After June of 2013, the Tokyo String Quartet will be no more. The ensemble, founded in 1969, has revealed on its website that, with the retirement of two players, a previously announced search for replacements would not be feasible. Auditions were held for viola and second violin. But in the end, the group decided to disband.
Said violinist Martin Beaver:
"It is a difficult prospect to replace one long-standing quartet member. To replace two of them simultaneously is a Herculean task. With the retirement of our colleagues in our minds, we increasingly felt over the last few months that the most fitting way we could honor and celebrate our quartet's long and illustrious career was to bring it to a graceful close."
Two members - Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith - will become teachers at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, according to their agent. Don't be surprised if they form the core of a new ensemble.
The Tokyo has been a faithful attendant to Philadelphians, and can be heard next in a May 6 Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert of Haydn, Bartók and Dvorák. They've had their fans and detractors over the years, like everyone else. But when I heard them in February, they were very fine. From a review:
"As much as I admired the quartet's handling of Grieg's Quartet in G minor (Op. 27) - the conviction with which they pivoted between the first movement's fretting and weeping - it was the Haydn String Quartet (Op. 77, No. 1) that I took home, so to speak. Each player was a master at manipulating his sound: Notes were variously finished off with vibrato, abruptly stopped, or, in the case of open notes, left to ring. What was most impressive was their lean tone and single-minded approach, the sensation that all four players were somehow one instrument being led by a single artistic hand."
If you miss May's concert, you have two chances next season to hear the Tokyo with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. And then, that's it. The quartet plays on loaned instruments: the Paganini Quartet, a group of Stradivarius instruments named for virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, who once owned them.
For a nice collection of reviews of the group from the past quarter century or so, look here.