ROBERT COHEN and the
FINE ARTS QUARTET
Robert Cohen tells the story:
On January 29th 2011, the day after my father died, I had a call from Ralph Evans, 1st violin of the Fine Arts Quartet asking if I could jump in for a European tour they were to give a month later. Before Ralph had explained the details, I assumed the invitation was to play quintets - as I had played quintets with the Fine Arts some years before. But in fact is was to replace their cellist Wolfgang Laufer who was suddenly to have an operation on his back.
It seemed such a strange and poignant moment to ask, since quartets had become such a major part of my father’s life in his last 15 years. So I moved as much work as I could to make it possible.
The tour was wonderful. I really enjoyed being with each of the members and their music making and performing was phenomenal. Hugely talented and deeply musical people, just as I had remembered. In fact funnily enough, they were the quartet I had been going out of my way to go and listen to in recent years!
After the tour, because it seemed increasingly unlikely Wolfgang would recover sufficiently to manage their next European tour in July, the Quartet invited me to join them again. Then in June, tragedy struck; Wolfgang was unexpectedly diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer and within days, passed away.
The Fine Arts Quartet is one of the most distinguished quartets in chamber music history, with an illustrious worldwide career and a recording legacy of over 200 works. Formed in Chicago in 1946, their present members have carried forward and further developed the special qualities that have uniquely identified the Fine Arts Quartet:
‘A glorious richness of tone’ (BBC Music Magazine), ‘a rich, velvety, unabashedly romantic sound, which often seems incapable of being anything other than achingly beautiful’ (MusicWeb International). Ralph Evans (USA) has been with the Quartet since 1982, second violin Efim Boico (Russia), since 1983 and violist Nicolò Eugelmi (Canada) since 2009.
After the July tour, I was on a high. There is a fundamental similarity in the Quartet’s music making to mine; an innate desire to communicate the passion and depths of each composer, to share and express music in all it’s colours and varieties. The repertoire for string quartet is not only huge, but commonly considered the jewel in the crown of all classical music. My experience in chamber music throughout my career has been in many areas, but seldom playing string quartets, it being the ‘hallowed ground’ reserved for the formed quartet ensemble.
The idea of joining the Quartet, was a massive departure from my own 35 year history as a soloist. But would the opportunity to open an entire new book on my life, so musically and personally well matched, so immensely stimulating, ever occur again? The timing seemed deeply poignant too.
So the decision to accept the invitation to join the Fine Arts Quartet, to change my life, was finally an easy and exciting one. By the time the formalities were complete, we had finished another major tour together and our unity was cementing itself wonderfully.
The question of my solo career, teaching, working for Cello Clinic, my activities as a Curator of HiBrow.tv will alter in their order of priority. The Fine Arts Quartet will become the primary focus and my other activities will be either integrated or organized to fit around the Quartet.
It is an exciting time as I embark on this unanticipated new adventure in my musical life.
Robert Cohen - January 2012