Krzysztof Chorzelski is most familiar to ENF audiences as the viola player of the Belcea Quartet. He enjoys a diverse career including guesting with other ensembles (such as the Alban Berg, Ysaye and Pavel Haas Quartets); he is a viola professor at London’s Guildhall School; he plays solo (his recital disc is due to be released next year on the Champs Hill Records Label) and he is also pursuing a conducting career.
We asked him 10 questions….
1. Great composers have played viola, most notably Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven – do you think that playing in the heart of the texture helped them write great quartets?
Being a violist, I would like to believe that this is the case! Playing in the heart of the texture is certainly a privilege which I love and enjoy. But more likely is the more prosaic truth about these great composers choosing to play the viola in quartets: they were too busy writing great music to practice their more and more virtuosic violin parts. I am sure that the melodic line (lying mostly at the top of the texture) came to them first together with harmony which was defined by the bass- line, while the middle parts were the results of the fine-tuning process. Perhaps this is why there is so much subtlety hidden inside these parts. I love my place in the quartet, it’s a source of never-ending wonder and discovery, but it would be unfair to attribute a particularly special role to it. The music of these great composers at height of their powers does not contain a single superflous note in any of the lines forming a quartet score – it is the finest and most accomplished compositional form and each of the four lines is an essential and intrinsic part of the great sum that they form.
2. An early success for you was winning a Violin competition. How come you transferred to viola?
I was asked by the young and brilliant Belcea Quartet in the more or less first year of their existence at the Royal College of Music to urgently replace their original violist who decided that his interest lay somewhere else. The urgency was due to an upcoming intercollegiate string quartet competition. I told them that I would help them out while they looked for a proper violist that they deserved to have. The set work was Beethoven’s op.18 no.5. My viola part had a fingering next to every note, because I could not read the viola clef. Almost twenty years later, they seem to still be looking for that proper violist and in the meantime I am enjoying “the ride”. And I have learnt the viola clef by now.
3. Would you tell us about your instrument?
My instrument is a Niccolo Amati built in 1678. It is a treasure, which I hold in my hands every day. It has given me so much over the past twelve or so years. It invites me all the time to go further, to look for the sound that would best express the music I play. If there ever are obstacles in the way, it is me and not my viola who is behind them.
4. Is it your only instrument or do you have different instruments for different purposes?
I own a modern instrument built for me by a talented young Romanian violin- maker Felix Rotaru. I am happy for it to be in the hands of a talented student of mine, growing up slowly while getting played. I am very curious what will become of it in the future. But as long as I can play my wonderful Amati it is unlikely to ever replace it.
5. All of the members of the Belcea Quartet have professional lives outside of the quartet – would you tell us a bit about other things you’re doing these days?
Yes, Axel and Antoine play together as concertmaster and solo cellist respectively in the Basel Sinfonie Orchester. They live a very rich and busy life. Corina has a violin class at the Bern Hochschule and plays wonderfully as a soloist whenever time permits. We all love coaching young quartets, which is becoming slowly a big part of our lives. I am also very interested in conducting, having studied it over the years and readily accept invitations from all orchestras willing to play under me. It is a great way to enrich my experience in music. Having to think a lot about another musical activity, which I am much less accomplished in, is very stimulating for me. I love playing chamber music with many other wonderful colleagues and friends of mine, and life gives me ample opportunity to do it.
6. At East Neuk Festival you will play in a septet, quintet, quartet and solo – is this a typical weekend for you and the Quartet? No it isn’t, which is why this is a very special weekend for us.
This is really party time! And an opportunity to perform other repertoire that we love and don’t get to perform that often with some fantastic musicians.
7. You are playing the Arpeggione Sonata which was originally written for a strange guitar/bowed string hybrid instrument:
The solo viola repertoire is not very big and therefore it is being enriched by many transcriptions with varying degree of success. The Arpeggione is one of the finest in my opinion. This music suits the sound of the viola and what is also helpful is the fact that we cannot be blamed for stealing this masterpiece from the repertoire of an instrument that has fallen silent since more or less Schubert’s time.
8. Belcea Quartet has created a new Trust – would you tell us a bit about what it will do and what your hopes are for it.
The Belcea Quartet Trust has two aims. The first one is to take the best, most passionate young quartets under our wing and give them our time during anextended period needed for a young group to develop. Very few music education institutions have got the mindset necessary to support chamber music so we decided to go it alone. We are very happy with the results of the first year and are looking forward to new quartets joining the scheme next season. The second aim is commissioning new music from today’s leading composers. The first fruit of this project will be a premiere of a new string quartet by Thomas Larcher in 2015. Another big premiere is planned for the following seasons, but it is still a well kept secret …
9. What is the toughest thing about playing in a quartet?
For me the toughest part of playing in a quartet is not spending enough time with the people I love.
10. What is the most rewarding thing about playing in a quartet?
The most rewarding thing about the life we live is the constant contact we have with some of the greatest music ever written and the fact that every day we play together we give each other a chance to do it better.
At East Neuk Festival you can hear Krzysztof with Belcea and Elias quartets and solo.
Lovesong and Lament (Weds, 2 July, Crail): Performing Brahms and Strauss as Belcea and Elias Quartets join forces
Elias Quartet (Thu 3 July, Kilrenny): guesting to add the extra viola to Beethoven’s Quintet
Schubertiad 2 (Sat 5 July, Crail): Belcea Quartet play Schubert’s ‘Rosamond’ Quartet
Schubertiad 4 (Sat 5 July Crail): Playing Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata with Christian Zacharias.