Introduzione. That moment when one doesn't yet know what's happening, eyes and ears wide open, looking for some kind of orientation. At the start of Beethoven's ninth string quartet, for example. One unresolved chord after the other, and the four musicians relish the moment, accentuate – very subtly – the lack of orientation, reduce all knowledge to the absolute Now.
The Schumann Quartet has reached a stage where anything is possible, because it has dispensed with certainties. This also has consequences for the listeners, who from concert to concert have to be prepared for all eventualities: “A work really develops only in a live performance,” the quartet says. “That is the 'real thing', because we ourselves never know what will happen. On the stage, all imitation disappears, and you automatically become honest with yourself. Then you can create a bond with the audience – communicate with it in music.”
Performing with Sabine Meyer, Menahem Pressler and Albrecht Mayer, they were the quartet-in-residence at Schloss Esterházy and hold residency at the Lincoln Center. They recently performed in the Tonhalle Zürich, at the Musikverein in Vienna, in London's Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Washington DC and completed a tour of Israel.
The three brothers Mark, Erik and Ken Schumann, who grew up in the Rhineland, have been playing together for five years. In 2012, they were joined by violist Liisa Randalu, who was born in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, and grew up in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Those who experience the quartet in performance often remark on the strong connection between its members. The four musicians enjoy the way they communicate without words: how a single look suffices to convey how the other wants to play a particular passage. Although the individual personalities clearly manifest themselves, a common space arises in every musical work in a process of spiritual metamorphosis. The quartet's openness and curiosity may be partly the result of the formative influence exerted on it by teachers such as Eberhard Feltz, or partners such as Menahem Pressler.
CD publications, study with the Alban Berg Quartet, a residency of many years at the Robert-Schumann-Saal in Düsseldorf, winning the prestigious Concours de Bordeaux along with other awards, various teachers and musical partners – it is always tempting to speculate on what factors have led to many people viewing the Schumann Quartet as one of the best in the world. But the four musicians themselves regard these stages more as encounters, as a confirmation of the path they have taken. They feel that their musical development over the past two years represents a quantum leap. “We really want to take things to extremes, to see how far the excitement and our spontaneity as a group take us,” says Ken Schumann, the middle of the three Schumann brothers.
They charmingly sidestep any attempt to classify the quartet as having a particular sound, approach or style. That is why they are happy about their second CD, Mozart Ives Verdi. One critic “swoons amid the sheer beauty” (Die Zeit) of their Mozart; another (Deutschlandfunk) sees their interpretation of the second quartet by Charles Ives as “inwardly torn, full of allusions and quotes [...] a new bravura piece in the repertoire of this explosive ensemble.” So there is plenty of room for adventure.