Posted by: jkirkby8712 | September 27, 2011

Monday, 26th September 2011 – a final concert with the Australian String Quartet!!

It was certainly a full day, and a long one for this writer. At the office it was Committee meeting day, and as has been the norm for the best part of 5 years, there was also some potential drama and/or turmoil to be solved or argued over.  The ‘boss’ was taking all of the recent criticism and attacks on the organisation, and herself, quite stressfully, came in unwell from a weekend of feeling the same, and stayed that way for the day’s duration. Sometimes I feel it would be better for all concerned to leave some of these problems to the side, rather than reacting and gnawing away like a dog with a bone. I’m so glad to be leaving, because while it seems as though the new committee will be a good one, there are numerous external factors and people who are obviously going to continue on their paths of disruption and trouble making.

This was actually the last Committee meeting at which most of those present would not be here again before I finished up. I was hoping to get through the day without any form of joint recognition of that fact – I didn’t have to be at the meeting, and apart from various administrative matters dealing with members throughout the day [mainly handing over expense claims] I was able to keep out of the way generally. But couldn’t escape completely, and mid afternoon, Jackie came looking for me – they want me at the meeting!! I fell for it, thinking there was a query about the finances, but quickly realised it was something else. A farewell and thankyou speech from new Chairman, Russell Castley [from Creswick], and the presentation  of a very nice looking Citizen Eco-Drive Gold Watch – rather appropriate, because I had not had a watch for about 10 years, apart from a promo sample that James gave me a couple of weeks ago.  Anyway, thankfully, the ‘speeches’ and thankyou’s etc took place there and then, rather that each individual chasing me up before they left today [much later than usual] with a lot of ‘mushy’ goodbyes!!! I’m intending to have a quiet small meal with the staff and a couple of tenants I’ve been dealing with since I arrived here [a breakfast actually] on the 18 October, and slip away quietly at the end of that day.

Now tonight, was the final concert for 2011, by the Australian String Quartet, whose concerts I have been a subscriber to for the past 5 or 6 years. Tonight’s concert was called ‘Sunset’ after the Ottorino Respighi cantata performed by guest soprano Sara Macliver in the first half of this program. Sara is best known for her classical and baroque repertoire and her bright upper register, and is considered one of Australia’s most popular and versatile artists. I’ve played her a couple of times on a Sunday morning.  It was a prescient choice because, unbeknown at the time of programming, this tour marks something of a sunset for the quartet, as violinist Sophie Rowell and violist Sally Boud are giving their final performances with the group. After playing together for many years, the last five as the ASQ, the players are finishing their final season together on a high point. A new line-up. Kristian Winther replaces first violinist Sophie Rowell and Stephen King replaces violist Sally Boud.  I had actually already decided not to subscribe again next year, prior to the change of quartet membership – I wanted to spread my interest [and money] around to a few other performances and/or orchestras, etc. If I  do go back to an ASQ concert, it will probably be on those occasions when they have a quest such as tonight – I always enjoy having something extra added to the two violins, viola and cello .It would be the last time I would see in person anyway] Sophie Rowell [violin], Anne Horton [violin], Sally Boud [viola] and Rachel Johnston [cello] perform together on stage.

The program tonight, was as follows.

Haydn: String Quartet op.76 no.1
Respighi: il tramonto (The Sunset)
Golijov: Two Songs for String Quartet and Voice
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major for String Quartet and Voice

Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet was familiar to me, and in many parts is quite a vigorous and happy sounding piece of music, and the girls’ playing of it captured the spirit beautifully at times. The third movement and the finale in particular demonstrated that sense of playful good humour , and as Gordon Kerry writes in the official program ‘Likewise, the menuetto is much more like a boisterous Beethovenian scherzo, and any residual aristocratic grace [from the earlier movements] is dispelled by’  is almost like a waltz. I enjoyed Haydn’s part of the program but I was looking forward to hearing Sara Macliver.  She joined the ASQ for Respighi’s dramatic and declamatory setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Il tramonto (The Sunset).


