The Israeli Hayden Quartet.
(photo credit: STUDIO CAMILLA)
Six years ago, on a rainy winter night, Israeli violinist Eyal Kless looked into the refrigerator in his rented Manchester apartment and said to himself, “It’s time to return home, to get married and to establish a string quartet.”
And that is exactly what he did.
Today he is the happy father of a little girl and founder of the Israel Haydn Quartet, which includes violinist Svetlana Simannovsky, violist Tali Kravitz and cellist Shira Mani.
On November 21, the quartet celebrates its sixth season by opening a chamber concert series at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The quartet hosts renowned Israeli clarinetist Eli Eban.
“It was Ilan Rechtman, the artistic director of the museum’s music programs, who suggested that we perform with Eban,” says Kless. “This will be our premiere performance on this stage, and we are grateful for this recognition of the artistic level we have reached. Merging four musicians into a quartet takes a lot of time, and it looks like we have begun to reap the fruits of our years of dedicated work.”
This concert is part of a larger local tour of the quartet, which started at Mormon University and in Ein Kerem in Jerusalem earlier this week and will be repeated on November 19 at Kibbutz Na’an.
The program features Summer Bows, a string quartet by Tzvi Avni; Haydn’s String Quartet “Fifths”; and Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet Op. 115.
“I remember that night in Manchester,” Kless recalls. “After spending 16 years abroad I wanted to return home, and I knew it was now or never. In Israel, I quickly found people who wanted to play professionally in a quartet. Nowadays, we perform in all the country’s major cities, as well as in the periphery. We recently performed in South Korea.
Although we call ourselves the Israel Haydn Quartet, it is not only pieces by Haydn that we play. We play Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn. We are advancing slowly to the 20th century, and next year we will play Shostakovich. We perform only the best of the repertoire,” he says.
“Our cooperation with Eli Eban is most intriguing and fruitful. Although Eban is a renowned musician, we really did not know what to expect.
For us, it was a great opportunity to perform with a musician of such caliber. He is currently teaching at Bloomington, one of the world’s leading universities, and he performs internationally.”
Speaking about the concert program, Kless, says, “I think that in this program we have reached a fine balance between the pieces of different periods. We enjoy performing the string quartet by Tzvi Avni, a living Israeli composer. Haydn’s “Fifth,” well, nothing more can be said about it because it is one of the best pieces in the string quartet repertoire ever. As for Brahms’s quintet, Eli Eban comes with an instrument that is not usually associated with a string quartet, as they usually host another string instrument or a piano. The piano acts like a magnet, which grabs the attention of the audience, while an additional string instrument enters naturally into the picture and is easier to cooperate with,” he says.
So what about a woodwind instrument? “I am happy to say that Eli is not trying to take over the quartet but rather to fit in together. It is quite easy to turn the Brahms piece into a concerto for clarinet and a few accompanying instruments. Which is not the right thing to do – in my opinion and in Eli’s, too, to our great pleasure. I have learned a lot from Eli Eban. In the concerts earlier this week, we received great feedback from the audience, who enjoyed our rendition of Brahms’s piece and shared our approach to it,” he says.
Kless accentuates, “I’m not complaining, but maintaining a string quartet in Israel is far from easy, and being a musician in Israel is not easy at all. A string quartet is a group of crazy people, that’s it. Performing the best pieces of the repertoire suggests a fine balance among the instruments, and that demands years of thorough work. There is not much room for chamber music in our small country, so we give about 20 concerts a season. But we rehearse every week, whether we have an upcoming concert or not. I am not asking for charity, but there are quite a few talented musicians who could have had fine international careers but stay or have returned to Israel, and they deserve respect and support. Many Israeli musicians living abroad would love to return home but are afraid to.
But I jumped into the water, and I’m happy I did. The audience here is warm and music loving. I see it as true Zionism to support high culture in this country.”The Israel Haydn Quartet performs in Kibbutz Na’an on November 19 (052-223-2556) and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on November 21 (03) 607-7070.