For their Canberra program the Takacs Quartet will perform not only string quartets by two trailblazers of the genre, Haydn and Beethoven, but also the world premiere of Carl Vine's String Quartet No.6. Audiences will be able to hear Vine, Musica Viva's artistic director, give a preview of the 2018 program as he travels Australia-wide with the quartet.
Vine's new work was commissioned by Michael and Frederique Katz, the Seattle Commissioning Club, long-time friends of the quartet, and Carnegie Hall where the quartet frequently perform.
"They particularly wanted music that would uplift and edify," Vine says. "It's curious, but that simple directive has a lot of ramifications in terms of language and structure and it took me a long time to find a solution that wasn't trite."
The resultant work, Child's Play, is the sixth of Vine's series of string quartets, but he explains the work is not necessarily about children.
"It's about the childishness in all of us and that sort of wide-eyed innocence. So I took five elements of childishness or of that unbridled passion that we can tap on. The other thing about the title is that it's mildly ironic. Frequently when you say that something is 'child's play' it's really rather complex so there's a combination of that irony but also a fascination with simple wishes."
And just how do you represent these ideas in music? Vine asks. He settled on five movements: Play, Concentration, Friendship, Sleep and Running.
"It's actually to remind people of the innocence of youth," he says,
"Particularly the last movement, 'Running', is about the sheer joy that you can get at any age really, that sense of speed with the wind running through your hair."
For Vine, the Takacs Quartet has always been the quartet to perform this new piece. He met them during his first year with Musica Viva in 2001. They played his String Quartet No.4 in 2004 and for each subsequent Australian visit they've asked if they can play more of his music. Asked if he conferred with the Takacs members as he wrote Child's Play he says that he didn't.
"But music remains changeable," he says.
"It isn't engraved in stone, so I've made a couple of little changes and as they've been working on it for some months now they've been in touch and said 'What about this or that?' so it's been a very pleasant process. I've just loved them as players and as people."
Geraldine Walther, violist with the Takacs Quartet, says Vine's new piece is fantastic.
"It's very lyrical in some places but very playful, after its name, in others. Perhaps he was thinking of the individuals of the quartet. We've known each other a long time," she says
"He's written some wonderfully expressive music for our instruments and not every composer can do that. It's very original and very accessible to the listener. It's poignant music that we love playing. We feel very lucky to have had this piece written for us."
Walther played in symphony orchestras for 30 years before she was able to learn a whole new repertoire when she became a chamber music player.
"This will be my 13th season in the Takacs Quartet," she says, "and it's incredibly challenging and fulfilling to play all this repertoire. Orchestral repertoire is fantastic, some of the best music in the world, but it's a whole other corner of the universe compared to string quartet literature, which is an art form of its own."
Walther says of the five pieces that make up to the two programs on the tour: "I love them all so much but in different ways.
"You love Haydn because he was so imaginative and witty and creative and these were his last quartets and they're like the culmination of his whole life, of his genius.
"The same with Beethoven, too – his quartets were completely revolutionary."
She describes Beethoven's String Quartet No.12 as a work that sounds youthful, even though Beethoven was at the end of his life.
"It's positive and strong and powerful – really affirming life and living. It feels like a springtime piece to me."
The Takacs Quartet has twice recorded the complete Beethoven quartet cycle. Vine says: "The first time I saw them they were performing the complete cycle around Australia in 2001.
"Their second recording was a Grammy Award winner."
Walther says: "I love Dvorak's String Quartet No.14 (not on the Canberra program). If we could come back and play that for you, we would. We love coming to Australia. We're giving some master classes and we love hearing all these young string players. We feel so appreciated when we come – the audiences are so receptive. To play the Carl Vine piece in Australia is a real honour and we're excited to bring him his music and to all of you as well."