels to New Zealand where they will perform five concerts for Chamber Music New Zealand, and in a phone conference yesterday the New Zealand team was clearly very excited about the impending Takács visit. It’s always a joy to welcome the Takács Quartet to Australia and we wish them a wonderful time in New Zealand and safe travels home.
Beloved ensemble shows eloquent restraint
Clive O’connell, The Age
June 28, 2012
One of Musica Viva’s favourite guest ensembles, the Takacs Quartet, returns to Melbourne with two programs that follow a parallel course. Nearly all the works played come from the 20th century, the exception being Gordon Kerry’s six-year-old Variations for String Quartet that manages to complement its companion pieces through amiable humour and athletic lyricism that the Takacs personnel accomplish with evident relish. Beginning Tuesday’s recital, the group paired the final chamber works by Janacek and Britten. Contrary to the paint-stripping passion usually applied to the Czech composer’s Intimate Letters quartet, the Takacs approach showed physical and emotional control, the trademark brief melodic bursts juxtaposed in whole blocks rather than as meat trays of different cuts.
Janacek’s autobiographical canvas was portrayed with a splendid brand of serene fervour, best exemplified by the driving viola of Geraldine Walther and the piercing, finely drawn top line of Edward Dusinberre.
Britten’s third Death in Venice-indebted quartet also enjoyed an eloquent restraint, the substantial passacaglia-finale serving double duty as the composer’s farewell to arms and a moving exhibition of his craft in distilled form.
Cellist Andras Fejer gave considerable purpose to the work’s progress, but the ensemble’s unity of intent informed the interpretation from rippling opening to that famously inconclusive last bar. Ravel’s F Major Quartet concluded the program with exemplary finesse. On Saturday at 8pm, the Takacs Quartet plays the first string quartets by Janacek and Britten, Debussy’s solitary work in the form, and Kerry’s Variations.
Intelligent take on a difficult program brings own rewards
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
June 26, 2012
For the latest of its always welcome Australian tours, the Takacs Quartet has constructed two rich programs exploring youth, maturity, national difference and the influence of an absent centre.
Each starts with one of Janacek’s two quartets, both written in the 1920s in his late years, and each closes with either Debussy’s or Ravel’s single quartet, both early works signalling first maturity before the composers moved on to create defining music of the Impressionist era.
In between are the youthful first and late third quartets of Benjamin Britten and the Variations for String Quartet by Gordon Kerry, both of whom share a capacity to create new meaning from classical genres and gestures.
The programs avoid the genre-defining classical works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, although as violinist Edward Dusinberre mentioned in an introduction, they were a silent presence.
Janacek’s String Quartet No.1 “After Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata”, is compulsively volatile in mood and texture as it moves between passionate intimacy, nagging jealousy and the characters and subjectivities represented in Tolstoy’s novella. The Takacs Quartet drew it all together with an overarching balance of sound and collective musical intelligence that converted the idiosyncratic changeability into an insightful narrative of human pain and fallibility.
Britten’s first quartet shows precocious formal mastery for a 28-year-old (close to Beethoven’s age when writing his first mature quartet), particularly in the way the opening music re-emerges tellingly yet logically from what has gone before.
Kerry’s Variations for String Quartet is based on a short theme, continuously renewed and reinvented. Distinctively, in the Australian context, the work engages with the thought processes of the language of classical quartet writing with intelligence, subtlety and insight, to create something new from the past without being derivative of it.
Of all their virtues, it was the Takacs Quartet’s capacity for intelligent musical discourse that turned this work, whose difficulties are sometimes underestimated, into a richly grained, deeply rewarding half hour.
Sounds Like Sydney
20 June 2012
Britten, Ravel, Janáček and Gordon Kerry. A suitable repertoire for a string quartet which was founded in Budapest, came to international attention in France, is based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, appointed Associate Artists for 2012-13 at the Wigmore Hall in London and which is soon to tour to Sydney.
Musica Viva presents the Takács Quartet which for decades has occupied the pinnacle of the performing and recording worlds. Founded in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest by four students, Gabaor Takacs Nagy, Karoly Schranz, Gabor Ormai and Andras Fejer, the quartet came to fame when it won the first prize and the critics Prize at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian,France.
