It’s so complex and meticulous that you can’t take out a single note
My mother plays viola in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and used to have chamber music parties in our house on Friday nights. She and her friends would often play Brahms, and as a child I would crawl under a chair and fall asleep listening to them.
Brahms’s Third Quartet is one of the first quartets I played in depth, at high school when I was about 16. I started working on it with the Jerusalem Quartet two years ago and we’ve played it quite a bit, but there are still corners we regularly have to polish. It’s so complex and meticulous that you can’t take out a single note — everything would collapse. Playing it as an adult was a very different experience from working on it at school: I think young people try to create moments in the music, whereas older musicians start at the macro level. We discuss larger shapes and where the main subjects and modulations are, and the smaller details fall into place more organically with time.
Recently I listened to some old recordings of myself playing the quartet, and it wasn’t how I remembered it at all. I remember certain technical problems that I was pulling my hair out trying to solve, but watching a video of myself playing, I don’t understand why. I’ve taken a lot from that experience and put it into my teaching: it has made me realise that students get stuck on problems that only exist in their heads, without noticing what’s actually going on.
Ori Kam is the violist of the Jerusalem Quartet, which is touring Mexico from 21—25 June