French string quartet Quatuor Hermès to bring modern classics to Dubai

Omer Bouchez, the string quartet’s first violinist, tells us what they have in store for their Dubai show on September 29.
From left, Yung-Hsin Lou Chang, Omer Bouchez, Elise Liu and Anthony Kondo of the French string quartet. Photo by Jean-Claude Capt
From left, Yung-Hsin Lou Chang, Omer Bouchez, Elise Liu and Anthony Kondo of the French string quartet. Photo by Jean-Claude Capt

A new season of Dubai’s World Classical Music Series gets under way on September 29 with a performance by Quatuor Hermès. Still in their mid-20s, the members of this French string quartet have picked up widespread praise for their maturity and finesse.

Formed eight years ago, while the musicians were students at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Lyon, the ensemble came of age in 2012 when they took the prize at New York’s influential Young Concert Artist auditions.

Following two CDs of music by Haydn, Beethoven and Schumann, they arrive in Dubai fresh from the studio where they have been recording a third, this time an all-French disc featuring works by Debussy, Ravel and Dutilleux.

Ahead of their performance, we caught up with 27-year-old first violinist Omer Bouchez.

What can you tell us about the programme you are bringing to Dubai?

We will perform Dvořák’s American Quartet [String Quartet No 12]. It was written when Dvořák first arrived in the United States, so it is very influenced by both his Czech origins and a new way of writing music, very close to his [renowned] symphony From the New World [Symphony No 9], the same themes and gestures. Every instrument has an important part. It is very joyful but very melancholic in the slow movements – very human emotions.

You will also be performing Schubert’s String Quartet No 14, Death and the Maiden. Why choose that piece?

It is one of the most famous pieces for string quartet, and it is maybe the piece that forces our group to play together – we love that piece, but we waited a long time before playing it. It is so famous, so well known and so deep, you have to work a lot with your interpretation. Schubert is not so precise with what’s written on the score, so you have to decide many things – you need to be a good string quartet and practice for many years. You don’t want to play it too soon, but today we play it with great pleasure.

Many people describe the string-quartet configuration as a kind of musical ideal, and a huge repertoire exists. Why does the combination of these four voices hold such a timeless appeal for composers?

It is the purest group you can imagine. It is like a piano – our scores are totally playable by a piano. Very often when you look at a piano score, it has four voices – two voices for each hand. In a quartet, you have four independent voices but different ways of playing, sometimes together, like 16 strings as one, or as a discussion between each other – sometimes you agree or disagree.

You began playing together as teenagers. Did you encounter any opposition entering a music world in which experience and achievement hold such value?

It is very difficult and still is. We were students at the conservatoire together, so for the first two or three years we didn’t have to worry about an audience or the critics – we just practised. And then we realised that there are lots of string quartets in the world. At first you compare yourself to the others – “this one is better than us” – but you can’t fall into this kind of thinking. In the end, you realise the only way to continue your career is to have something special, a way of phrasing the music – and by filtering out all the bad things other people say.

What is that “something special” for Quatuor Hermès?

What I have very often heard from other people is that we have some finesse, a freshness. The best compliment was when someone told me it sounded like we were writing the music live – it is not about performing to an audience, but discovering the music onstage. Today, this is very important – too many people think classical music is something for relaxing after a long day at work. We want to show it is the music [genre] that’s the most alive, the most deep, and the most diverse of all.

• Quatuor Hermès perform at One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai, on September 29 at 8pm. Ticket prices start at Dh250 from

Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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