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Q&A/Music

A program for Perth

28 April 2021

It’s been more than a year since the Australian String Quartet have performed in Perth and they are celebrating with three exciting concerts, including the world premiere of a work by Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth. Rosalind Appleby finds out more, including how to win free tickets!

The Australian String Quartet are performing in Perth for the first time since COVID-19 began. Rosalind Appleby chats with violinist Francesca Hiew about the Quartet’s return to national touring, Lachlan Skipworth’s new composition and recent changes in personnel. Read on for details about the Perth concerts and how you can win free tickets.

Rosalind Appleby: Welcome back to Perth, Francesca! How does it feel to be touring nationally again for the first time since 2019?

Francesca Hiew: Thank you! It’s surreal and bittersweet to think that we are able to tour again when most of the rest of the world isn’t able to enjoy live music. We’re extremely lucky!

A girl wearing a dark dress plays violin in front of a backdrop of a wall of red and brown wood tones
Francesca Hiew is second violinist with the Australian String Quartet. Photo supplied

RA: Yes – the ASQ is an organisation dedicated to touring, how did you go about celebrating string quartet music during the pandemic?

FH: Our reach as a quartet has always been constrained by how much the four of us could fly around the world and that definitely has a limit, so we had always planned to start an online platform at some point in the future. Last year was definitely that moment, so we launched ASQ Live and on Demand with an 8 episode pilot series of weekly live-streamed performances from UKARIA, the beautiful concert hall in the Adelaide Hills. As well as performances, each episode was hosted by the gorgeous Johanna Allen and featured interviews with individuals we feel contribute to the cultural fabric of South Australia. It was a huge feat that really pushed our entire team, but it was a huge success! I’ve never felt prouder of being part of the ASQ as I did last year.

RA: I’m looking forward to hearing you live again. You are bringing a tantalising program for your concert at the Heath Ledger Theatre, including the world premiere of a new work for recorder and string quartet by our local legend Lachlan Skipworth. Can you give us a hint of what to expect? He is a big fan of the shakuhachi so I imagine the bass recorder part might have some great pitch bending…?

FH: Yes! There is definitely a shakuhachi-esque influence to it. Lachlan has written a really evocative and intimate piece with this quintet. It’s incredible to hear the different colours and characters the recorder can present in its many iterations, and Genevieve Lacey captures this sound world so perfectly. The recorder line is written almost like an impromptu or fantasy. It’s really quite beautiful. 

RA: Recorder soloist Genevieve Lacey will also feature in Elena Kats-Chernin’s Re-inventions, which is such an exquisitely written reworking of Bach’s Inventions for recorder and string quartet. Also on the program is Mendelssohn’s delightfully youthful String Quartet No 1 Pavel Fischer’s intriguingly titled Mad Piper. How are rehearsals going?

FH: Rehearsals have been great! Genevieve is an absolute joy to work with and yes, we’ve chosen a pretty fun and varied program to play together. The Kats-Chernin and Skipworth offer two contrasting worlds for the recorder. The Mendelssohn is a piece most of us actually haven’t played but has been on the wish list for years now. Pavel Fischer’s Mad Piper quartet is a really wonderful piece we first heard a few years ago at the Australian Chamber Music Festival – it’s a very energetic work full of the influences of folk stories and dance.

RA: And then you back up this dense concert with two more open-ended, intimate concerts in Fremantle’s Kidogo Arthouse. What do you expect these concerts might look like?

FH: Around five years ago we started a concert series called Close Quarters. Its purpose was to be an affordable, interesting and casual way to approach concert-going. We find cool, different venues to play in and present a bit of a smorgasbord of string quartet music. There’s a lot of talking, a few drinks and just a much more casual and intimate vibe. We had identified Kidogo Arthouse a while ago as a great venue to explore, so we’re really happy to finally get to Fremantle for a Close Quarters event!

The ASQ are L-R: Dale Barltrop, Francesca Hiew. Stephen King and Michael Dahlenburg. Photo supplied

RA: These three concerts will be Perth’s chance to welcome the ASQ’s newest member, cellist Michael Dahlenburg, in his debut tour with the Quartet. You are also farewelling long-time ASQ viola player Stephen King, who steps into the new role of ASQ Director of Learning and Engagement, in the second half of this year. Is it a little de-stabilising having two members of the family changing in a short period of time?

FH: I wouldn’t say it’s destabilising, but the reality of being in a professional string quartet. Any kind of job that requires heavy travel is hard and adding on the stresses of performing constantly with the same 3 people makes it even more demanding. But the payoff is the unique opportunity to be a part of this string quartet and I’m sure everyone who has been part of the ASQ would share that notion. It’s only natural to sometimes rethink our priorities, and if you multiply all of those factors by 4 you realise it’s hard to have everyone on the same page all of the whole time. Change is inevitable but we’re always trying to make the most of it!

RA: Tell us why you pursued the string quartet as a career? You were two years into a position with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra when you jumped ship to ASQ in 2016. What is the appeal of chamber music?

FH: Growing up, I started playing in orchestras and string quartets around the same time, but it wasn’tuntil I was a student of William Hennessy (one of the founding members of ASQ) that I really thought “I have to be in a string quartet”. 

I love being part of an orchestra – it’s huge and exhilarating and my section in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was the absolute best! But both on and offstage, I just feel so comfortable in a string quartet. I enjoy the balancing act that it demands of you: being independent vs being open enough to trust others, wanting to push your ideas vs bending for the greater good and really, getting your head out of your own sound and into thinking of the bigger instrument the four players create. It’s definitely made me a better musician and a stronger person. Other than that, I adore the music and having the luxury of choosing what we play, living with a piece for longer, rehearsing it in meticulous detail all day then having that same piece floating around in my head all night. 

POSTPONED: The ASQ’s concerts at the Heath Ledger Theatre on 4th May and Kidogo Arthouse on 5th May 2021 have been rescheduled due to COVID-19. The new date is 30th May at the Heath Ledger Theatre.

WIN FREE TICKETS: Seesaw has three double passes to the ASQ concert at the Heath Ledger Theatre. Follow us on Facebook and make a comment on the ASQ article in our Facebook feed to go in the draw to win. (Competition now closed)

Pictured top: The Australian String Quartet arrive in Perth in May. Photo by Jacqui Way.

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Rosalind Appleby

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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