[From the left, Sally and Sophia, the two girls who are leaving, with Ann and Rachel]

‘The Sunset’ was quite a long and quietly sung romantic piece [though not sung in English] with the four string instruments appropriately fitting that mood with some magical playing. I was impressed with the sharply contrasting  dress outfits on stage, with the four girls all dressed in long black  shoulder less gowns [except for Rachel, who is a little larger than the other girls, and dresses to fit her stature, as the photo above shows]. Sara Macliver came onto the stage in a pure white long dress. Although it was a good match in many ways, some might feel it left the quartet’s black looking a little less appealing. After the interval for her second contribution, Sara had changed her dress, now a sumptuous light bluish colour, I’m sure the blue had a specific name, but that was beyond me!!!  But to the music and song, which was based on an 1816 poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here’s Gordon Kerry’s words again – ‘In The Sunset, two lovers are walking at twilight. Far from their love being unrequited, however, they have, in Shelley’s tactful phrase, been distracted by the ‘unreserve of mingled being’ and not seen the sunset. The man promises they will see it the next day, but in the morning he is found dead and cold; his lover lives on, eaten away by grief, yearning…only to ‘drop in the deep sea of Love’ and find peace. The text of the song, in English lyrics, is as follows [Sara sang it in Italian].

There late was One within whose subtle being,

As light and wind within some delicate cloud

That fades amid the blue noon’s burning sky,

Genius and death contended. None may know

The sweetness of the joy which made his breath

Fail, like the trances of the summer air,

When, with the lady of his love, who then

First knew the unreserve of mingled being,

He walked along the pathway of a field

Which to the east a hoar wood shadowed o’er,

But to the west was open to the sky.

There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold

Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points

Of the far level grass and nodding flowers

And the old dandelion’s hoary beard,

And, mingled with the shades of twilight, lay

On the brown massy woods – and in the east

The broad and burning moon lingeringly rose

Between the black trunks of the crowded trees,

While the faint stars were gathering overhead.

“Is it not strange, Isabel,” said the youth,

“I never saw the sun? We will walk here

To-morrow; thou shalt look on it with me.”


That night the youth and lady mingled lay

In love and sleep – but when the morning came

The lady found her lover dead and cold.

Let none believe that God in mercy gave

That stroke. The lady died not, nor grew wild,

But year by year lived on – in truth I think

Her gentleness and patience and sad smiles,

And that she did not die, but lived to tend

Her agèd father, were a kind of madness,

If madness ’tis to be unlike the world.

For but to see her were to read the tale

Woven by some subtlest bard, to make hard hearts

Dissolve away in wisdom-working grief;

Her eyes were black and lustreless and wan:

Her eyelashes were worn away with tears,

Her lips and cheeks were like things dead – so pale;

Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins

And weak articulations might be seen

Day’s ruddy light. The tomb of thy dead self

Which one vexed ghost inhabits, night and day,

Is all, lost child, that now remains of thee!


“Inheritor of more than earth can give,

Passionless calm and silence unreproved,

Where the dead find, oh, not sleep! but rest,

And are the uncomplaining things they seem,

Or live, a drop in the deep sea of Love;

Oh, that like thine, mine epitaph were – Peace!”

This was the only moan she ever made.


After the interval, we moved on to a night world of hushed urgency and fragile ecstasy in two songs, by Emily Dickinson, and Rosalia de Castro, with music to them composed by Osvaldo Golijov [a contemporary composer, born in 1960]. ‘How Slow the Wind’ is a musical setting of two short Emily Dickinson poems – the composer described it as a response to an accidental death of a friend. He wrote “I had in mind one of those seconds in life that is frozen in the memory, forever – a sudden death, a single instant in which life turns upside down, different from the experience of death after as long agony”.  Sara sang these two pieces in English.

How slow the Wind

how slow the sea

how late their Fathers be!


Is it too late to touch you, Dear?

We this moment knew.

