The Instruments of the Tokyo String Quartet


Tokyo String Quartet pass on Paganini Quartet

by Matthew Westwood

The Australian, May 27, 2013

WHEN the members of the Tokyo String Quartet go their separate ways in July, they will be parting company with another fab four: a group of superb string instruments known as the Paganini Quartet.

The renowned ensemble is due to give its last concert at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in the US on July 6, ending a performance tradition that has lasted 44 years.

Some time after that, the musicians will hand back their instruments – two violins, a viola and cello made by Antonio Stradivari and once owned by 19th-century virtuoso Niccolo Paganini – to their custodian, the Nippon Music Foundation.

“I will miss playing this great music, and also being in touch with the audience; that element I will miss most,” said second violinist Kikuei Ikeda.

The TSQ today embarks on a nine-date national farewell tour for chamber-music presenter Musica Viva. In two concert programs it will perform music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bartok as well as a recent piece by Peter Sculthorpe.

The Tokyo String Quartet was formed in New York in 1969 by four Japanese musicians. Its current line-up comprises Canadian violinist Martin Beaver and British cellist Clive Greensmith, as well as violist Kazuhide Isomura, an original member, and violinist Ikeda, who joined the quartet in 1974. Ikeda, 65, said there was no mandatory retirement age for string quartets, but he and Isomura had decided it was time to step down. Beaver and Greensmith auditioned replacement musicians but had not found the ideal match.

“Kaz (Isomura) and I felt that, before people say ‘These guys are getting old’, we wanted to stop at the top of the game,” he said.

The quartet last week gave its final performance in its namesake city. Ikeda said he was worried about becoming overly emotional during that performance, but the concert was being televised, which kept him focused.

“That added extra pressure,” he said. “It actually helped me to concentrate on just the pure music.”

Playing the Stradivarius instruments helped give the quartet a unity of sound but also allowed each player to express himself individually, Ikeda said.

It is likely that the Paganini Quartet will be lent to another string quartet to play.

Tokyo String Quartet perform for their final Melbourne concert tonight at the Melbourne Recital Centre from 8pm.

For tickets and more information, visit


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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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