At last the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) seems to have found its mojo.
At last the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) seems to have found its mojo. Anyone who has followed the ASQ over the years will be aware of its quite staggering membership turnover. If you lined up all its players on stage, past and present – 18 at the latest count – it would be enough to make up a small chamber orchestra. Management has been understandably touchy about this subject, tying to iron over the quartet’s high attrition rate and spasmodic internal crises. It’s been the same, but different, this year. In May came the announcement that violinist Anne Horton and cellist Rachel Johnston were leaving. This was just 14 months after first violinist Kristian Winther and violist Stephen King had joined. A quartet losing half its members is one thing, but doing so twice in three years is another; and that’s on top of a complete personnel changeover that happened in 2006 when the Tankstream Quartet players were installed. But now there’s the promise that the ASQ can put all that behind them. Violinist Ioana Tache and cellist Sharon Draper, both from Melbourne, were recruited in what seems record time, and on the basis of its performances thus far, this new combination has serious firepower. Here in the year’s last subscription concert were four high calibre players who, while not yet fully unified in ensemble, exuded an energy and interpretational daring that seems strike out on a new path. In Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3, contrasts were stupendous in scale, and Beethoven’s Op. 130 possessed a strikingly neat, finessed artistry along with depth of feeling. Draper said on the concert’s eve that the four players found an instant wavelength when they first played together, ahead of their September Debussy tour. “On the first day, it was pretty evident to me that we get on very well as musicians. It’s like a relationship, like how one might wonder how two people in a couple get on at all when in fact they do. We’re still getting to know each other, of course. On certain days I say to myself, ‘Ah, I know not to say certain things next time’.” After one rehearsal, the four players got to work on a white board to brainstorm the group’s plans for 2015. Ideas sparked in every direction, Draper said: “Each of us wrote up our ideas, from wonderful to weird. Musically I love how every member of the quartet is willing to try something new,” added Draper. “I love playing anything by Beethoven and Brahms, and think of Mendelssohn as an incredibly interesting composer. But if you look at the quartet repertoire as a whole, there is a huge diversity, and that’s what is interesting.” Ligeti’s Quartet No. 1, ‘Métamorphoses Nocturnes’, which they played at the Melbourne Festival in October, was a case in point for her: “It was new for me, but I could play that piece every week.” Both Draper and the Belgrade-born Tache were students at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne, and one way or another all four players have known each other through their earlier careers. Says Draper: “I knew all the players well before. Steven I knew as a mentor of ACO2 (the AustralianChamber Orchestra’s youth ensemble) while I was in that as an emerging artist. Kristian I’ve known since we were at school. We were both in AYO (Australian Youth Orchestra), me leading the cellos and he was concertmaster. We were playing Brahms’ Second Symphony and I remember he was such a vibrant musician, so energised – so rare in someone so young. So it is lovely to come back again in a full circle.” Angelina Zucco, ASQ’s Executive Director, says she had expected the recruitmen process would likely extend to the end of this year and was in no need of hurrying it up. “We were a quartet in transition and we were ready for that. We could have kept working with guests, which, though this was not an ideal solution, allowed the opportunity for us to continue performing.” “The starting point in this recruitment process was all about relationships. High standard musicianship was a given – any of the players we trialled could have slotted in, in terms of their ability. Once that’s taken out, then it is a question of what’s the right fit. It is finally about relationships because these four players have to spend a lot of their time together. They have to be kindred spirits who live and breathe music together. We were fortunate to get a great team so soon.” The ASQ’s plans for next year include a possible China or South East Asia tour, and for 2015 a major international tour to Europe. asq.com.au Images Jacqui Way Photography 2013