When it comes to touring, the Takacs String Quartet likes it tough.
None of this one-day-on, one-day-off foolishness for them. As first violinist David Dusinberre explains, the group -- which performs at Shriver Hall on Sunday -- tends to perform better when it's pushed by a demanding schedule.
"I think we play the best when we're in an intense run of concerts," he says during a telephone interview from a tour stop in Fort Worth, Texas. "I mean, it's always a hard balance, because of course you've got to stay fresh and make sure your energy level is really good for each concert. But it's quite difficult if you have a concert, and then three days without one, then another one.
"It's especially good to play five or six in a row, and then collapse for a day afterward," he adds, laughing.
That may be because the Takacs (pronounced tah-katsch) Quartet is particularly adept at the sort of charged interplay that comes when four well-focused musicians are sparking off one another. To do that, it's necessary for the players to feel not just excitement, but also a certain ease with the situation.
"You still have adrenalin, but it feels absolutely natural for you to be there [on the stage]," he says, "especially if you're playing the same repertoire for a few nights in a row. You feel that you really can take risks on stage, because you're very comfortable. The basic framework is there, and you know what you're doing."
This chance-taking is not something that is planned out in rehearsal.
"It just happens," he said. "And it's more likely to happen when you're really in a run of concerts."
At this stage, the Takacs Quartet has had quite a run of concerts. Formed at Hungary's Franz Liszt Academy of Music in 1975, the quartet (which relocated to the University of Colorado in Boulder in the mid-'80s), generally spends half the year on the road, performing between 90 and 100 concerts annually.
Granted, not all performers in the group have a full quarter-century of Takacs touring behind them. Although second violinist Karoly Schranz and cellist Andras Fejer are founding members, Dusinberre didn't join until 1993, and violist Roger Tapping signed on in '95.
Still, the tradition of the Takacs quartet carries through.
Take, for example, its approach to the string quartets of Bela Bartok (they'll be performing the third quartet at Shriver). Where other quartets base their interpretation on ideas gleaned from studying the score or by learning from other performances, the Takacs has a much more direct connection with the composer.
"The quartet studied the Bartoks with Zoltan Szekely, the violinist who Bartok wrote the violin concerto for," Dusinberre says. "This was before I joined. But Szekely said that Bartok was pretty clear; if he wrote a passage of 16th notes, which are pretty fast, and he did not write dots on them, he did not want them played off the string."
Having "dots" on a note means that it should be played staccato -- bap! bap! bap! bap! -- with the bow coming down onto the string and then quickly back up off it. When other quartets play Bartok, they often apply that technique to passages of fast, repeated notes, particularly in accompaniments.
Not the Takacs. "We play them on the string, which is a more basic bow stroke," Dusinberre says. "It sounds less classical, it sounds less well-trained as a string player. It has more of a fiddler or a peasant approach to it."
But it's precisely the effect Bartok intended.
That may be why the Takacs approach to Bartok makes his quartets seem warmer, more impassioned than other interpretations. "Of course, there are places which need a lot of grit -- especially in No. 3, which is a very angry piece," Dusinberre says. "But it doesn't need to be a completely unapproachable, abstract piece. It's got lovely melodies, fantastic jazzy rhythms and nice interchanges between the voice."
In addition to the Bartok, the Takacs will play the Dvorak String Quartet in F, Opus 96 ("American"), and the Beethoven String Quartet in B-flat, Opus 18. No. 6. Although the Dvorak has long been a part of the group's repertoire -- and, like the Bartok quartet, was recorded by the Takacs several years ago -- the Beethoven is a relatively new addition.
"We're going to record the whole Beethoven cycle, starting in the summer of 2001," Dusinberre says. "It will take probably two or three years to do it. We've been actually playing the cycle this year in Europe.
"So we've been playing a lot of Beethoven lately."
And as we all know, the Takacs is at its best when it's been playing a lot.
'Takacs String Quartet'
When: Sunday, April 16, 7: 30 p.m.
Where: Shriver Hall, the Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St.
Tickets: $27, $14 students