There followed numerous worldwide awards and over 16 recordings for the Decca label. Violinist Edward Dusinberre joined the quartet in 1993 and violinist Roger Tapping in 1995. Violinist Geraldine Walther replaced Tapping in 2005. Their recording of the six Bartok String Quartets won the 1998 Gramophone Award for chamber music and was nominated for a Grammy in 1999. Their most recent recording in November 2011 were the Opus 71 and 74 string quartets of Haydn.
In May, 2012, Gramophone Magazine announced that the Takács Quartet was the only string quartet to be inducted into its first Hall of Fame, sharing the honour with such legendary artists as Jascha Heifetz, Leonard Bernstein and Dame Janet Baker
For this, their 9th Australian tour, cellist and founding member András Fejer says that performing Britten’s first and third quartets is a fair exchange with Edward Dusinberre, the quartet’s first violin and only British member.
He says “Ed has been an extremely good sport, learning all the Bartok Quartets 17 years ago. So we feel it’s long overdue that we should learn to play all the Britten quartets.”
The quartet is fresh from a Britten cycle in the UK tour, so they will bring with them to Australia, the context and experience of a complete overview. “It’s really depressed and dark,” says Fejer. “It’s glorious – wonderful.”
Rounding off the quartet’s tour program are the “Variations” of Musica Viva’s 2012 Featured Composer Gordon Kerry.
Neville Cohn, The West Australian
June 21, 2012
Czech composer Leos Janacek might not have had ideal domestic arrangements but they paled almost into insignificance compared with those described in Tolstoy’s famous story The Kreutzer Sonata, whose descriptions of illicit love, envy, vengefulness and murder sparked a burst of creativity in the musician. Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, subtitled The Kreutzer Sonata, which it triggered, is one of the glories of the chamber music repertoire.
Its performance by the visiting Takacs Quartet was far more than an instance of skilled communication between musicians and audience. Rather, it came across as a profound form of communion between performers and composer. This is a rare phenomenon and all the more effective for that. The work seethes with violent emotion but it has moments of come-hither seductiveness as well and on all counts the Takacs players could not be faulted.
In one of the most adventurous programs this year from Musica Viva, we also listened to that rarity for Perth, Benjamin Britten’s Quartet No 1 which he wrote as young man in the US. As in so much that Britten wrote, his quartet brims with ideas of novel kinds and like some precocious wizard – he was still in his 20s when he wrote it – he casts an agreeable spell on the listener.
Here, too, the Takacs Quartet responded gratifyingly to the score with its ability to convey the grand design of the work without for a moment losing sight of its swarming detail which made its performance such a richly rewarding experience.
Also on the program was Gordon Kerry’s Variations for String Quartet which, on first hearing, fell most agreeably on the ear. It is most engaging, cleverly written music. How fortunate for any composer to have so august an ensemble as the Takacs players to launch it.
After setting out in a rather non-committal fashion, the Takacs ensemble’s account of Debussy’s Quartet took off to splendid effect. Much of the finale is, in its quiet way, probing and profoundly moving- and here the musicians were beyond reproach.
Musical advocacy of most persuasive order
Mark Coughlan, The Australian
June 21, 2012
FOR an ensemble such as the Takacs Quartet, which consistently receives rave reviews in the world’s leading journals, one should always expect music-making at the highest level. Judging by this concert at the Perth Concert Hall, the quartet, whose relationship with Australia spans three decades, is in top form.
For me, the most telling aspect of the concert was the way the quartet comprehensively swept away any reservations about the programming to deliver a most persuasive and compelling musical experience. My concerns that the first string quartets of Janacek and Britten might not make such a satisfying pairing in the first half were ill-founded.
The Takacs is a powerful advocate for these works, bringing a unifying narrative thread to the music’s often fragmentary progress and shaping the works in such a way as to lead the audience through every twist and turn in the musical journey.
In the Janacek, each thematic idea and contrasting episode was sharply defined with a distinct musical character and tone colour. The players have a formidable control over their sound and create the most impressive array of beautifully blended sonorities. In the opening passage of the Britten, the high ethereal writing had none of the cool blandness one often hears; it was played with a warmth and subtle energy that brought a sense of inner life to the music. The slow third movement was perfectly judged in its serenity and powerful expressiveness and was the highlight of the night. The quartet concludes with an exuberant finale that was full of playful good humour.
