Monday, July 28, 2014

Ten Questions for the New Esterházy Quartet

Anthony Martin of the New Esterházy Quartet (Lisa Weiss and Kati Kyme, violins; Anthony Martin, viola; William Skeen, cello) was kind enough to talk to me about the quartet's recent and upcoming projects and performances. It's especially timely because they're playing three different programs this week at Berkeley's Hillside Club, all well worth seeing. Concert details are at the end of this post.

1. What makes the NEQ different from other string quartets?

We play on period instruments, with the gut strings characteristic of all string instruments until a hundred years ago, and the lighter bows characteristic of the late 18th century. For our Amadè-Athon we're playing from facsimiles of the 1st edition, not as a gimmick, but to bring us closer to Mozart's time and his intentions. When we have uncertainty about the notation we consult a facsimile of his autograph score. The differences are enlightening! But the main difference I suppose is an Early Music sensibility coupled with Modern ability. We are unabashedly acoustic musicians, not trying to overwhelm with volume, but rather to discover the nuance and rhetoric that the music demands and the instruments enable.

2. How did the quartet come into existence?

We set out to give the first performances in America on period instruments of all of Haydn's Quartets. We spent a year planning and rehearsing, then played all 68 quartets in 18 concerts over a three-year span.

3. The NEQ spent several years playing all and recording many of the Haydn quartets. What's your current big musical project?

While we didn't record all of the Haydn, we have released 4 CDs of Haydn Quartets derived from our live performances. The current big project is the Amadè-Athon, all six of the Quartets that Mozart dedicated to Hadyn, in three concerts this Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at the Berkeley Hillside Club. It's not generally appreciated that the Mozart Quartets are large-scale, substantial works. Too often a Mozart Quartet is the opener of a concert that then proceeds to Beethoven, Brahms, or Bartók, thus reducing Mozart, shorn of his notated repeats, to the role of an appetizer rather than that of the main course he deserves to be.

4. What other projects have you planned and performed?

Each of our seasons has been a project. We try to play a Haydn Quartet on every concert, the exceptions being the current Amadè-Athon and an all-Boccherini Quintet concert with cellist Elisabeth Le Guin a few years ago. Then we try to show Haydn's continuing influence on his contemporaries and successors. We will continue a series called Haydn and His Pupils, which features Beethoven as well as lesser known students, such as the Swede Paul Struck this coming season and the Pole Franciszek Lessel a few years ago. We also played six programs with quartets that were dedicated to Haydn during his lifetime, featuring of course Mozart, but also Peter Hänsel, Ignaz Pleyel, Hyacinthe Jadin, and others not as well-known but well worth hearing.

5. Who are some of the quartet's favorite collaborators?

Our main collaborator, our Muse, is Joseph Haydn himself. But in the flesh-and-blood realm we have enjoyed working with cellist Elisabeth Le Guin, oboist Marc Schachman, pianist Eric Zivian, violist Ben Simon, and composer Paul Brantley. We should also credit various colleagues and librarians who have helped us locate some rather rare musical materials.

6. Have you considered performing some of the less-well-known classical and early romantic composers? Cherubini, Hummel, Dussek, Sor, Auber, Moscheles, for example?

Certainly! At the request of one of our Palo Alto fans we played Cherubini's 2nd Quartet, and we have played some of Hummel's music, to pick from your list. We have recently recorded the Quatuor Hongrois of the 19th century composer Imre Székely, and we have ventured so far into Romanticism as to emerge out the other side, with Schönberg's Quartet in D from 1899 and Bartók's First Quartet from 1908. 

7. Tell us how the Hillside Club came to be the quartet's East Bay home.

Bruce Koball contacted us about playing a concert there. The ambiance and the audience were so congenial that we have happily agreed to become their Resident Quartet and play our next season there on five Friday evenings through the year. The Amadè-Athon is a kind of mini-summer festival to brighten up the neighborhood, and our lives!

8. Where else do you play during the year?

In addition to Fridays at the Hillside Club, our season concerts are Saturday afternoons in the beautiful St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and Sunday afternoons in All Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. We also will play out of town for Pittsburgh's Renaissance & Baroque Society in January, and we will present the pre-concert lectures, on Chamber Music at the Prussian Court, for Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's October concerts.

9. In addition to Haydn, which great musical figures of the past would the members of the quartet most like to talk with and play music with?

Well, Beethoven is problematic, and not merely because of his hearing disorder. He seems to have been disorderly in many respects, or lack of respects. Mozart as a personality might be beyond our reach. I think we would all be interested in hanging out with Schubert or Mendelssohn, phenomenal and (alas!) forever young.

10. Whose works that the quartet hasn't yet performed are you most hoping to play in the future?

We look forward to playing more Beethoven and Schubert, direct heirs of Haydn. We've played only the last quartet of Schubert, starting at the top, but there are other masterpieces by him awaiting us. We have yet to play any Mendelssohn, a serious gap in our repertoire. We have the idea to recreate programs of famous quartets of the 19th century, so surely they will lead us to some interesting composers and pieces.

You can see the New Esterházy Quartet at Berkeley's Hillside Club this week:

Info: 510-845-1350
Wednesday 30 July 2014 at 8:00pm
Friday 1 August 2014 at 8:00pm
Sunday 3 August 2014 at 4:00pm

The Berkeley Hillside Club
2286 Cedar Street
Berkeley 94709

Admission: $20 general; $15 students & seniors; $10 Hillside Club members 

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