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As Wall Fell, Their Music Swelled

Berlin-Based Vogler Quartet, Playing Friday in Costa Mesa, Enjoys Performing on Stages Worldwide Now That Politics Have Changed

March 28, 2000|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Berlin Wall was a constant reminder to the Vogler Quartet of how limited its options were.

"Every concert we played was important because it was a possibility to get to the West to take part in competitions," cellist Stephan Forck said in a recent phone interview from New York, where the Berlin-based quartet was playing before it ends its 15th anniversary tour Friday in Costa Mesa.

But getting out wasn't easy.

"You had to pass a jury to be considered good enough," Forck said. And even that wasn't always enough.

"I wanted to play in a competition in the West as a cellist," he said. "Just a week before heading there, the authorities told me I couldn't get a visa. I wasn't a member of the Socialist Youth Group."

But when they applied as a quartet in 1986, some politically influential people spoke up for them. They were allowed to travel to the Evian International String Quartet Competition in France, where they won first prize.

The group had been formed in 1984 at the Hans Eisler Music Academy in what was then East Berlin. Two violinists--Tim Vogler and Frank Reinecke--had been studying with a professor who told them that "to become a profound musician, you have to have the experience of playing in a string quartet," Forck said.

So they looked for other players and found Forck and violist Stefan Fehlandt.

"Sometimes we had had invitations to play in the West, and we weren't allowed to travel," Forck said. "It wasn't good to be invited and to say, 'Yes, we'll try,' and a week before the concert find out that we couldn't get a visa."

Moreover, they might not have been able to continue playing together.

"At that time, it was compulsory to serve in the army in East Germany. That would have meant that the group would have been destroyed. But the Wall came down in '89, and all the cities beckoned."

Still, they remain loyal to their native city, living there and teaching in the Institutes of Music in Berlin and also in Detmold, as well as maintaining an international career and recording for BMG/RCA. The cellist described the quartet as "pretty much a balanced group.

"That means none of us is really a dominating figure. We are often asked if our decisions are made democratically. It's hard. You can't make decisions in music democratically--take sides and split the middle. That's not the best way."

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After all this time, they remain good friends. "That means knowing how to sustain a certain partnership," he said. "On a tour, when you're traveling, it is not necessary to do everything together. You need time to yourself."

Plus all the musicians, who are in their early 30s, have families.

"You can't plan this," Forck said. "It just happened. We are all fairly young fathers. There are four boys among us and one girl. The second violinist has the boy and the girl. I will be a father again next summer."

Though the group won the Evian Competition playing Ligeti's String Quartet No. 2 and feels a responsibility to the music of the 20th century, the musicians don't want to be pigeonholed into playing just that.

"The repertory for a string quartet is so rich and fantastic, you try to extend your repertory into all periods."

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Their program here represents that greater reach, with works by Haydn, Schumann (with pianist Angela Chang) and Hindemith.

Hindemith's "Minimax," said Forck, is a work full of jokes.

"It was first performed probably as an entertainment. It's a collection of rather short, funny pieces. Some are very ironic about the operettas of his time.

"All the sections have titles, but some of them are hard to translate into English. When you explain jokes, they don't make sense. But the music makes sense."

One of the sections is a satire on a military march that Hindemith, who had been drafted into the German army, detested.

"He must have heard it so often badly played. The bass tuba had a frozen valve, so the lowest note would never sound. That part that's played by the cello always has a wrong pitch.

"Maybe we better say something at the beginning of the concert because people might wonder, 'What's going on Here'? They'll think we're making a mistake."

* The Vogler String Quartet will play works by Haydn, Schumann and Hindemith at 8 p.m. Friday in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Angela Chang will join the ensemble in Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat. $34. (714) 556-2787.

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Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at chris.pasles@latimes.com.

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