Hearing this work as a series of four vividly painted tableaus, I was struck that these musicians were, above all, great storytellers.
After the interval, we heard Gordon Kerry’s Variations for String Quartet, a sunny and endearing work that made an excellent contrast to the intensity of the first half. Its gentle lyricism and amicably dovetailing lines were captured with a high degree of finesse. The first two movements of Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor were given an animated and highly charged reading with brisk tempos that built up considerable musical momentum. The third movement, by contrast, was breathtaking in its stillness and ravishing tonal sheen, a perfect vehicle for demonstrating, yet again, the effortless artistry of the Takacs Quartet.
Fab four hints of intimacy
Janet Wilson, Canberra Times
19 Jun 2012
Carl Vine, artistic director of Musica Viva, describes the Takacs Quartet as “Musica Viva’s most regular and most enduring international visitor.” The photos tell the story: everyone looks happy. Audiences love this ensemble. Many music lovers regard the Takacs as the best string quartet in the world.
The ensemble hasn’t played in Canberra since 2007 but now they’re on the way back for a concert at Llewellyn Hall on Wednesday, June 27 as part of an Australian tour beginning in Perth on June 19.
Edward Dusinberre, leader of the ensemble, joined the group almost 20 years ago. What binds him so strongly to this exclusive foursome? “I love working with the others in the ensemble,” he says. “They’re all different from each other and very colourful and I think that the collaborative endeavour is just very rewarding.
“It’s an adventure. Even if we’re playing pieces that we know very well, there’s the musical maintenance of trying to find new ways of doing sections or passages that we may not be quite satisfied with or want to try in a different way. The relationships between the four of us are something that we value and we enjoy the intensity of that. There’s a spark between us. It’s a blessed way of life to be discovering music together and getting to travel the world together. We’re lucky that we can pick and choose a bit how we tour and how busy we are and that helps us to be as fresh as we can be on stage.”
Dusinberre has high praise for Musica Viva, calling it “a vibrant, thriving organisation that knows how to build audiences. If there are organisations like this around, you feel that there’s no problem for the future of music.” As we touch on the current situation at the ANU School of Music, Dusinberre says how important it is to value education and not attempt to evaluate it in purely utilitarian terms.
“Music training is training for life in terms of such basic things as how to take or give criticism,” he says. “It’s learning how to relate to people. We’ve seen a lot of people going through our quartet program learn basic skills that will serve them well through life whatever they end up doing. We can’t just look at economic numbers in music training. You have to see the bigger picture.”
Last year, Takacs performed at the Musica Viva Festival in Sydney, playing the Bartok cycle of quartets and working with some talented young Australian groups. “In fact, we liked the Orava String Quartet so much that we invited them to apply for our Graduate Quartet Program in Colorado and they’re corning to us this August,” Dusinberre says.
Musician, educator, family man – Dusinberre has even tried his hand at music journalism but says that it’s not a big thing for him.
“It’s a tricky medium to write something short and snappy that really grabs the audience’s attention,” he says, “but I always enjoy reading program notes – and we come across a lot of very good ones when we’re travelling.”
Two different programs will be played on tour. Some concerts will feature Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor but the Canberra audience will hear a Ravel work. For Dusinberre, one of the highlights will be a work by Musica Viva’s 2012 featured composer, Gordon Kerry.
“What’s nice about Gordon’s piece is that we learnt it back in the fall and performed it here in Boulder,” he says. “It’s a theme with variations and I always like that format. There are so many great variations movements, especially in the Beethoven quartets or Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. To me, Gordon’s musical language is quite impressionistic and quite French in this piece – a lot of interesting colour and texture. It’s lyrical and maybe our tastes in contemporary music are a little bit conservative – we like pieces that allow the string instruments to sing. We’ll have a day with him in Perth before we play the first concert and it always feels like a luxury to work with a living composer. We’ve already exchanged emails to help us understand his concepts or imagination as to how the piece should sound.”
