Carl Vine on Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu
Chamber music, possibly more than any other form of musical expression, requires little information outside of itself for the listener to realise maximum enjoyment. At the same time, knowing some historical background about the composers, and something of the social forces prevalent in their lifetimes, can help to broaden appreciation. Similarly, chamber music performers simply have to render their material in the most honest and appropriate manner possible, but knowing a little about their social and genetic background can provide some fascinating illumination.
Like several groups we have presented recently, the Kuss Quartet (touring nationally for us in September) formed while its members were just teenagers, but it has had an even more fascinating trajectory than most. Just as it started attracting substantial attention in 1998, winning the Karl Klingler competition in Berlin, the group promptly disbanded. Despite attracting considerable critical praise, the quartet had failed to attract a permanent violist, and the players’ highly developed sense of serious purpose prevented them from capitalising on momentary fame when they felt their musical core was incomplete.
They found the perfect violist two years later, whom they credit with defining, almost from the first meeting, the intrinsic nature of the group. It is especially ironic, then, that we celebrate a quartet with a historic deficiency of violists, in a debut concert tour featuring an overabundance of them.
The career of the Principal Viola of the Berlin Philharmonic, Naoko Shimizu, runs in parallel with those of the quartet’s members, whom she has met in many guises over the years. Despite playing every day in one of the world’s great orchestras, Naoko confesses an unquenchable love of chamber music.
The Kuss Quartet credits many mentors with helping them refine the group’s identity, but above all Walter Levin (first violinist of the Le Salle Quartet) and Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag. Kurtag is renowned for writing works of striking originality and tangible intellectual rigour, as well as for being a radically stimulating coach for many of the world’s finest emerging chamber ensembles. The Kuss have worked with him over several extended periods, including in the preparation of one of his seminal works, ‘Officium Breve’, which appears on both programs of the group’s concert tour in September.
To accompany Kurtag’s music, the Kuss presents quartets by Mozart and Smetana. With Naoko they will be playing classic quintets by Mozart and Brahms, alongside a brand new work by Featured Composer Gordon Kerry, commissioned especially for this tour by Kim Williams AM.