Tokyo Quartet leaves behind legacy

On Tuesday night, the legendary Tokyo String Quartet gave its final New Haven performance after 37 years at the School of Music before the group disbands in July.

As the school’s artist-in-residence, the ensemble has mentored generations of music students in addition to performing internationally, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said. The group has also taught talented young ensembles — including the Linden Quartet and the Jasper Quartet, two of the foremost quartets today — who came as postgraduate fellows to study specifically with the Tokyo String Quartet, Director of Chamber Music Wendy Sharp ’82 said. She added that by visiting eight to 10 times per semester, the ensemble has demonstrated an unusually high level of dedication to its students.

Violin student Hye Jin Koh MUS ’13, who studied with First Violinist Martin Beaver and Cellist Clive Greensmith, said the Quartet focused entirely on their students while in New Haven and prioritized attending their students’ concerts. Christian Kim Sitzmann MUS ’13, another violin student, said Second Violinist Kikuei Ikeda demonstrated the power of actively listening to other musicians in an ensemble and knowing musical scores by heart. The quartet emphasized behaviors that are vital to all types of classical music, including the sensitivity to a group necessary for solo, orchestral and chamber performance, violin student Hen-Shuo Chang MUS ’13 said.

The Quartet’s members have served as career role models for their Yale students, Koh said. For example, Beaver’s love for his family showed Koh that professional musicians can also have family lives, providing a much-needed example of work-life balance in the music industry, she said. In coaching sessions, the members imparted real-life perspective about the challenges of stage performance, and told students about tactics and techniques that worked or failed on the job. The group’s residency has also led to connections and networking opportunities: Beaver connected Koh and Chang’s quartet to summer music festivals.

Yet the Quartet urges students to develop their musicality on their own, five students, faculty members and administrators said. Ikeda never commanded his students to adopt a specific style, Kim said, and helped them develop interpretations on their own.

“Tokyo makes it emotionally safe for a young quartet to walk in and be vulnerable to develop their own musical voice,” Blocker said.

Being in-residence at Yale has allowed the Quartet to think of New Haven as its professional home. Although the members live separately throughout the tri-state area, Yale brings them together for teaching, Ikeda said. The School of Music and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival — a music and arts summer program affiliated with Yale — have been the only places where the quartet has coached on a regular basis, he said.

“Yale has been our home, and having a home gives us the feeling that our life evolved with Yale,” Ikeda said.

Yale provides the quartet with health insurance and a steady income, though financial stability is rare for artists-in-residence, Ikeda added.

The School of Music has not yet begun a search for another artist-in-residence, Blocker said. Blocker and Dana Astmann, the School of Music’s manager of public relations, said the school will likely search for another one of the world’s greatest quartets but has not made any definite plans or assessed the school’s programmatic needs.

After the Quartet disbands in July, Beaver and Greensmith will lead a new chamber music program at the Colburn School of Music in California, where they will also be violin and cello professors. Ikeda said he and Violist Kazuhide Isomura will serve as visiting professors at universities.

The quartet announced its retirement last April.

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