A year and a half is plenty of advance notice, and I’m hopeful that Beaver and Greensmith will come up with two more fine string players to “fill in the middle” (so to speak) of the quartet.
I raise this issue not on a point of abstract morality, but in order to say something about the intrinsic nature of chamber music.
With long-lived chamber groups, this issue comes up from time to time: both the Juilliard and the Borodin quartets have none of their original members today. There are probably a few more examples to be found out there, so what the Tokyos are doing is hardly unprecedented.
And those who would defend the continuation of the Tokyo Quartet could point out that the overlap in players over the years has been gradual. It’s not as though a new quartet is being built from scratch. And when the replacement players are selected, I fully expect to hear that the new configuration is “founded in the aesthetic traditions” of the original Tokyo Quartet. And perhaps it will be.
Furthermore, in the Tokyos’ defense, it could be argued that there are no original members in the New York Philharmonic, either. The NYPO is an institution: that’s the way large orchestras work. And when they perform, their interpretation is not the sum total of the ideas of the 100 players on stage (that would be chaos) but the vision of one conductor on the podium.
However, when a chamber group comes to view itself like as an institution, and acts like one, it sets aside a fundamental value: chamber music is about interaction of the specific individuals who play it. That’s why the proposed continuation of the Tokyo “brand” seems more about marketing than about art.
When the number of original members in a chamber group drops to zero, I think it behooves the remaining players to find a different name for themselves. How’s about the “New Tokyo Quartet”?
© Colin Eatock 2011