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Australian String Quartet to release Australian Anthology recording series

Australian String Quartet
Sam Jozeps

With its usually busy touring schedule “out the window”, the Australian String Quartet has embarked on a series of releases celebrating contemporary Australian composers, perfect for isolated classical music lovers in need of a fix.

“It’s been surreal, as it has for everyone,” Australian String Quartet cellist Sharon Grigoryan tells The Adelaide Review. “It’s a very strange feeling for a touring musician to just be home, not performing to people.”

Although primarily based in Adelaide, the quartet’s national focus means their year is typically spent criss-crossing the continent for concerts and residencies in capital cities and regional centres alike. With state borders closed and almost all forms of performance barred, its four members are, for now, grounded (author’s note: I passed violist Stephen King at Adelaide Airport in late February, which now seems like an absolute lifetime ago).

“It’s basically gone out the window,” she says, “just as the whole performing arts industry is reeling. But, we’re so lucky in the ASQ that because we’re so small, we can actually be quite nimble – we can afford to change our plans and be adaptable.”

One such adaptation, is a renewed focus on the release of Australian Anthology, a series of recordings highlighting works by contemporary Australian composers. Fortuitously, much of the series was already in the can when lockdown began, with the first taste of the group’s efforts released back in December with Paul Stanhope’s String Quartet no 2. But, since the overnight disappearance of all those other commitments that had previously nudged further releases down the group’s to-do, the remainder of the series has been largely completed to be released as a welcome substitute for the group’s regular programming.

Sam Jozeps
Violist Stephen King in the studio

“It’s really lucky,” Grigoryan says. “The recording process can be quite a long one; of course there’s the rehearsal and preparation and then the actual recording session, but then there’s the editing and mixing process, and of course all the logistics of getting it released. 

“We’re lucky that we have quite a few of these anthology recordings that were already recorded but haven’t been released yet because there hasn’t been enough time in the calendar for everyone to get together and listen to the final mixes.”

After that early preview in December, the series began in earnest on Friday with the release of Joe Chindamo’s Tempesta, with eight further works slated for release each month for the remainder of 2020.

“Joe is probably best known in Australia as one of our best jazz pianists, but he’s certainly showing himself to be one of Australia’s most exciting composers as well,” she says of Tempesta. “It’s not an autobiographical work, but it reflects him as a person. And knowing Joe so well, it really does. The whole work has his bubbly energy and quirkiness and humour; he’s an incredible master of string quartet writing, it’s so impressive, and written so cleverly.”

The remaining set include pieces by Nigel Westlake, William Barton, Kate Moore and a new work by Anne Cawrse entitled A Room of Her Own, which was due to be premiered by the quartet in a now-cancelled May concert. As one of the few pieces in the series that isn’t already committed to tape, Grigoryan is looking forward to be able to fully explore the piece with the quartet.

“In contrast to Joe’s frothy ebullient work, there’s a real depth of thought and consideration to Anne’s work,” she says. “I can’t really say what it’s like to play, because unfortunately I haven’t played it yet. But looking at the score, I know when we get to perform it, hopefully later this year, it’s going to be a really moving, evocative work to play and to listen to.”

Despite its challenges, Grigoryan says the isolation has also been an unexpected opportunity for her and husband Slava (whose 2020 Adelaide Guitar Festival has also been cancelled) to get on top of their usually relentless workload – and enjoy a bit of family time.

“In a strange way, it’s quite nice,” she reflects. “My husband and I are both touring musicians – we usually tour very heavily. But suddenly we find ourselves both at home at the same with our little toddler…. which has actually never happened before for more than a few days at a time.”

Australian Anthology release schedule 

April
Joe Chindamo: Tempesta

May
Dr Lou Bennett: Jaara Nyilamum

June
Kate Moore: Cicadidae

July
William Barton: Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand

August
Nigel Westlake: String Quartet no 3, Sacred Sky

September
Stephen Pilgram: Walganyagarra Buru

October
Anne Cawrse: A Room of Her Own

November
Ross Edwards: String Quartet no 4

December
James Ledger: The Distortion Mirror

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country.

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