Posted by Elena Phatak
Wednesday 9th October, 2013

When asked to write a blog on only the second day of Regional Residency, I was somewhat puzzled – surely I would hardly have enough to write a sentence or two about! The four of us – Iona, Pat, Joseph and myself – had all participated in the AYO International Tour a couple of months previously; an amazing trip full of thrilling musical experiences. However, I can now safely say that I already have plenty to talk about. This trip is quickly proving to be an adventure of its own, unique, but completely unlike our last journey. 

We went from flying to major European cities…to flying to a country town in the middle of New South Wales. The four of us started off by delaying the entire flight from Sydney to Armidale, due to one of us forgetting a jumper in the terminal…which required a rescue team, comprised of half the airport staff in high-vis vests, to run around the airport in search of the rogue clothing article. Stepping onto the tarmac, we were greeted by a bus, which took us about 20 metres away to our plane (EXACTLY the same size as the bus, only with the addition of wings). After realising that as a quartet alone we outnumbered the flight crew of the plane, we endured a short but bumpy ride over the country, tactfully answering obligatory questions: “No, we are not a rock band”, “Yes, we can play that Pachelbel song”, and “No, you probably won’t be able to see us perform in your local pub in Tamworth”.

We went from staying in four star hotels…to living in a quaint cottage outside of Armidale. This has been a bit of an adjustment, but a good one. If anything is going to make our quartet into its own little musical family, this is it. So far, we’ve overcome the basic hurdles of your average family: the grocery shopping, who gets the shower first in the morning, who knows how to work a barbeque, sharing the cooking and dish duty, and who has control of the remote (hint: those with a Y chromosome). But then there are the other less standard discussions, such as regulating the room temperature so that everyone can play their instruments comfortably, and no Joseph, you cannot practise your cello in the lounge room before 7am in the morning.

We went from playing in an orchestra of over 100…to a group of four. Unlike being part of the huge AYO orchestra, each player is entirely responsible for our own part in the quartet – every little nuance, rhythm and note is yours and yours only! In our first rehearsal, this became incredibly clear, as we spent our first night running all four of our works, finding our way from beginning to end, and trying to get an understanding of the ‘feel’ of the pieces. The Borodin is a group favourite; each instrument exchanges the piece’s gorgeous melodies, one after the other, in duet, and in canon. However, the other pieces are quickly growing on us too – the absolute quirkiness of the Mills, the insane catchiness of the Mozart, and the sublime harmonies of the Barber. Our first day and a half of rehearsals have been interesting and enjoyable, and full of laughter, under the watchful eye of the wonderful Michele Walsh.

We went from rehearsing in venues like the Concertgebouw…to the New England Conservatorium of Music, which has been one of the kindest, most accommodating places any of us have ever had the privilege to rehearse at. We were greeted with a kind and genuine reception, copious questions, “Welcome” signs a-plenty, and the assurance that everything was at our disposal. They seem just as excited to have us as we are to be here – a teacher even told us that they were making their classes recite back to them, “We promise to practise for at least half an hour a day, so that we can play well for the musical Olympians coming to visit”. Needless to say, we are eager to play for, talk to, and share our knowledge with these students, even if it means getting up at 6am to make their morning rehearsal in time.

All in all, we are all extremely privileged to have this experience; the opportunity to bring what we love to places and people around Australia. You’ll hear from us again at the end of our trip, but now I must take leave – Pat is making hot chocolate on the stove, and as it getting down to a chilly -1 degree outside tonight, it is an offer just too tempting to refuse.

Elena Phatak (violin) 

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