Tokyo Rising

A World-Class Quartet Opens The Local Chamber Series.

By Dave Irwin

SPENDING SO MUCH time together over the years, the Tokyo String Quartet have become like family to each other.

"In terms of physical time spent together," according to violinist Kikuei Ikeda, "we spend more time in the Quartet than with our families.

Review "You can almost tell what the other members are thinking. That goes two ways. Musically, it's great, you can sense each other very well. In private life, it's almost dangerous. It's more than you want to show--or sometimes you want to hide and you know the other people know what you're thinking."

The Tokyo String Quartet are the chamber music equivalent of the Beatles: world-class and stylistically precise, playing a somewhat conservative repertoire. (The Kronos Quartet are the Rolling Stones of chamber music, and they'll be playing Tucson in January.) The Tokyo String Quartet will open the 51st concert season of Arizona Friends of Chamber Music on October 7 with a challenging program. Anton Webern's spiky 20th-century work, Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5, will be played between works representing Beethoven's early and late periods, the breezy Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3 and the much more difficult Quartet in C# minor, Op. 131.

Other concerts in the AFCM series include the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra on October 22, and the Prazak String Quartet on November 11. The Miami String Quartet performs December 2, and the Guarneri String Quartet will return for its sixth AFCM appearance on January 13. The Eroica Trio will premier a work commissioned by the AFCM on February 10. The Sixth Winter Chamber Music Festival will be held February 28 through March 7. Finally, the Vermeer String Quartet will close the season on April 7.

The Tokyo String Quartet, founded in 1969 at the Julliard School of Music, is settling in to its first major personnel change in 15 years. Mikhail Kopelman replaced renowned first violinist Peter Oudjian in 1996, who left the Quartet reluctantly after increasing hand problems. Kopelman is familiar to chamber music lovers after 20 years as first violin with the esteemed Borodin Quartet. Ikedo joined the ensemble in 1974, while violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Sadao Harada are founding members.

Explaining how Kopelman, or as he calls him, Misha, has fit in, Ikeda says, "The Borodin Quartet and our Quartet have very different repertoires. They play mostly Russian music. We've concentrated more on Germanic classical and romantic music. However, in terms of style, the Borodin Quartet plays as a unit rather than for the individual. That's exactly our philosophy."

Regarding their Tucson program, Ikeda notes, "The Webern work is a piece that Misha played and we played and we did not have any big disagreements on style. I love playing Webern in the middle, so people get a different atmosphere from the beginning of the concert to the end.

"That kind of difference refreshes the audience about the music. On the surface, Beethoven's music is quite romantic, but I find his spirit is quite modern, particularly in later works. His Grosse Fugue (Op. 133) goes on and on with its dissonance and amplitude and he doesn't budge, he just keeps going. In that sense, he's more contemporary sounding than Bartók, I think."

The Quartet's most recent recording, I Will Breathe A Mountain with mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne and pianist Martin Katz, features modern songs by Barber and Bernstein. Next year, the Quartet will premier a contemporary work by Michio Mamiya commissioned for them, in what appears to be a slow sonic shift by the normally conservative foursome.

"We always wanted to cover the standard repertoire, which is not small--150 or 200 works," Ikeda notes. "We were actually thinking after our 25th anniversary, when we did the Beethoven cycle, we should change our mode of playing and go towards more contemporary things. But then that was when Peter had to stop playing and Misha joined, so we're trying to cover standards again. But we seem to be covering them faster now."

The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music present the Tokyo String Quartet at 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 7, in the TCC Leo Rich Theater, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $14 general admission, $4 for students. For information on tickets and upcoming AFCM concerts, call 577-3769. TW

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