The ‘Unboundaries’ of the Bennewitz Quartet
The success of the Bennewitz Quartet goes beyond just their accomplished musicianship. They also have a special touch with audiences, the ability to go beyond traditional boundaries and share their uninhibited joy from the music they play.
They perform with expressive body language and vitality. And they introduce each piece with interesting, instructive information, making an audience eager to listen to both words and music. He speaks at every concert where the situation makes it possible, Štěpán Ježek, the quartet’s second violinist, tells us.
Jakub Fišer, 1st violin; Štěpán Ježek, 2nd violin; Jiří Pinkas, viola; Štěpán Doležal, cello … and who is Bennewitz? Antonín Bennewitz (1833-1926) helped created the special traditions of the Czech school of violin.
At a recent concert at The Atrium, for example, Mr Ježek told listeners that music in Haydn’s time was kept within very strict boundaries, so even very small variations might have been understood as either a mistake or a joke. ″It’s homework for us and the listeners″ to understand Haydn’s music, he said, instantly putting the task on a level playing field.
Watch an excerpt from the quartet’s lively reading of Haydn’s sweetly humorous ″The Joke″ (Quartet in E-flat Major Opus 33 No. 2):
Next, Mr Ježek invited the audience to listen and compare Haydn’s small variations with what he promised were Hindemith’s big, massive, even arrogant changes. And yet, he added, Hindemith’s music is poetic, colorful; and he knows how to use silence, with the result that ″it takes your breath away.″
Watch a short excerpt of The Bennewitz Quartet performing Hindemith’s String Quartet Opus 22 No 4:
Speaking to us later, Mr Ježek explained the quartet’s presentation style. Today, he pointed out, everyone can find information on the internet, ″and when they visit a site they immediately look for somewhere to click to do something,″ he said. But unlike the traditional, classical performance, the internet doesn’t merely present information; ″it communicates immediately back to the viewer.″
So ″We try to invite people in. Audiences do not find the ‘serious model’ interesting –– Sit tight but silent – clap – leave –– that is not attractive enough. It gives a boring impression, or that You are not invited.″ With the Bennewitz’s method, ″So far we’ve had a positive reaction – except in places where people believe they are very informed″ about classical music.
In Mozart’s day, he said, audiences could applaud, whistle, chat, or boo during a performance. Now watch how a toddler was affected by The Bennewitz Quartet’s recent performance with clarinettist L Peterková, of Ondřej Kukal’s Clarinettino, at the Czech Technical Library:
It may be a bit much to expect all audiences to react this way to classical music, contemporary or traditional. On the other hand, it might not be a bad idea to ask, ″Why not go for some more magic, and move the boundaries a bit?″
The next performances of The Bennewitz Quartet are set for Nov 5 at Gymnazium Sladhovésko (part of the Žižkovské Podzim festival); and Nov 13 & 20 at The Atrium, where they will perform the complete quartets of Béla Bartók.
– Mary Matz, Opus Osm editor
Photo Credits: Photo and videos, Miroslav Setnička