Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

A quarter century of musical conviction

The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

Delayed début in 1984

In the early eighties Henk Guittart had met with Robert Mann, leader of the Juilliard Quartet. Mann had expressed his admiration for the work of the strings of the Schoenberg Ensemble and had given them two pieces of advice. The first was that they should concentrate primarily on the string quartets of the Second Viennese School. The second was that they be coached by Eugene (Jenö) Lehner (1906-1997), the former viola player of the Kolisch Quartet who, during the nineteen forties, had also given intensive guidance to the budding Juilliard Quartet. For Guittart the timing of this counsel was good. “I knew that Janneke shrank from the idea of being coached, and wondered if we really ought to form a real string quartet. Therefore I needed to be able to bring her round. Mann’s enthusiasm gave me the courage to press ahead.” Janneke van der Meer clearly remembers her hesitancy. “Somebody suggested that we put on real quartet evenings, but I was completely against the idea. I didn’t believe I was good enough. Henk managed to talk me into it though.” For her, one practical argument in particular carried a lot of weight. “Our programmes were extraordinarily uneconomical. While we were performing quartets, the other members of the ensemble sat twiddling their thumbs. Moreover there was so much demand for quartet programmes that it made sense to do them separately. In those days we occasionally played one programme eight times.” In 1983 the name Schoenberg Quartet appeared several times. In Preludium, the house magazine of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the concert of December 8th in the Recital Hall was announced under that name. The press also referred regularly to the Schoenberg Quartet or the Schoenberg String Quartet. Despite all this the Schoenberg Quartet regards the concert of March 27th 1984 as it first truly independent appearance, even though it was still very much under the umbrella of the Schoenberg Ensemble. The concert was received extremely positively by the Amersfoortse Courant under the heading ‘Excellent début by Schoenberg Quartet’. The review concluded that the Netherlands had gained an ‘outstandingly specialised quartet’. In an interview with the same paper given subsequent to that performance, Janneke van der Meer smothered all speculation that the quartet was about to start operating separately from the ensemble. “It is absolutely not our intention to work separately from the Schoenberg Ensemble. We already have our hands full with the combined ensemble and string quartet. Not only that, we find the variety of all the combinations offered by the make-up of the Schoenberg Ensemble much too enticing and engrossing to let go of.” Earlier that month Hein Calis in De Volkskrant had sounded a warning regarding the future of the new quartet. After expressing his reservations about the performance of an American programme he wrote, “That aside, the Schoenberg Quartet is a top-drawer ensemble in this country. As to its future one can only hold one’s breath. It is a fact that the problem of earning a reasonable income from quartet playing alone has scuppered many a top quartet.” After a brief summary of recent developments concerning the Orlando Quartet, Calis concluded his review with the hard-hitting statement: “The chance that one or two Dutch quartets of international standing make it depends directly on whether we are prepared to pay them a guaranteed annual salary.”