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Belcea Quartet: The lunacy of the Fugue

the Belcea Quartet

An interview by Krzystztof Chorzelski for the Austrian Die Presse
about the Beethoven cycle. at the WIener Konzerthaus (2-12 May).

Beethoven? We have performed his quartets from the beginning of our existence. Over and over again. One needs a lifetime to climb this mountain. It is likely that you never quite finish it, "Krzysztof Chorzelski, violist of the Belcea Quartet says, in anticipation of the cycle the ensemble presents early May starting in the next few days at the Vienna Konzerthaus.

"At first we thought this is a totally crazy idea," says Chorzelski, "but we agreed to it. Not least because of the MozartSaal: one of world's concert halls that are dearest to us, a wonderfully intimate, yet not too small hall with fantastic acoustics. " The Belcea Quartet was founded in 1994 and has been led since then by Corina Belcea. Two major ensembles, the Chilingirian Quartet and the Alban Berg Quartet were their mentors. Today, the "Belceas" are one of the world's leading ensembles. Chorzelski has been there almost from the beginning. First he came in as a last minute replacement violist on a temporary basis. But it was too good to stop. "We understood each other somehow very well," he says, " so that in those early days we didn't need to say much in order to achieve harmony in delicate passages. Of course you talk during rehearsals in order to explore details in greater depth. But the truth is that making music must also work somehow instinctively. "It worked.

And even though this meant a big change for Chorzelski, "I was a violinist. I had already played a lot of chamber music, as first and second violinist in other string quartets. But I was fascinated by the incredibly high standard of making music with my new colleagues. I have found my place. "The audience and the critics respond enthusiastically to the high level at which the Belcea quartet makes music. That someday a complete performance of Beethoven's quartets would be in the house was so clear. What are the nine symphonies for orchestras and conductors, are the 16 quartets for the chamber music repertoire. The eternal touchstone.

Sporting challenge. "We have, after all, always played Beethoven. The plans for a full cycle came about four or five years. At that stage there was no offer from Vienna yet on the table, "says Chorzelski. Somehow, the foursome consider this now almost as a sporting challenge.

The word is especially perverse in light of the last quartets. "There are things, especially in the scherzo movements," says Chorzelski, "which are virtually unplayable. Where you work endlessly. . One wants to come as close to perfection as possible, "Now the time has come: On 2 May begin a series of six concerts where all 16 quartets will be heard. With a day's break in between each of the concert quartet will indulge themselves and their audience. The works will not played in chronological order. Rather, every evening will give a self-contained overview of the "entire" Beethoven. No other genre in Beethoven's output can so clearly be split into the early, middle and late periods: The first quartets of Opus 18 were written before the turn of the 18th to 19 Century. The so-called Razumovsky Quartets, Opus 59 three works, and the individual pieces, Op 74 (because of its famous pizzicato passages called "Harp Quartet") and the defiant Opus 95, an F-sharp minor "Quartetto serioso" created in the context of the symphonies 5-8 - and the works from Beethoven's Opus 127 join the legacy created by the Ninth Symphony, the "Missa Solemnis" and the last piano sonatas. The Belceas have concocted a surprising concept for the rounding of the overall design of the cycle. One of the Quartets, Opus 130 comes twice in the first and last concert.

Crash risk. This is because Beethoven has blasted straight at the B-flat major work, the limits - of their contemporaries, the late quartets, which absorbed the attention of the composer from 1825, hardly understandable. But this piece exceeded the wildest expectations - six movements, already over-long, still crowned by a ludicrously oversized final fugue. Or finally "killed" if one may believe the witnesses. Eventually Beethoven took out the fugue and published it separately as an op 133, replacing it with a dance-like finale which takes less than half of the time of the Great Fuge and is the last work Beethoven completed Of the Grosse Fuge Chorzelski says: "This finale comes after forty minutes, and begins like a dance of death - it feels a bit for us as performers, as if we were balancing on the edge of a cliff. At any moment, you can plunge into the depths."
Read in German

Belcea Quartet

The Belcea Quartet is currently in the process of performing and recording all the Beethoven quartets. Our recordings are taking place throughout the season in the Britten Studio at Snape Maltings before a live audience. We are hoping that this way of recording Beethoven will add a "live" edge to the sound - something which we believe is vital to convey the spirit of this music. At the beginning of May the BQ will perform all of the Beethoven Quartets in our first "concentrated" cycle - with all six concerts taking place within 10 days. And to make this event even more special: our first Beethoven marathon will take place in Vienna as part of the Konzerthaus's 21st Wiener Frühlingsfestival. The concerts will be held between 2 and 12 May in the wonderful Mozartsaal and will form part of our continuing residency in this hall. There can probably be no greater honour for us than to play all the Beethoven quartets in Vienna! More

Performing live on In Tune, Radio 3

Performing live on Radio3

Violist Krzysztof Chorzelski and pianist Katya Apekisheva performed live in the In Tune studio on 14 March 2012 and talked to presenter Sean Rafferty about their new album together featuring the music of Schumann, Britten and Shostakovich.

Mozart with old friends

On Friday 13 April 2012, I will perform Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Polish violinist Piotr Prysiaznik and the Gorzow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jin Suh. Piotr and I studied together with our beloved violin teacher the late Zenon Bakowski some twenty five years ago in Warsaw. It will be a great pleasure for me to reunite with my old friend.


An interview with Krzysztof Chorzelski

The Belcea Quartet & Beethoven – An interview with Krzysztof Chorzelski by Andrew Morris for Classical Source

September 2011, the Belcea musicians are in London, rehearsing for the first programme in the series, when I speak to violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. He is one of the founding members, named after leader, Corina Belcea-Fisher. His roots are in Poland, but the life of a successful musician is international, and fresh in both his mind and mine is the recent performance of Schubert's String Quintet, with Valentin Erben (ex-Alban Berg Quartet) as second cellist. The performance in July as a late-night BBC Prom was an outstanding surprise, the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall unexpectedly reflecting the scale of Schubert's hour-long meditation on life and fate. The musicians deftly adapted to the cavernous acoustic. Best of all was the total silence of the audience, not always the way of things at the Proms.

“I was extremely touched as a performer by the silence. I remember very well it was astounding for us. In the Adagio it felt as though the lights were down and nobody was there. The slow movement requires such stillness from us and if there's noise in the hall it can very often be disturbed. In fact, I noticed it because I sat in the orchestral concert [earlier] that evening and it was very noisy, the audience was very noisy and I was already thinking, fearing, what was going to happen with the Schubert Quintet.” But he needn't have worried: “it was breathtaking for us to feel the silence.”.... More