Preview: Jerusalem Quartet aims to bring revered chamber music to life

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Over the course of the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society's 50-year history as a presenter, nearly every top quartet has performed on the stage of Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland -- except the Jerusalem Quartet.

The major string quartet, whose founding members met at the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music and Dance, has played the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall in London and won praise for its recordings on the well-respected Harmonia Mundi label.

Jerusalem Quartet

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland

Tickets: $15-$35; or 412-624-4129.

While the positive attention is warranted, it has received some that is undeserved. At some of its concerts in Britain, the quartet has had concerts briefly interrupted by heckling from activists critical of Israel's relationship to Palestine. While the members are Israeli citizens, the quartet is avowedly nonpolitical and receives no funding from Israel. Its management, David Rowe Artists, sent a letter to the venues on its current tour, stating that, "[These disruptions] seem to have subsided recently as (presumably) activists realize they are not delivering their message effectively. And nothing of this sort has happened outside of the UK." PCMS director Annie Mollova echoes that, saying, "We are aware of it, but we don't in any way anticipate it being an issue with our concert."

What will be at issue is how its members -- violinists Alexander Pavlovsky (first) and Sergei Bresler (second), cellist Kyril Zlotnikov and violist Ori Kam -- interpret some of chamber music's most revered compositions. The program is Mozart's "Prussian" Quartet, Shostakovich's Quartet No. 1 and Borodin's Quartet No. 2. We caught up with Mr. Kam to talk about the quartet and the program:

Q: How has the chemistry of the quartet -- both interpersonal and performing -- developed over the years since it started in 1993?

A: A quartet is not an easy partnership and is rather like a four-way marriage. There have been many ups and downs, including a personnel change three seasons ago. I think what kept the group together over the years is an unshakable mutual musical and personal respect. At the moment, we have a wonderful dynamic and enjoy each other's company on- and off-stage. When the stars align this way, there is nothing else like it.

Q: How did the Jerusalem Music Centre prepare you for professional life? When did the quartet break away from it?

The Jerusalem Music Centre is a phenomenal institution. While receiving zero percent of its budget from the government, it touches the musical education of nearly all Israeli musicians. The center brings many of the leading artists of our time to give master classes, giving young Israelis an opportunity to meet and learn from the best teachers in the world.

The quartet didn't break from the JMC because we were never employed or directly supported by it. That is not to diminish the center's contribution to our success. Until today, we often hold our rehearsals at the center.

Did all of the members immigrate to Israel, and if so, from what counties? Where do you reside now?

All members immigrated to Israel, three from the USSR and one at the tender age of 6 months from the U.S. At the moment, two of us reside in Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv, and one moved from Jerusalem to Lisbon three years ago.

Do you take any calculated approaches to performing, such as pursuing new editions or taking nontraditional tempos?

We try and develop a relationship with each composer. What I mean by that is that each composer has his musical language and his way to notate the music. Beyond pitch and rhythm, which are quite straightforward, composers notate articulations, dynamics and tempo markings. Understanding these is a more subjective matter. Our guiding principle is to try to bring the music to life rather than to interpret it. We often ask ourselves the question: "Where in the interpretational process do we inject ourselves?"

How does this approach manifest in the program you will perform for the concert in Pittsburgh?

Mozart writes very few different kinds of dynamics, mostly just forte, or strong, and piano, or soft. That leaves more room for us to look for different shades of them. Shostakovich on the other hand, notates many different dynamics, which makes our job easier in that respect. While Mozart's phrases are easy to understand -- they are mostly four or eight bars long and the harmonic language easily outlines where phrases and sections end -- Shostakovich's language is not always that clear and we spend more time organizing the music.


Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: or 412-263-1750. He blogs at


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