Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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Janáček Quartet.

Czech string quartet. It was formed in 1947 by Jiří Trávníček (b Vlaštovičky, nr Opava, 10 Dec 1925; d Brno, 16 June 1973) and Miroslav Matyáš (b Brno, 7 July 1924; d Brno, 25 Dec 1997), violins; Jiří Kratochvíl (b Ivančice, 8 Dec 1924), viola; and Karel Krafka (b Znojmo, 4 Jan 1921; d Brno, 11 July 1984), cello; they were all students in Váša Černý’s class at the Brno Conservatory. Their first public concert was given in Brno on 31 October 1947. A study of Janáček’s String Quartet no.1 the next year led to a deep and lasting interest in his music, and after the quartet’s successful Prague début in 1949 it adopted the name Janáček Quartet. It first toured abroad that year, to Poland. In 1952 Matyáš was succeeded by Adolf Sýkora (b Brno, 5 May 1931), after which the personnel remained unchanged until the death of Trávníček, whose place was taken by Bohumil Smejkal (b Brno, 14 Jan 1935). After a Middle East tour in 1955, a successful appearance in West Berlin in January 1956 opened the way to a wider international reputation. The quartet has since toured in all continents and has made frequent visits to countries such as Britain, where it first appeared in 1958. In 1984 Krafka was replaced by Břetislav Vybíral (b Přerov, 16 Jan 1955), and in 1989 Kratochvíl was replaced by Ladislav Kyselák (b Brno, 27 June 1956). Smejkal retired as leader in 1993 and his place was taken first by Jiří Novotný (b Brno, 24 Dec 1956) and in 1996 by Miloš Vacek (b Písek, 25 April 1961). In 1994 Vítězslav Zavadilík (b Uherské Hradiště, 6 Jan 1951) succeeded Sýkora as second violinist. Through its several changes the quartet maintained a remarkable consistency of style. Outstanding performances of Janáček’s quartets have given many audiences their first experience of his music and, apart from Classical and Romantic works, the quartet’s repertory regularly includes Bartók, Britten, Novák, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The quartet performs invariably from memory and this, together with its virtuosity and temperament, its expressive intensity and range of colour, helps to establish a close rapport with its audiences. Several of its recordings have gained international prizes.

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