Reviewed by Odette McCarthy
I enjoy various music artists and relish in whisking myself off to different performances and gigs, immersing myself in all genres. My Spotify will skip from Edvard Grieg to Slipknot to Bowie’s Labyrinth soundtrack. I have never had any music education so I can’t give a musically informed review. What I can give you is a seemingly simple scrutinization of what I heard and experienced upon seeing Acacia Quartet perform. I promise not to use my viola code name, chin guitar, throughout. I won’t mention my internal querying of whether, after such practice, musicians still look at their music sheets as part of the performance or if they really can’t remember. I’ll only quickly hint at how suspicious I was with the audience only clapping after certain, seemingly random pieces. And I will leave out the fact that the ensemble warranted a more appropriate theatre, such as The Opera House, in which they have previously performed.
Acacia Quartet have a passion for sharing their love of music with audiences of all ages. This was apparent the evening I attended ‘Fratres’ at the Independent Theatre. I was unwittingly satisfied with the vast diversity of audience age attending a classical string quartet. The performance, Fratres, meaning ‘brothers’, consisted of string quartets by four composers between 1827 up until today. Arvo Part, Airat Ichmouratov, Felix Mendelsson and Lyle Chan. Part’s opening piece was a long, dulcet, somber piece that I felt myself becoming sedate during. It had me yawning and comparing it to my nightly sleep meditation tracks. It would be easy to welcome sleep to such mellow music. I was unduly surprised when I read the program in the interval and found that the music was composed to give the tranquil impression I obtained. One violin and the viola were tuned lower than normal, which gave the piece that hypnotic element. The cyclical musical phrases added to the mesmeric, sedative feel. Easy on the ears and mind, still somewhat sad. I was acceptably receptive of the following piece and uplifted by its faster tempo. I noticed the tamed, rhythmic breathing of the musicians along with their music, adding to the measured quality of the performance.
This may be individual to my experience of most seated shows, as I find it hard to sit still and purely listen for extended periods, even to something I am interested in or passionate about. When intermission came, I presumed it was the end and had I quickly concluded that Acacia Quartet had played a felicitous act, not too long nor too short. Alas, my restless self was amiss, as the journey was but halfway done. Howbeit, the second half was far from painful! I think the slow, meditative pieces can be beneficial for a person such as myself to sit through, to help slow down and notice thoughts and inquire into the unruly chaos currently dominating the mind.
Ichmouratov’s ‘Time and Fate’ makes for an intriguing listen if you are informed on the back story. The piece was written right after the death of a woman he recognized as second mother to him. The passing of time and life became visual to him for the first time, and this composition came as a result. I enjoyed knowing that and pondering it as I listened.
Mendelssohn’s ‘String Quartet in A minor, Op.13’ had me deep in thought. I was indubitably focused on my own thoughts and left little time to take in and appreciate the piece. Apparently, Mendelssohn’s compositions are meant to be thought-provoking. Perhaps my reaction was apt? I love and resonate with the quote accompanying this harmonic composure, inspired by a love song titled ‘Frage’, meaning ‘question’. “What I feel can only be understood by someone who feels it with me, and who will stay forever true to me.” Be still my thawing heart!
I possibly enjoyed the last composition by Lyle Chan the most. The performance ended with his modern, energetic piece that left me feeling upbeat and excited for nothing in particular. Chan was amongst the audience members and humbly took a bow. The piece had me bounding determinedly out of the theatre.
It’s amazing what music can do to a person and what it can make one feel. I love realizing that emotion can be struck without words. A lack of lyrics can be a truly moving thing. I often listen to instrumental versions of some of my favourite songs and find myself getting more emotional during these than the original versions. The changes in tempo and melody throughout Acacia Quartet’s performance reminded me of the string quartet in Titanic. Pandemonium is occurring before the musicians, but they continue playing different pieces in an attempt to calm or at least modify the tumultuous scene surrounding them. I felt Acacia Quartet doing the same thing with my mind. They took me on an emotional journey of both highs and lows. Fratres is rhythmic, even the breathing of the musicians was obviously tamed to suit the changing rhythms throughout.