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Ludwig Van
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Tokyo String Quartet announces end of a long a glorious history

By John Terauds on April 20, 2012

The Tokyo String Quartet will be no more at the end of the 2012-13 season (Peter Ceccia photo).

It feels much like being told that a close friend is terminally ill: The Tokyo Quartet has announced that it will disband at the end of next season.

The following notice appears on the Tokyo website, signed by violinists Martin Beaver, Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Clive Greensmith:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

In the fall, we wrote to you about Kikuei and Kazu’s decision to retire. Martin and Clive had no shortage of fine applicants auditioning for the positions of 2nd violin and viola, but after a great deal of thought, they have decided that the Tokyo String Quartet’s extraordinary 44-year history will officially come to an end in June of 2013.

We have had a wonderful season, and we like to feel, as we look forward to our next (and last) season as a quartet, that we have never played better.

But as Martin notes: “It is a difficult prospect to replace one long-standing quartet member. To replace two of them simultaneously is a Herculean task. With the retirement of our colleagues in our minds, we increasingly felt over the last few months that the most fitting way we could honor and celebrate our quartet’s long and illustrious career was to bring it to a graceful close.”

Warmest thanks to all the Tokyo Quartet’s audiences, past and present, who have supported and cheered us along the way.

This season, the quartet completed a full cycle of Beethoven string quartets and began a Bartok cycle for Music Toronto, an organization that has welcomed the Tokyo Quartet as its primary visting ensemble for much of its history, which started well after the quartet was founded in 1969. (Update: Music Toronto artistic administrator Jennifer Taylor tells me the quartet has been on the concert series 45 times since 1975.)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director, Peter Oundjian, is himself a former first violin of the Tokyo Quartet.

They leave a remarkable legacy — both live and recorded – as touring musicians, collaborators and mentors, especially in their deaces as ensemble in residence at the Yale School or Music.

The quandary faced by the Tokyos, of replacing members versus calling it a day, is a dilemma that most chamber ensembles face at some point in their history. Unlike opera companies or symphony orchestras, they are not greater than the sum of their parts — the are no more and no less than the men and women who face the audience every night.

This makes next season’s Music Toronto visits — on Jan. 10 and Apr. 4 — all the more precious.

The Tokyo Quartet’s final concert will take place at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the summer home of the Yale School of Music, in June 2013.

Here, for me to sniffle over, is not an obvious choice, like a Haydn or Beethoven quartet, but something from when I first heard the foursome, featuring my favourite pianist, the late Alecia de Larrocha with the Tokyo — including Peter Oundjian on violin and Sadao Harada on cello — in Robert Schumann’s great effusion, the Op. 44 Piano Quintet:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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