Takács Quartet in the Canberra Times

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.”

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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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