When Suntory Hall opened in 1986 as Tokyo’s first ever hall dedicated exclusively to classical music, president Keizo Saji sounded an ‘A’ on the organ to proclaim a theme of harmony across generations. In the space of 16 days and 22 concerts in June 2022, Suntory Hall’s annual Chamber Music Garden, Japan's largest chamber music festival, will carry that theme to its explorations of chamber music riches across generations of composers and artists. 

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Blue Rose (Small Hall), Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall
Since 2011, performances of Beethoven’s complete string quartets by major young quartets like Jerusalem, Casals and Pacifica have become an established annual feature of this Festival, and it is considered a unique event internationally. This year, the honor falls to the Berlin-based Atrium Quartet, founded in 2000 in St. Petersburg, whose distinguished coaches include Prof. Eberhard Feltz at the Hochschule fur Musik Hanns Eisler and the Alban Berg Quartet.

The Atrium Quartet are no stranger to cycles. They introduced the world's first Shostakovich Marathon in 2013 when they performed the composer's 15 quartets in one day in Iceland, Japan, France, Germany and Russia. They celebrated Tchaikovsky's 175th birthday with a one-day Mini Fest, but the Beethoven cycle at Suntory will be their first.

“It will be a very challenging moment for us,” violinist Anton Ilyunin told us, “because for 20 years Beethoven's quartets have been the main core of our repertoire.”

Since many listeners will be not able to attend all six concerts of the cycle, the Quartet decided that they needed to create “ideas from all the three periods of Beethoven and combine them in terms of creation and personality. We worked hard with our first violin Nikita Boriso-Glebsky to make the concerts more interesting to the audience first of all, then for us as performers and perhaps for our Beethoven.” 

The result is an intriguingly programmed set of concerts which stand on their own, including one in which the Japanese premiere of Kuzma Bodrov's new Quartet will precede Beethoven's Op.131.

“When we did Shostakovich, we did it chronologically from the first to the 15th, to help the listeners understand the composer's development, his language, technique and how ideas developed in his mind. With Shostakovich it was was clear,” Ilyunin said, “but with Beethoven its it's different. We can compare each composer's early and middle quartets perhaps but the last quartets of Beethoven are absolutely in another world.”

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Atrium Quartet
© Evgeniy Evstyukhov
The next generation of quartets will be represented by Quartet Integra in a special concert to celebrate their win at the Bartók World Competition. They will play Mozart's darkest quartet, in D minor, Bartók's Fifth which won them gold in Budapest, and Henri Dutilleux's Ainsi la nuit, a Webernesque descendant of Beethoven and Bartók. The fast rising Aoi Trio will present the second concert of their seven-year Project Beethoven with music by Toshio Hosokawa, César Franck, and Beethoven.

The Suntory spirit is perhaps best epitomized by the two concerts by Chamber Music Academy Fellows, each featuring six young string quartets of the future – Integra, Donumusa, Paulownia, Re NADA, Leporem and Regulus Quartet – as well as the Trio Miyako.

Less familiar sonic paths will be heard from Hidejiro Honjoh and Keisuke Zenyoji's Folklore Strikes Back concert for shamisen and shakuhachi, with violist Yasuhiro Suzuki and cellist Rei Tsujimoto, in music from Bach to the world premiere of Keigo Ayusawa's vie (arranged for Trio).

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Aoi Trio on stage at Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall
The most intriguing Festival sounds this year may be in the two “Fortepiano Kaleidoscope” concerts of mostly early romantic music, for which period instruments including will be used.

Den Haag Piano Quintet, established in 2009 by musicians who met at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, will be first up with a wide-ranging line-up focused on Johann Nepomuk Hummel's gorgeous Piano Quintet and Beethoven's mighty Piano Concerto no. 3, in a 19th-century composition for chamber music ensemble, plus the world premiere of Dai Fujikura's Past Beginnings for fortepiano.

The second will be an all-Beethoven concert for cello and fortepiano, including the great A major Sonata; the players will be Atsushi Sakai, co-founder of the Quatuor Cambini-Paris, and Yoshio Watanabe, who once played Beethoven with the pioneering Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma, playing historical fortepianos dating from 1795, 1818, and 1835.

After the great Czech horn virtuoso Radek Baborák joins the Atrium Quartet and friends in a program highlighted by Beethoven's glorious Sextet in E flat major, the Festival will reunite the dazzling roster of international artists for a chamber music extravaganza. Adding to the excitement, the program will not be revealed until the day of the concert.

Click here to see all the events of Suntory Hall's Chamber Music Garden Festival.

This preview was sponsored by Suntory Hall.