Chamber Music In The Greene Space: The Tokyo String Quartet

Originally published on July 2, 2014 3:43 pm

The devastation in Japan has brought attention to one facet of the country's cultural life: its vibrant classical music heritage. As the Montreal Gazette recently reported, the world's third-largest economy encompasses the world's second-largest music market. And, unlike the more recent boom in China, Japan's classical heritage reaches back decades.

The Tokyo String Quartet is a prime example. Formed in 1969 by four Japanese musicians studying at the Juilliard School of Music, they trace their origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where the founding members studied under Hideo Saito, the legendarily skilled and tyrannical pedagogue. The ensemble was at first a casual endeavor — a "study quartet" — but it got serious quickly.

A series of awards came in the early 1970s. In 1976, they joined the faculty of the Yale School of Music. Television appearances (on Sesame Street, CBS Sunday Morning and PBS's Great Performances) followed, recalling the days when mass media exposure was a routine feature of quartet life.

As with most major string quartets, personnel changes have reshaped the ensemble even down to its ethnic identity. These days, there are two non-Japanese players: the British cellist Clive Greensmith, who joined in 2000, and Canadian Martin Beaver, who joined as first violinist in 2002. Second violinist Kikuei Ikeda joined in 1974, while violist Kazuhide Isomura is the group's remaining original member.

Adventures in obscure and modern repertory have never been the Tokyo String Quartet's main focus. Yet, over the years, the group's cycles of Beethoven and Brahms, Mozart and Haydn have been widely respected, as have their detours in Bartók, Janácek and Barber. Last fall, the quartet released the fourth and final volume of its Beethoven string quartet series on the Harmonia Mundi label, which received the French "Diapason d'Or" critics' award.

In New York City's Greene Space, the Tokyo players will apply their "Paganini Quartet" of matched Stradivarius instruments to works by Haydn, Bartók and Beethoven. Don't miss the night's final piece: Beethoven's immense and involving Grosse Fugue.


  • Haydn: String Quartet in F, Op. 77, No. 2
  • Bartok: String Quartet No. 4 - Allegretto pizzicato
  • Beethoven: Grosse Fuge (with end of Cavatina, Op. 130)
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