Transfigured Foursome: The Jerusalem Quartet will come to Ann Arbor as a sextet
Kam joined the Quartet in 2010, but “Israel is a small place," he says. "I knew the quartet and its members since its very early days and had some opportunities to hear and even play with them together before joining. When the opportunity came about for me to join, I was very happy and eager to step into the role.”
In Israel and America, Kam grew up surrounded by music. “My mother is a violinist,” he says. “There was always music in our household, especially chamber music.” He can’t remember a life without music, but two experiences convinced him he might want a life as a musician.
One was hearing Leonard Bernstein conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “His charisma and joy of music infected me and still drives me over 30 years later,” Kam says.
The other was when he was 5 years old: "I heard Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman play Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in Tel Aviv. I was immediately drawn to Pinchas’ sound, and that very moment, he became my role model and idol. I started playing shortly after.”
When the University Musical Society brings the Jerusalem Quartet to Ann Arbor for a concert on October 6, they will come as a sextet, with violinist-violist Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth. They’ll perform the string sextet from Capriccio, Op. 86 by Richard Strauss, Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4 by Schoenberg, and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70.
“We often invite others to join us,” Kam says. “This is a unique opportunity for us to have external input into our music making. Over the years, we have developed relationships with wonderful musicians like Andras Schiff, Sharon Kam, and Gary Hoffman, who have become our extended family.”
Kam says usually their programs try to span three musical epochs. They might, for instance, play a classical, romantic, and modern piece on the same program. “When the idea of this collaboration came about, we wanted to pick a challenging, fun, and interesting program both for us and the audience,” he says.
“The earliest piece is Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, composed in 1890 and is a perfect example of ‘high’ romantic music,” he notes, adding that it features “rich melodies that traverse every possible key.
“Written only nine years later, Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night is one of the last stations in the use of functional harmony before the composer took a historical step into a-tonality. As in the Tchaikovsky, the luscious melodies traverse every possible key, and the harmonic language stretches tonality to its absolute edge.
“Strauss’ Capriccio, while written in 1942, is still written in romantic style. Strauss, like most of his contemporaries, searched for a new musical language. This is clearly heard in operas from his middle period such as Ariadne auf Naxos. But toward the end of his life, he returned to the romantic style of his earlier compositions. Capriccio is Strauss’ last opera, and the sextet is the overture to this opera.”
Adds Kam, “Beyond exploring the romantic musical language from three different viewpoints, these three masterpieces have another interesting common element. They are all titled and based on an extra-musical narrative. Souvenir is based on sketches and impressions made by Tchaikovsky during an extended stay Florence. Transfigured Night is a tone poem based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. And Cappricio is the overture to an opera."
Founded in 1993, the Jerusalem Quartet has been met with enthusiasm throughout the world. Next stop: Ann Arbor.
Davi Napoleon is a theater historian and freelance writer. Her book is Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theatre.
The Jerusalem Quartet (plus two) will perform Saturday, October 6 at 8 pm at Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor. For tickets and further information visit ums.org.