Musical Musings – Kelemen Quartet

DC5407_9250_MVA ICS 14 Kelemen SQ_©Keith Saunders

How did you become a quartet?

Barnabas Kelemen (first violin):  Me and my wife Katalin along with her younger sister Dora, we started to play trios together, so actually our missing string quartet was already established maybe fourteen years ago because my wife and I were also teaching Gabor Homoki at the Franz Liszt Academy, then we realised that he is someone who also speaks the same language and that we have a lot of fun together, so we started, and soon it became clear that it could be a nice future. As me and my wife were always thinking about having a string quartet – that would be our goal in our lives. So that’s how it started.

The programmes that you’re playing on the tour…

BK: We are very excited about the Ross Edwards, which we will be playing for the first time on the tour.  First we would like to experience it on stage. It will be the first time we play his music. When we study it, we will look at a wide range of his music. It will be one of the highlights of our tour.

Dora Kokas (cello): We can’t wait. It sounds very exciting.

Do you try to approach older music as if it were new music?

BK: Definitely so. One part of touching a piece like for example by Haydn is to imagine the atmosphere, the style, the time when the piece was written, but it’s also very important that we keep the inspiration of the moment on stage.

So Dora, what actually happens between you and the audience when you give a concert?

DK: When we go on stage, immediately there is an atmosphere created by the audience. And once you start to play, after a few bars, it’s so obvious how the audience reacts to the piece, how we play, how we perform the piece. And of course we have moments when we felt that – but first of all we very much like when we can see the audience, so when we perform we always ask not to switch off the lights on the audience.  Because when they are in the dark and we are all lighted, it’s a terrible feeling, because I feel like I’m under a magnifying glass which makes everything bigger. I don’t like it. I need to see them, because I’m playing for them.  For me it’s very important to give. And because I give, they give. And it’s an amazing reaction.

BK: The first reaction is also important. When we step on the stage, we already feel something – how they accept us.

You’re playing the Quartet in C Major, Opus 20, No. 2 by Haydn on your Australian tour. Is there anything in that quartet that you can specifically relate to his Esterhazy time?

DK: We love all of Haydn’s quartets. All of them are different, because of different reasons, and we all love them, and we are open for all his ideas.

The Bartok quartets must be very central to your repertoire.

DK: Well, absolutely, Bartok is very very close to us.  And we love his music, and of course we’ve played the divertimento, not only the quartets. So because he’s Hungarian and because we know all the folk stuff behind it, it’s very close to us. And we have, I think, a close understanding to what he wanted. We love to play them, and I think Bartok is one of the quartets that we cannot be bored of playing.

How important is it to understand the folk background?

DK: I think it’s very important that most of the folk songs that he puts in his pieces we can sing. We even know the lyrics, because that’s how we were educated, since we were born.  Our mother was singing them for us.  Of course there are so many Hungarian folk songs – one cannot sing all of them – but they’re sometimes very similar to each other – we can say that it’s in our blood, because since we were born, we hear it.

I read one review of an American critic who had difficulty with the wildness of your approach.

BK: I don’t know.  We try to find an approach through the music, and if it is rather wild, then we find that part of it, but it can be also lyrical and also deeply sad and also very emotionally passionate, but not necessarily wild. If it is wild, though, we get wild.

We are happy if audiences respond with enthusiasm.

DK: Sometimes when they come backstage, they say that it was shocking; but it’s not necessarily negative. So shocking can be very good. There are pieces where after finishing it’s so shocking that one doesn’t even want to clap, because it gave such an impression that it was shocking. It’s not necessarily bad.

Wasn’t it Hanslick who wrote of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto that it was music which had a bad smell?

BK: Exactly. And maybe that’s how we can connect our approach to music and to playing on stage – that we like to bring back that atmosphere of the premiere.

Because we hear so much from the media, all this recorded music, that’s exactly a reason why we need more and more live concerts. I’m hoping, and now I would believe, that now we are in the deepest part of the valley, and now the only way is up, for live concerts. That’s what I hope.

I also wanted a few words from you about the Beethoven and the Tchaikovsky.

DK: We always try to put together a programme in a way that it’s more colourful and more different in style. And we always try to put them together very colourfully. We feel that Bartok, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Edwards – it’s a very colourful programme, and I think it will be very exciting for us and for the audience as well.

BK: This Tchaikovsky Quartet, for example, is really close to us, although it’s really not easy, in any way – technically, musically – to play it and to listen to it, but at the end I think it gives us a very unique conclusion, because really it shows so many parts of Tchaikovsky’s life and way of composing. So you can feel yourself in a ballet, sometimes, and you can feel sometimes that you’re listening to his symphonies or any of his chamber music – everything is in there, and it’s so noble, so aristocratic. And in the same way it should also be simple, and it should talk by itself.

To what aspect of the Australian tour are you most looking forward?

BK: Diving with sharks.

As Dora has gluten allergies, she’s looking forward to the gluten-free hamburgers. And me and my wife, the sharks. We are also really looking forward to experiencing the audience. During concerts, before concerts, after concerts, and people on the street

DK: Yes, and we will give masterclasses, and we will have photo shoots, and nice evenings and receptions, and we are looking forward to get to know new people and musicians and all the fun and all the work together.

Barnabas, are you serious about diving with sharks?

BK: I am. I have the PADI license. We are actually scuba divers, my wife and I. The others would dive in a cage.

Dora, what do you think about that?

DK: I think they are crazy. But I love them. I love the idea that they are very brave. Actually I want to do that too. It sounds very exciting. And why not?

For more information on the Kelemen Quartet, and to book your tickets, please visit the website or call 1800 688 482.

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About Musica Viva Australia

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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