Love Marine and Love terrene

Love celestial too


The other song, from Rosalia de Castro’s ‘Lua Descolorida’ [English translation being ‘Colourless Moon’] defines despair in a way that is simultaneously tender and tragic. The translation was done here by the composer himself. Although the actual words of this and the previous were quite short, the actual presentation with the help of the Quartet’s contribution created a much longer and beautiful interpretation of Golijov’s music, and the poet’s words

Moon, colourless

like the colour of pale gold:

You see me here and I wouldn’t like you

to see me from the heights above.

Take me, silently, in your ray

to the space of your journey.

Star of the orphan soles,

Moon, colorless:

I know that you don’t illuminate

sadness as sad as mine.

Go and tell it to your master

and tell him to take me to his place.

But don’t tell him anything.

Moon, colorless,

because my fate won’t change

here or in other worlds.

If you know where Death

has her dark mansion,

Tell her to take my body and soul together

To a place where I won’t be remembered,

Neither in this world, nor in the heights above.

It’s difficult to describe the singing of these words through Sara’s beautiful soprano voice. One review I noticed commented that it would have been well worth attending this concert just to hear Sara’s  a breathtaking account of Osvaldo Golijov’s setting of that poem by Rosalia de Castro. In that reviewer’s words [for my description couldn’t do equal justice] –  ‘From first note to last, the five musicians wonderfully evoked the haunting, melancholic, valedictory essence of the work, informed by an inward raptness that sounded intuitively right. Sara Macliver’s vocals were exquisitely wrought and the ASQ players responded to the score with an at-times ineffably beautiful kaleidoscope of muted-tone colours and impressive security of line. Here, as in Respighi’s rarely heard The Sunset, a setting of a poem by Shelley, all five musicians took up interpretative positions at the emotional epicentre of the music. The apparent effortlessness belied the enormous self-discipline required’.

Tonight’s concert concluded with Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed with the ASQ’s rendition of this, almost sounded tired, as though they had played it too many times, and the Quartet was bored with the music [although they had commented that it was one of their favourite pieces having played it together in their first performance I think].  Anyway, I’m sure that wasn’t the case, in fact maybe it was this listener feeling tired by this stage [although traditionally, I tend to feel any tiredness or sleepiness during the first item on an ASQ program, and come to life after that]. Certainly a couple of contrasting opinions came to my attention  –  one writer saying that ‘from the outset the players captured the right sound world for this elusive music, which ranged from delicate intimacy to orchestral grandeur’, while another was of a view not dissimilar to my own, with the comment that  the music ‘was given a less uniformly successful reading. The focus was not as sharp as one might have hoped and there were lapses of intonation in the first violin line’.

Anyway, whatever, the ASQ received a prolonged standing ovation for this, there final concert together in Melbourne [they still have the same concert to perform in Brisbane and Sydney over the next two nights], and of course, out came the huge bunches of flowers, and a farewell speech from the Chairman of the Australian String Quarter. The quartet will continue but in a new format next year.

Like this contribution, my day/night was not over yet. From the city, I drove back to Sunbury, but not to home – to the radio station, where I undertook a truncated version of my Monday night 3 hours Smorgasbord of music and entertainment.  I  can’t recall if I was tired or not, but I do know I thoroughly enjoyed that 2 hours –  the change of music genre [well, this program features ‘all’ genres] from where I had just spent the previous 2 hours. In fact, I think the ‘highlight’ piece of the program was an 11 minute track from Miles Davis, with some other special and varied selection from a veteran Angola singer named Bongo [his music suited his name], and old jazz favourite from Dexter Gordon ‘They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful, a great soul/blues number by young Melbourne singer, Ashleigh Southam [‘Beautiful Friend’;], and amongst others, a good old style brass band from New Orleans –  The Dirty Dozen Brass Brand and with Dr John and their rendition of as song which was apparently the first track recorded by the Rolling Stones, ‘It’s All Over Now’!!  No phone calls, but that’s nothing new for this presenter!!

Needless to say by the time that I got home,. Fed the cats [Susan had gone up to Bendigo for about 36 hours], and then found myself a meal, watched a full episode [for the first time] of ‘The Clinic’, a UK series based in a medical practice which another presenter at the station had told me about  –  well, after all that, it was 1.30am!!!  I will back up by 6am!




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