The two quartets have been making music together since their teens
“It was in a packed hall, and we worked so hard for it,” Sørensen says. “It was an amazing experience for us. There were so many people there, and we smelled this life of being a string quartet in the best possible way. Afterward we were really motivated to pursue it.”
The festival in Copenhagen was the culmination of years of work, beginning when the members—violinists Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard, and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin—were not yet even teenagers. All from different parts of Denmark or Norway, they’d come together at a camp for amateur musicians in the Danish countryside. Now, years later, the DSQ is preparing for a spring tour, which will feature works by Abrahamsen, Nørgård, and Adès from the ensemble’s upcoming album.
“We all met as friends—there was no pressure at all—and we had a great time hanging out together and sight-reading a lot of big pieces together and having fun,” Sørensen remembers.
“We played together in every way—football and music both,” Sørensen says. “It was kind of the ideal way to meet.”
The children who became the Danish String Quartet aren’t the only young chamber musicians ever to have met at camps, festivals, or learning institutions, and formed bonds that would usher them into the professional music world. Nearly 2,000 miles to the south, in Israel, the founding members of the Jerusalem String Quartet—violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, violist Amichai Grosz, and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov—met as teenagers at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Such meeting grounds for young musicians not only provide the time and space for budding players to explore their mutual passions together, but they also provide the encouragement of discerning instructors.
Before forming, the members of the Jerusalem String Quartet had played together in the orchestra at the academy, but none had much experience or exposure to chamber music. That’s when an instructor, the Rumanian violinist Avi Abramovich—who has worked with other groups of young musicians, including the Ariel String Quartet (see Strings November 2015)—took the future members of the JSQ under his wing and played a crucial role in the quartet’s development.
“[Our teachers] never said, ‘This is not the time’ for us,” says JSQ violinist Pavlovsky. “They always supported what we were doing—they understood that this was important to us.” For the Danish String Quartet, the motivating mentor was Tim Frederiksen of the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
After the group’s initial meeting in the Danish countryside, Frederiksen began working with them, preparing the ensemble for the big concert at the 2002 Copenhagen Summer Festival. The young musicians would meet up regularly in Copenhagen—“kind of a middle ground for us,” says Sørensen—where they continued to play and learn and spend time together.
By 2004, the DSQ had become the youngest string quartet ever to win the Danish Radio Competition. It shocked even them. “We were so sure that we wouldn’t win that we promised ourselves that we would go skydiving, which we were not at all interested in doing, if we won,” Sørensen remembers. “We were that certain that we wouldn’t win!”
Pavlovsky, Bresler, Zlotnikov, and Grosz also won some key early competitions. After a few years of serious work, the young members of the JSQ, by then in high school, were performing all across Israel; in 1997, they traveled to the Franz Schubert and Modern Music International Chamber Music Competition in Graz, Austria. They won.
The approbation, says Pavlovsky, “was important because it encouraged us that what we were doing was right—and that we should do even more.”
At the time, Pavlovsky recalls, there weren’t many other young chamber groups around, so the novelty of their young ages gave the JSQ extra attention and support—“financially and in every way.”
Not all of the advice the Danish and Jerusalem quartets got was so encouraging. Several teachers along the way suggested to the members of the DSQ to pursue other things. “My private teacher told me that I had opportunities to become a soloist, and that I should pursue that,” Sørensen says. “But it didn’t feel right.” Sørensen chose to go with his gut feeling, and says he couldn’t imagine having been happy with all of the solitary hours a solo career would require. The members of both quartets have taken breaks occasionally to spend time on their own playing and their memberships in other orchestras, but their main focus always has been on main gigs.
“If you really want to be dedicated to a group, you can’t try a solo career and you can’t experience orchestra playing in the same way,” says Pavlovsky of the JSQ. “Excellence at one thing always demands an exclusion of others. ”Pavlovsky should know. The JSQ’s founding violist Grosz left the quartet when he decided he wanted to do other things. Grosz was replaced by violist Ori Kam in 2011.
“We knew that [Grosz] was trying to move to Europe, and we knew that he was auditioning for orchestras—so nothing was a secret,” Pavlovsky says. “He actually wanted to do both and continue with us, but it was, of course, extremely complicated and would have interrupted quartet life too much.”
In the end, it’s all about maintaining the bond—a bond that, for the members of the JSQ, DSQ, and other young string quartets, formed so early that the members hardly know of a life without each other. As Sørensen says, the predominant motivating factor from the beginning has always been the friendship. “We shared a love for these pieces, for each other, and for chamber music from a very early stage.”
What They Play: Jerusalem String Quartet
Instrument 1725 Giuseppe “filius Andrea” Guarneri (Y. Zisapel collection); Bow Paul Sadka; Strings Thomastik-Infeld Dominant
Instrument 1770 Lorenzo Storioni;
Bow Victor Fétique; Strings Pirastro Evah Pirazzi
Instrument 2008 Hiroshi Iizuka;
Bow 1919 Victor Fétique; Strings Jargar A, D’Addario Helicore D & G, Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore C
Instrument 1706 G.B. Ruggieri; Bow 2014 Vincent Tricou (Archets Jean-François Daber); Strings Jargar Superior A & D, Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore G & C Tungsten
What They Play: Danish String Quartet
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen
Instrument Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (courtesy of the Goof Foundation); Bow Nickel silver-mounted Nurnberger; Strings Pirastro Evah Pirazzi
Instrument 1708 David Tecchler
(courtesy of the Augustinus Foundation in Copenhagen); Bow Victor Fétique Strings Golden Spiral Solo E, Pirastro Evah Pirazzi A, D & G
Instrument Pellegrino Michelis di Zanetto viola (courtesy of the Augustinus Foundation); Bow E.A. Ouchard; Strings Larsen A, Pirastro Evah Pirazzi D & G, Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Tungsten-wound C
Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin
Instrument 1687 Francesco Ruggieri cello (courtesy of the Sveaas Foundation in Norway); Bow Loventhal; Strings Pirastro Evah Pirazzi A & D, Thomastik-Infeld
Spirocore G & C
Mark Kemp contributed to this article.