in: News & Features

March 26, 2014

Expectations High for Jerusalem String Quartet

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One of the this season’s eagerly awaited Boston debut recitals comes on March 29th when the Jerusalem String Quartet makes its appearance at Jordan Hall for the Celebrity Series of Boston.  The foursome is one of our personal favorites and apparently of Strad, which deems it “one of the young, yet great quartets of our time.” The program looks to be an effective showcase for the ensemble’s total engagement: Haydn: Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 76, no. 4 “Sunrise”; Shostakovich: Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major; Brahms: Quartet in A minor, Opus 51, no. 2. A PDF of the program notes can be downloaded here.

BMInt’s recent email exchange with the quartet’s violist Ori Kam follows:

BMInt: Having listened to a lot of your playing in recordings, I can say that it possesses qualities of the grand manner—huge emotional investment, with juicy, warm-toned, big-boned style, but unlike some of the grand manner ensembles of the past, a technical perfection. How have you achieved all of that?

We believe that people come to a concert to experience something larger-than-life. The sheer stunning genius of the material we deal with is the main driver in our work process. Our approach consists of bringing this material—these pieces to life. We have found that the more honest our execution of the music, the more powerful and effective it becomes.

As for perfection, it’s strange to hear that characterization, because we do not think of ourselves as perfect. Every concert and every rehearsal is a new process for fine tuning and making another moment sound better. Every time we go off-stage we always have plenty of criticism for ourselves and each other.

Despite your status as competition winners, you really have a distinctive sound and style that isn’t about velocity and power—Have you played with such maturity since you began as a foursome?

The quartet was lucky to have very good mentors from its first day. Starting with Avi Avramovich, who was the quartet’s first teacher. He worked intensely on the smallest of musical details, as well as the endless process of thriving for sound aesthetic and musical expression. Later on, it was members of the Amadeus, Alban Berg and Emerson quartets as well as Isaac Stern and some other giants who set a very clear and steady path for our development, and these amazing mentors really helped us develop our common vision and approach.

Is there any typecasting as a consequence of coming from Jerusalem?

Four of the founding members lived in Jerusalem when the quartet was founded, and two of us live there now. Some people have tried to typecast us as symbols of different things in the past. But we really are simply a string quartet from Jerusalem.

During much of your 2014 tour you are offering complete Shotakovich cycles. What does that music resonate so strongly with you and why, if Mexico City can have such a four-night event at the spectacular Palacio de Bellas Artes, could you have not have done something so concentrated and intense for sophisticated Bostonians?

Since three of the members of the quartet were born in the former Soviet Union, the music of Shostakovich does resonate in a special way. Shostakovich’s quartets are in many ways a diary of life under soviet rule, something three of us remember. On top of that, some of our teachers were colleagues and students of Shostakovich himself. His 8th quartet was one of the first pieces the quartet learned, and when the first opportunity to present a complete cycle of quartets was presented, Shostakovich seemed the natural choice. We presented the cycle in several North-American cities (Portland, New York, Houston, Vancouver) the reason we haven’t brought this cycle to Boston is that we were not invited to do so. The cycle in Mexico will be our final cycle for now. We offered these cycles during the 12/13 and 13/14 seasons and are now moving on to other projects.

At least we are getting one Shostakovich in your Celebrity Series recital. Are there any connections among the three pieces you are playing for us—Haydn “Sunrise”, Shostakovich 12 and Brahms Op. 51 No. 2?

We try to juxtapose pieces from different periods in our regular (non-cycle) programs. In a way the medium is the connecting line between the pieces. I always find it interesting how different composers used the same instrument to express such different ideas. Haydn was the foundation for all the composers who followed him and one could draw a straight line from Haydn to Beethoven to Brahms. Shostakovich, while utterly rooted in the 20th century, uses the string quartet in a very classical way, and it is very interesting to see the links between Haydn and his music. The 12th quartet is one of his most interesting. In this quartet Shostakovich uses an almost serialist approach.

Jerusalem Quartet (file photo)

Jerusalem Quartet (file photo)

The YouTube clips on your website [here], including some for the Brahms you are playing in Boston, sound amazing, but they document your performances in very weird looking and somewhat bland hall. Where were these recorded?

At the Schubertiade festival in Hohenems, Asutria. It is a live concert.

As I look at your calendar and your recorded repertoire I see no living composers represented. Is that because you can’t make an emotional connection with it. Are there any living composers whom you are considering?

We actually offer several contemporary pieces every season, including some commissions. Unfortunately we perform the repertoire that presenters pick from what we offer.

Jerusalem String Quartet
Saturday, March 29, 2014
8pm — NEC’s Jordan Hall

Tickets here.

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