It’s been a busy four days for the AYO Regional Residency String Quartet! We arrived on Thursday last week, a little daunted by the prospect of preparing such challenging repertoire in a short time having never played together as a quartet before, but when AYO's Operations and Planning Manager Lucy Papworth's flight was delayed we decided to get things rolling by reading through the first movement of Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 No. 4. We were pleasantly surprised! I think it helped that we all knew each other quite well from previous AYO programs, and that some of us had played in various other chamber groups with the other members. Lucy soon arrived to brief us on the program, and then we were off – we had a full day of rehearsing and tutorials ahead of us!
Patricia Pollett was our tutor for our first two days of rehearsal and is also accompanying us up to Townsville for the tour. She worked her magic in the tutorials, helping us to unify our playing styles and musical ideas and instilling us with her infectious enthusiasm for the music and the joy of playing chamber music. We took advantage of the gorgeous weather and the beautiful grounds of the University of Queensland by having our lunch outdoors, before tackling Richard Mills’ String Quartet No. 4, titled Glimpses from my Book of Dada. It was an unfamiliar work to all of us, but fortunately Cameron and I were lucky enough to have seen AYO tutor Monica Curro and some of our fellow AYO musicians prepare and perform it at the recent AYO Chamber Players program in Perth, and we are quickly growing to love this quirky, humorous work – its brevity and wide variety of tonal textures make it a wonderful pairing with Ravel’s String Quartet, the other major work on our program.
We worked with Michele Walsh for our third and fourth days of rehearsal, carefully taking apart the Ravel quartet, which many consider one of the most beautiful, colourful and challenging works in the repertoire. We are gradually building up our pizzicato stamina for the scintillating and much-loved second movement! The whole work is full of musical lines that sound continuous to a listener, but are in fact passed around the members of the quartet, and we must try to achieve seamlessness while also highlighting the differences in the timbre of our instruments. Michele’s wonderful guidance over the weekend helped us to extend our tonal palette, smooth out technical problems and start trusting each other enough to breathe and play as if we were mutually symbiotic musical creatures, rather than relying on any one person to give the cues. We had lunch at Southbank, and we were fittingly hounded by the resident ibis (the first movement of Mills’ quartet is titled The Circumspect Ibis).
Today we fly up to Townsville, and we’ve all got our recordings and scores for study during the flight! We’re looking forward to the warm weather up north, and can’t wait to begin our program of school workshops and concerts!
Flora Wong, violin