ASQ to perform in Southbank and around the country

By Jess Carrascalao Heard

The Australian String Quartet (ASQ) will be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre (MRC) next month as a part of its first national tour since the pandemic.

The performance, which will fall in the middle of the tour, features a new work by Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth, which he wrote as the pandemic was taking hold.

Acclaimed recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey will join the quartet to perform the new work, as well as another piece by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

Dale Barltrop, who as well as being ASQ’s First Violin and co-Artistic Director is a Southbank resident, is excited the group is returning to MRC.

“We do have a special relationship with it, and it’s just so amazing to be able to come back,” he said.

The tour will see the ASQ travel to Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney as well as performing in Melbourne.

For the ensemble, which usually tours the country three times a year, it’s a welcome return of an itinerary which was impossible a year ago, both with travel restrictions and lockdown, which saw the quartet geographically split.

During the national lockdown of March, April and early May, two members of the quartet were in Adelaide, while Mr Barltrop and ASQ’s second violinist Francesca Hiew, were stuck here in Melbourne.

With travel and rehearsals suddenly off the cards, the ensemble shelved their original plans and got thinking about how to navigate the following months.

“We spent from March to June talking, and planning, and figuring out how can we still operate. How can we move beyond this?” Mr Barltrop said.

One of the ideas which was floated during this time was a live web series, incorporating both performances and human interest content about the musicians themselves.

But these plans nearly came unstuck when Melbourne’s second lockdown loomed.

Mr Barltrop and Ms Hiew, as well as ASQ’s executive director, had been keeping an eye on the COVID situation in Melbourne.

When Stage 3 lockdown restrictions were announced, Mr Barltrop had moved into his new home at the Botanical in Southbank just two weeks beforehand.

But with border closures imminent, he and Ms Hiew had to make a mad dash to join their colleagues in Adelaide without knowing when they would return.

“Obviously, the borders were going to be closed as of midnight that night between SA and Victoria, and we had to get across the border before midnight that night,” Mr Barltrop said.

“We piled as much stuff as we could into a couple of cars, and we left around 6am,” he said.

Being in Adelaide during heavy lockdowns meant that the quartet were able to perform in concert and record their web series, which went on to become a weekly touchstone for many Melburnian music-lovers whose routines had otherwise been disrupted in lockdown.

It was finally in November that Mr Barltrop returned to Melbourne, and though some restrictions had been lifted, it wasn’t until he performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to a live audience earlier this year that he felt things were back to normal.

With the ASQ’s national tour soon to kick off, Mr Barltrop is excited to touch base with their audiences around the nation, who they haven’t seen for more than a year.

Their first destination is Perth, where Mr Skipworth is based, to perform the world premiere of his new work, Recorder Quintet for bass recorder and string quartet.

Inspired by the sounds of a cavern, and influenced by traditional Japanese music, Mr Barltrop said he thought the piece was Mr Skipworth’s response to the pain and struggles that artists went through during the pandemic.

“It’s a really beautiful, cathartic piece. It’s quite slow and meditative and tender,” he said.

The work was supposed to premiere last year at ASQ’s annual festival at Margaret River, which was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Its premiere was held back until the tour, and as a result it will now be exposed to a much larger audience.

“It’s worked out even better, because last year it was only going to be performed in Margaret River. Now it’s going to be performed in Perth and in Melbourne, in two of the best venues in Australia to perform in,” he said.

The new piece by Mr Skipworth will be performed alongside a work by 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn, as well as works by two current composers, Elena Kats-Chernin and Pavel Fisher.

The ASQ will perform at the Melbourne Recital Centre on June 1.

“My hope is that the audience will come out of this concert with a great sense of joy and hope for the future,” Mr Barltrop said. •

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