Interview with Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu – part 2

Things went well. The Wall fell, and by 1991, the Kuss Quartet found itself performing for the German President, Richard von Weizsaecker. On a visit to the Eisler school the previous year, chamber music guru Walter Levin had spotted the quartet and invited it to participate in his masterclasses.

“That same summer, we worked with him in Salzburg, and then Paris, and then Amsterdam,” recalls Wille. “We discovered the world through string quartet. It was like a dream.”

The quartet still had no name when it won a place performing in a final concert at the end of one of Levin’s masterclasses. Another participating quartet suggested that they should call themselves after Jana Kuss, the first violinist.

“We didn’t know what to print in the programme. They decided on Kuss, because it sounds nice, and it’s easy to remember.”

Things went fast and well for the young quartet. Too well. In 1998, they won the Karl Klingler competition, and promptly disbanded.

“We still didn’t have a violist, and we felt that individually we were not strong enough as players, and that we had not had a chance to have separate personal experiences. It was a one way street leading to a dead end.

“It caused a big scandal, because we even cancelled the final concert after winning the competition. But we felt we had to do this.”

Wille went to Indiana University to study, Kuss went to Basel. Then they received a call from Hamburg’s Musikhalle, where they now have their own concert series. Two years later, they resumed as a quartet, with a violist and a different cellist. They returned to Levin, and then agreed to spend 2001 studying with members of the Cleveland Quartet at the New England Conservatory in Boston. This was when violist William Coleman joined the group – a seminal development, explains Wille.

“We were unhappy with the way we played, and we thought some things were really missing – freedom, flexibility, different angles. He was the personification of all of that. At first it didn’t work at all. We were just not playing together. It was a difficult process, but we worked hard, and it paid off in the end. We went straight from Boston to Italy, and won the Borciani competition.”

With that, the ensemble’s career was launched. Shimizu, who was studying in Detmold at the time, remembers meeting Kuss.

“I was impressed that even though she was still so young, she was so focussed on quartet playing,” says Shimizu.

© Shirley Apthorp

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One response to “Interview with Kuss Quartet & Naoko Shimizu – part 2”

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