The Jerusalem String Quartet, which celebrates its 21st birthday in 2016, has been one of the world’s most popular chamber ensembles throughout most of its performing life. So communicative is its warm, rich and eloquent tone, its energy and its sheer finesse that the public quickly took the group to its heart and has rarely let go.
The four musicians – violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, violist Ori Kam and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov – are regular visitors to Musica Viva and Australia. “We used to tour Australia for Musica Viva for many, many years and we were quartet-in-residence for four or five years,” says first violin Alexander Pavlovsky, serving as the group’s spokesman. “When we were really young we would go for three weeks, sometimes even longer. Today it’s more difficult: we all have families, so we try to make our visits compact.”
The quartet’s members seem young already to have had such a long career; yet their real outset occurred earlier still. The original four met as teenagers – and only one player has changed since then (Amihai Grosz left in 2010 to become principal viola of the Berlin Philharmonic and Ori Kam took his place).
“I was 16 years old when we started to play together, and I was the oldest in the group,” Pavlovsky remembers. “From these very first lessons with our teacher in Jerusalem, we were so happy about playing chamber music together, but we never imagined we would continue for 20 years. We didn’t have any idea about how it was going to develop. Each of us was studying solo, but I think we were very lucky that our teachers understood quite quickly what was happening.
“The development of this group was something quite unique,” he adds. “Many times we’ve had professors saying, ‘Well, chamber music is great, but you have to concentrate on your own instrument’. That is important, I agree – but I think without focusing on chamber music it’s very difficult to become a musician. Not only a violinist or a cellist, but a musician. Chamber music opens the mind and, most importantly, you learn how to listen to each other, which is very rare.”
Support from the Jerusalem Music Centre was vital to their development, he says. “We could meet in Jerusalem all the best musicians in the world – great quartets and soloists too, like Isaac Stern. And of course the Amadeus String Quartet meant lot to us. We met three of its members and soon we were coming almost every year to London for their summer courses; we learnt so much from them. In 2015 Martin Lovett, the cellist, came to our concert in Amsterdam – we were so happy and surprised to see him!”
Photographer Felix Broede.
Their programmes for the 2016 tour offer a mix of repertoire from the classical, romantic and modern eras: from Haydn through Beethoven and Dvořák to a work by the Australian composer Ross Edwards, for whose music Pavlovsky has much enthusiasm.
“We once played his String Octet together with the Australian String Quartet and really enjoyed it,” he says. “He’s a fantastic composer, probably one of the most important in Australia, and has written a big variety of pieces in various genres: choirs, symphonies, operas, solo pieces. It’s rich and earthy music, with a lot of folk ideas, references to nature and poetry, and even something that reminds me of Jewish musical colours.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is that the quartet is now playing the first of Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets, Op.59 No.1 – one of the composer’s most famous – for the first time. “We’ve been talking about it for years, but somehow we were always busy with something else,” Pavlovsky laughs. “That’s the great thing about the quartet repertoire.
“A quartet is complicated,” he reflects. “The most important thing is for the quartet to have its own voice: to feel that together you’re one instrument with 16 strings. But that does not mean that it’s always one instrument. We don’t want to lose the individuality of each member. We’re always talking about the feeling of one instrument, the blend of sound, the warmth of sound, without losing the individuality of every person, because we all are different. This is what we’re looking for. This process is endless.”