The 2012 film “A Late Quartet” traces the rifts that form in the relationships between the members of a long-running string quartet as its senior member (played by Christopher Walken) decides to retire. The members of the Tokyo String Quartet didn’t face such personal conflicts when founding member Kazuhide Isomura and violinist Kikuei Ikeda, who joined in 1974, decided to call it a day. But the remaining members made the no less dramatic decision to end the 43-year-old quartet with their departure.
“In the end, we felt it would be very hard to find two members that would have a unity of vision between the two of them, let alone with the remaining members from the previous incarnation of the group,” says cellist Clive Greensmith. “I think we both felt that it would be stretching just a little too far.”
The Tokyo String Quartet was founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music by four musicians who had been influenced by Professor Hideo Saito at the Toho School of Music in Tokyo. “A quartet should evolve in different ways but always has to remember its roots,” says Greensmith, who joined the ensemble in 1999. “I always found that our group had a nice balance between heart and head and that the individual expression of each member was well balanced with the corporate vision of the group. It was and still is very much a cultural attribute that I’ve observed in Japanese people. There is an objectivity and a sense of allowing the music to speak for itself.”
Greensmith and violinist Martin Beavers, the quartet’s newest member, having joined 11 years ago, will continue to work together. Both are joining the faculty of Los Angeles’ Colburn School of Music, and plan to begin a new piano trio. But their current tour is a bittersweet farewell to the places and repertoire that the quartet has performed for more than four decades.
They’ll perform in Philadelphia for the final time on Sunday, with a program featuring Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Bartok.
“We played our last-ever Ravel quartet yesterday on Long Island,” Greensmith said when we spoke early this week. “So we’re saying goodbye to the music, familiar pieces that we’ve lived with and played regularly over the last 43 years. It’s tinged with a little melancholy.”