The Canberra program includes Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters, Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F major and Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3.
Our second violinist, Karoly Schranz, had always thought that he could hear a little bit of French influence in Janacek’s music,” Dusinberre says, “and we wanted to put his wonderful quartets together with the Debussy and Ravel pieces that you hear over the two programs. The Britten pieces came as more of a contrast and they’re works that we’ve done quite a lot in America. We have at times done Janacek’s Kreutzer sonata with readings from the Tolstoy novel but in some ways we prefer it to stand on its own as a piece of music. It’s also true that the Janacek sonata that we’ll play in Canberra is often done with readings from the actual letters that Janacek wrote to Kamila Stosslova and those letters are not works of art by any stretch of the imagination, so again we’d rather let that powerful piece of music speak for itself.”
There’s also a literary connection with Britten’s Quartet No. 3, his opera, Death in Venice, and Thomas Mann’s book. “We’ve played this work over many years,” Dusinberre says. “It’s a wonderful piece of music.”
Harmonies travel in different aisles
Ingrid Piper, The Daily Telegraph
June 19, 2012
The internationally renowned Takacs Quartet has found a simple solution to the inevitable pressure of living, working, performing and touring together for decades – just avoid your colleagues while on a plane.
“We don’t sit next to each other on long- haul flights,” violinist Edward Dusinberre admits. “If I want to read a trashy novel and one of the others wants to study a miniature score, then I’ll feel bad like I should be doing some work.
“When we check into hotels, they’re always quite surprised when we say we want the rooms to be far apart from each other. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that if I want to take a nap, I don’t want to feel guilty hearing someone else practising in the room next to me”.
The Takacs Quartet was formed in Hungary in 1975. Its two founding members Karoly Schranz (violin) and Andras Fejer (cello), together with US musician Geraldine Walther (viola) and British-born Dusinberre all now live in Colorado. It seems Colorado has proved a fertile base for the chamber music group.
“It’s right on the edge of Rocky Mountains and there’s gorgeous scenery, a nice university and it’s a very good place for us to work and recharge after a tour,” Dusinberre says. “Of course it’s not so pleasant after the recent wildfires – that’s the down side of living here.”
The Takacs Quartet has toured Australia a number of times but Dusinberre says his 1993 Musica Viva tour was a personal milestone because he had just joined the quartet.
“It was a great adventure and one of the first tours I did was with Musica Viva,” he says. “I felt more fully a member of the quartet after that Australian tour.”
The close relationship the group has formed with Australia has benefited local musicians. On their 2011 Musica Viva tour, the quartet worked with the Orava String Quartet, a young group of Sydney musicians which Dusinberre says will shortly move to Colorado to study.
Dusinberre says he’s also looking forward to meeting Australian composer Gordon Kerry whose string quartet is part of their eclectic 2012 program of Janacek, Britten, Debussy and Ravel.
Three quarters of the Takács Quartet arrived in Australia on Saturday, with the fourth quarter, in the form of cellist András Fejér, arriving on Sunday – in the words of the Quartet’s agent, András seems to be made of “sterner stuff” and decided he didn’t need as much time as his colleagues to recover from jet-lag.
Jet-lag or no, violinist Edward Dusinberre ventured out to the the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts yesterday to give a masterclass. Members of the Quartet will be giving more masterclasses ath the University of Queensland and the Australian National Academy of Music on Monday 25 June at 10am and 3.30pm respectively.
Today, however, the Quartet meets Musica Viva’s 2012 Featured Composer Gordon Kerry to work on his Variations for String Quartet, commissioned by Diane Parks in association with Musica Viva Australia in honour of David Bookallil’s sixtieth birthday. We know from Gordon’s Twitter account how much he’s been looking forward to the meeting.
The New York Times recently wrote of a Takács concert featuring works by Janacek, Debussy and Britten:
“Harmonic ingenuity, rhythmic vivacity and timbral sophistication were qualities all three works had in common. What bound them into a satisfying program was the strong sense of personality that each work showed, and the commitment and live-wire passion that the four equally distinctive Takacs members brought to them.”
We look forward to hearing all these works alongside Kerry’s Variations very soon: the first concert of their current tour is in Perth tomorrow night.