For decades, people have ranked the Tokyo String Quartet as one of the best in the business.
But the group had humble beginnings. In 1967, viola player Kazuhide Isomura was a 22-year-old kid from Japan. His big break came when he crossed the Pacific to attend a famous summer music school.
“Our original cellist, Sadao Harada, and myself, came to Aspen, Colorado, to study with the Juilliard Quartet.”
Isomura wanted to attend the presitious Juilliard School in New York. But living in New York was expensive, and the Japanese yen wasn’t worth much at that time. However, while at Aspen, Isomura heard about an opening with the Nashville Symphony, and he was told by a friend that the job included fringe benefits.
“He said, if we would be willing to back up country music stars, we would make plenty of money, so that we could study at Juilliard School in New York without any financial problem.”
Soon, Isomura was living in Tennessee, playing with the orchestra and laying down string tracks for records by Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash. He recalls one record date playing backup on one of Glen Campbell’s biggest hits.
“’Gentle on My Mind.’ Do you remember?)”
(Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind.”)
“You know it was quite interesting experience, and I really enjoyed famous Southern hospitality. They were so nice to us. But I couldn’t quite get familiar with the Southern accent.”
Fortunately, music is a universal language. Isomura saved what he could, and made it to Juilliard, where the Tokyo String Quartet formed in 1969. The rest, as they say, is history. Here’s a sample from the group’s new disk, a Beethoven quartet they’ll play in Sacramento.
Chamber music doesn’t get much better. And remember, it was made possible in part by studio jobs backing country music stars in the 1960s.
The Tokyo String Quartet performs on Saturday, February 16th at 7:30 p.m. at Sacramento State, part of the New Millennium Concert Series