Tokyo String Quartet says sayonara to Bay Area this Thursday

Courtesy PhotoThe Tokyo String Quartet – clockwise

Courtesy PhotoThe Tokyo String Quartet – clockwise

In spite of its name, the venerable Tokyo String Quartet has long been an international ensemble.

The quartet, which is disbanding this summer, was formed 44 years ago by Japanese musicians studying at New York’s Juilliard School. But through the decades, its changing members have been of varied nationalities.

Currently, the Tokyo quartet, which presents its last concert in The City at Herbst Theatre on Thursday, consists of violinists Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda, cellist Clive Greensmith and violist Kazuhide Isomura, the only original member of the ensemble.

Their special instruments — the so-called Paganini Quartet — were made by Stradivarius in the 18th century, and once owned by Paganini, the 19th-century violin virtuoso.

The decision to disband had to do with the group’s failure to find two new members, which Greensmith called “a very difficult and ultimately impossible task.”

At the same time, the cellist says, “There is a sense of fulfillment, a sense of peace, because in the end, the decision was for all of us to finish at the same time, and that felt like the right thing to do.”

The group is also feeling nostalgia, and some relief, too, Greensmith says: “Traveling is tough and there is a release from that and from the demands of the hugely challenging repertoire.”

Although some of the group’s followers have been calm and philosophical about its end, others called it “terrible.” Greensmith says, “The extreme example would be our close friends in Houston who were very upset. They’ve taken it quite hard; they wanted the quartet on their concert series forever.”

In the Bay Area, where the Tokyo quartet has made regular appearances for decades, there is regret over the loss of the group beyond the concert Thursday.

Sandy Wilson, cellist in the Alexander String Quartet, says, “They were tremendous supporters of our early work and as friends, advisers, kept us motivated and encouraged us to press on. They have shared their passion, their fastidious approach to flawless ensemble-playing, unanimity of purpose and ultimately, their uncompromising excellence.”

With more than 40 acclaimed recordings and constant touring over the years, quartet members also serve on the faculty of the Yale School of Music (since 1976) and conduct master classes in North America, Europe and the Far East. The group’s final performance will be at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival on July 6.

The Herbst program includes quartets by Mozart and Brahms, and Lera Auerbach’s 2012 String Quartet No. 6, called “Farewell.” Commissioned to write the work before the Tokyo quartet announced it would disband, Auerbach later named the piece in the group’s honor: “It has a ‘farewell’ feeling on more than one level,” she says.

Tokyo String Quartet Farewell Tour

  • Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday
  • Tickets: $36 to $48
  • Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.chambermusicsf.org

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