Cleveland Chamber Music Society: The Hagen Quartet
a conversation with violinist Rainer Schmidt
By Mike Telin
Since its founding in 1981, the Hagen Quartet has established itself as an ensemble admired for its passion and musical intelligence. In fact, James Leonard of AnnArborweb recently wrote, “they delivered extremely passionate performances, and much else besides, including lithe lyricism, relentless rhythms, and rigorous musical intelligence.”
On Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm at Plymouth Church, The Cleveland Chamber Music Society will present this celebrated quartet in an all-Beethoven program including the Quartets in F major, Op. 18, No. 1, F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”, and E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp”.
In 2011, the Quartet celebrated its 30th anniversary with the release of a series of new CDs on "myrios classics." The most recent, “Introspective/Retrospective”, features the Quartet in g minor, Op. 27 of Edvard Grieg, and the Clarinet Quintet in b-flat minor Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms, with Jorg Widmann.
We spoke to second violinist Rainer Schmidt (who spent a year studying in Cincinnati) by telephone in Salzburg, where the quartet is rehearsing for a six concert tour in North America. We began by asking him about the all-Beethoven program.
Rainer Schmidt: During the tour we will focus mostly on the Beethoven quartets, and beginning this summer (2012) until the end of the year 2013, we will almost exclusively play Beethoven.
Mike Telin: Are there any plans to record them?
RS: We will record some of them, but there are so many, it would be impossible to record the entire cycle.
MT: I really like the Beethoven quartets, but I am not a string player so I am interested to hear from someone like yourself why you think they are so great?
RS: That is a big question of course, but in every quartet Beethoven is constantly exploring new ways [to compose for the ensemble]. One could say the same thing about Haydn, but what is so fascinating about Beethoven is the huge steps that he undertook between the first quartets, then to the middle period quartets, which is like a different composer. Then the late quartets again, in fact it’s like he is looking into the twentieth century. So that the same person can cover such a range of music continues to fascinate me.
MT: Yes, the late quartets do sound twentieth century in many ways.
RS: In their complexity, they were probably never surpassed. The density of [musical] information and the density of musical expression, one cannot wish for more.
MT: Exactly. This is a big year for the Hagen Quartet; congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary.
RS: Yes it is, and thank you.
MT: What do you think has been the secret of the group's longevity?
RS: Of course there cannot be one secret, but if I had to put it into one word, what comes into my mind is really respect towards each other. Life in a string quartet is very intense and people of course know the cliché about being married to three other people, but it is very intense and very delicate. I do think we have found a very good balance with respect towards each other, that we never seem to struggle. Every time we [get together] after breaks — and we make sure that we have breaks in the schedule, so we never play longer then three weeks — then we have to have a break. Even though we are very friendly with each other, it has proved to be a very good and healthy thing to have breaks. Then every time we meet again, we are looking forward to it and we enjoy playing together.
MT: I can’t really tell from the group's resume, but is it the Hagen Quartet that is in residence at the Mozarteum and the Basel Conservatory?
RS: Yes, all four of us have posts in Salzburg, but my family and I live in Basel. But the quartet is still based in Salzburg.
MT: And what do you enjoy about teaching?
RS: Again a big question because there is so much to like. But what comes right now into my mind is really is that I enjoy very much seeing the students grow; grow as musicians and as people, which I find is somehow is two sides of the same [coin]. But seeing how they become to understand how amazing, and how enriching it can be to deal with those masterworks, and this is something we wouldn’t otherwise encounter in life – this quality and beauty of these great pieces of music, and I think they can learn and grow by that.
MT: Speaking of great pieces of music, the new CD – a Grieg Quartet and the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with Jörg Widman is about to be released in North America.
RS: Yes it is.
MT: The quartet works with a lot of musicians who play, on the CD for example, clarinet, and you have worked with many pianists, so you are bringing a fifth person into the mix as well as a different sound quality.
RS: Yes, and it is definably exciting, particularly since they are such fantastic musicians, so it is so exciting just to be there, and see how they approach the same piece. The five of us communicating together. We are so used to communicate with [the four of us] and then to have another person to reach to through communication, that is, well a wonderful thing to do.
MT: I believe I read somewhere that you attended the Cincinnati Conservatory?
RS: That’s right, between 1986-87 I spent really the most wonderful year there, and I would have stayed but the quartet offered me this position and that I couldn’t refuse.
MT: Did you study with Dorothy DeLay?
RS: Yes, she was still there and of course her assistant was a fantastic teacher as well. And one of the main reasons I went was because the La Salle Quartet was there, and Walter Levin, the first violinist, became a huge and important part of my education. So it was that, the violinist quality of the Dorothy DeLay School and at the same time, this quartet approach from the La Salle quartet was a wonderful thing.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 21, 2012
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