On Friday 16th September I was in the audience of a masterclass given at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) by Kyril Zlotnikov, the ‘cellist of the Jerusalem Quartet. He helped a group work on a Haydn quartet, a soloist perform Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso for ‘cello and another group prepare two movements of a Shostakovich quartet. These students are advanced and very talented. In the case of the ‘cello solo, in particular, I wondered what Zlotnikov would find for improvement. It was always a case of making music – of phrasing, of making the instrument sing, no matter how violent the music (as in the case of the Shostakovich) – don’t start a phrase by attacking it with the bow, think of how you would sing it.
The following evening, the Jerusalem Quartet gave a performance for Musica Viva. They started with a ‘middle’ quartet of Beethoven: No. 6 in Bb major – by this stage Beethoven had composed his early quartets and was reaching towards some innovation, for example, he labels the last movement ‘Melancholy’, rather than adhering to the style of naming every movement according to its tempo. In this movement he is working around a reflective idea, ultimately ending with what the program notes describe as a ‘vivacious swirl’. I know every note of this quartet, and yet, hearing the Jerusalem Quartet’s performance was a new experience. In the masterclass Zlotnikov said that a quartet must play as if it is one person. The Jerusalem Quartet had this cohesion but it also brought to the music far more than one person could bring – it was one, but with the increased intellect and emotion of four. The second item on the program was an Australian piece: Ross Edwards’s quartet called Summer Dances, composed in 2012. It was influenced by sounds Edwards heard when walking along a fire trail on the coast north of Sydney – the ‘myriad sounds of bird and insect life’, his fascination with the idea of an earth mother and union with the earth. The final piece was a quartet by Dvorak: No. 13 Opus 106. I don’t think I had heard this quartet before – it has an unexpected opening of free arpeggios – perhaps like bird calls, blissful melodic phrases from the Jerusalem Quartet. It seemed utter perfection: four people playing as one instrument but with the musicianship, wisdom and brilliance of four.