The Škampa Quartet is one of the finest string quartets that has represented the Czech Republic in major concert halls around the world. With a long list of successful recordings and major prizes, the group has a strong international following. Its members consist of Helena Jiříkovská, violin, Adéla Štajnochrová, violin, Martin Stupka, viola, and Lukáš Polák, cello.
Here, we talk to Helena Jiříkovská.
When and how did the Skampa Quartet first come together?
The Skampa Quartet was formed back in 1989 when we were studying at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. The name, Skampa, is for the Czech violist, Milan Skampa, a teacher at the Prague Academy of Music who played with the famous Smetana Quartet for many years.
How often do you rehearse?
We try to rehearse every day for several weeks leading up to a concert.
How do you decide your repertoire?
First, we discuss which repertoire we would like to play, then we look to see if there are any anniversaries of the composers coming up, and finally, and importantly, we take note of what the promoters want. We always discuss it amongst ourselves.
What is the most challenging work to play?
I would say Beethoven’s late quartets. They present a really big challenge for every quartet!
Do you find that international concerts present problems with travel?
Yes, we have so many problems especially with air transport. The rules have become stricter for the transportation of musical instruments. Increasingly, we now find that we have to pay not only for the the cello, but also for the violins and the viola. It´s starting to get very expensive!
How far in advance do you learn a work for a forthcoming concert?
We start to prepare as soon as possible – ideally a few months in advance.
Approximately how many concerts do you do a year?
Currently, we perform around twenty to twenty-five concerts a year – although it would be very nice to play more often!
Outside of the Skampa quartet, do you as individuals perform/teach?
Yes, we do. Helena is the concertmaster of the Talich Chamber Orchestra and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Adela plays baroque music, Martin works as a sound engineer and Lukas is the concertmaster at the National Theatre Brno.
What problems do you encounter as a quartet?
It’s mostly a question of rehearsal time. Also, we need to find a common view on the interpretation, how to feel music together, intonation, dynamics etc.
How much of your professional engagements are quartets?
This is very difficult question, but I would say that quartets make up about one-third of our total professional engagements.
Any advice for any aspiring young chamber ensembles?
We would definitely recommend playing chamber music in addition to solo playing, as it provides an overview of music in the best possible sense. You can perform as a soloist but with the cooperation and interaction of other musicians. You also learn how to listen to each other. Playing with a small ensemble is uplifting. We love it!