The Pražák Quartet provided the core of the concert series that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friends of Chamber Music in 1998. And now, bringing the best of the burnished string sound of the Bohemian tradition, we asked Pražák Quartet violist Josef Kluson a few questions about inspiration, critique, the shaping of the ensemble, and the anticipation of playing for Vancouver audiences.
What inspirations have helped shape your identity as a quartet? How has the group evolved since you started playing together?
Josef Kluson (violist): Inspiration is something that comes and goes, but forming and developing the character of the ensemble takes a long time. The first step is to overcome the myriad technical problems that can and do exist, and then you can begin the real process of creating art. There are many ensembles who cannot get past this technical aspect. For us, we’ve always wanted to bring a message and/or a story to our audience. We need to first understand the message of the composer and then serve it to our audience the way it was intended. This is a criterion of the quality of the ensemble, and it is a never-ending process. We enjoy sharing new discoveries that we find within great pieces like Beethoven or Brahms, etc. As artists, we are often shaped by life itself, as well as on the deep knowledge of the material.
Chamber music requires a great deal of trust within the ensemble, both in preparation and honesty in critiquing that preparation. Is there any difficulty finding a balance?
JK: We learnt very quickly how to communicate our individual opinions to each other by finding a way to say it briefly, or by allowing this communication to flow by playing it on the instrument. Critiquing is very important, and I’d have to say that our best critic is the mic. We’ve recorded almost the complete Quartet repertory so we are able to verify any detail if one of us has doubts.
Before you take the stage, what are some of your individual or collective pre-performance rituals? What purpose do they serve?
JK: We always tune our instruments. Tuning on stage is disturbing but sometimes necessary, especially because the temperature differs between on the stage and backstage. Then, we all get into concentration mode and all look forward to sharing the music with the audience.
As you prepare to play your recital in Vancouver, you’re also in the midst of performing in Europe. You also have concerts scheduled post-Vancouver in Europe and North America until May. Over the years, what have you learned about the differences in performing on a variety of stages and in different locations around the globe?
JK: Vancouver audiences are very similar to Europe’s. Here [in Europe], there’s a long and great tradition of chamber music series with flawless programming. Generally, we have a similar feeling with other cities in Canada. Some US cities seem to appreciate simple or easy to listen to romantic music. This is generalizing, of course, and except for the music centres. Japanese audiences seems to like Czech music and Mozart because it is a great and easiest way to enter into western music. This is similar in Korea. In the end, everything depends on how we musicians communicate with people. We should at least try to convince them of what Nietzsche said, which is “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Your program features Mozart’s Quartet in D major, K499, Janáček’s Quartet No. 2, and closes with Dvořák’s Quartet No. 10, Opus 51. How did you choose these pieces?
JK: We’ve chosen this program for this special audience. Hoffmeister Quartet by Mozart is a treasure and is played very little. Janáček is all about life and love – certainly one of the greatest pieces of 20th century. And Dvorak op. 51 is a picture of beautiful, slavonic melodies.
From the unique perspective of chamber musicians performing, can you tell us a bit more about this particular repertoire and what audiences can look forward to?
JK: We plan to do our best to help our audiences feel happy.
The Pražák Quartet—one of today’s leading international chamber music ensembles—was established in 1972 while its members were students at the Prague Conservatory. Since then, the quartet has gained attention for its place in the unique Czech quartet tradition, and for its musical virtuosity. For more than 30 years, the Pražák Quartet has been at home on music stages worldwide.