28 February 2014

Plexus: We have Lift Off

Plexus: Monica Curro, violin; Philip Arkinstall, clarinet; Stephan Cassomenos, piano
45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
24 February 2014

“Plexus”, he told me, “they’re the hottest thing in town.” Correct! but hardly an unbiased opinion given he, Paul Dean, was in music school with the violinist, Monica Curro, Philip Arkinstall plays clarinet as does Dean, and the trio were about to premier his new trio.

Stephan Cassomenos, Monica Curro, Philip Arkinstall

Plexus ‘had blast off’ with Jennifer Higdon’s 2001 Dash then Khachaturian’s 1932 Trio. In Trio, Stefan Cassomenos’s brilliant piano playing underpinned the thorny folk-song themes with his characteristic romanticism. The piano-tragic in me would pay extra for a piano-view seat to watch him play.

Five world premieres by Australian composers followed. Plexus was joined by cellist Michelle Wood for Hugh Crosthwaite’s Mountain Ash. The cello and Crosthwaite’s classical and rock allusions took us deep into the wet forest floor. Plexus were very much at home there. Next, Judith Dodsworth was in total revenge-mode in Nicholas Routley’s difficult ‘Draupadi’s Aria’ from his opera Draupadi. Then the Trio premiered Ian Whitney’s Tanzendanses: movement mannerisms lifted from baroque – very 21st century baroque – dances. Next, Mrs Fantasia the Timekeeper – a black and white (and red) silent film built on references to Chaplin, Marceau and Dadaism set to music by Daniel Clive McCallum – was an exercise in time-keeping by the Trio that worked spectacularly well.

Dean’s four Fragmented Journeys from ‘Fraught’ to ‘Emergency’ show a mind stressed beyond endurance and Plexus had to deal with it. Each instrument was stretched to its limits. Each player was extended emotionally and technically. Dean wrote that the clarinet part is horrendous and he was glad he was not playing it. The same holds true for the violin and piano parts.

Screen dump; Paul Dean discussing his new string quartet for Flinders Quartet with me, February 2014.

Whoever said, ‘playing classical music is doing something difficult and making it look easy’ had Plexus’s Monday’s inaugural recital and their high-level music-making in mind. The sell-out audience, who responded with roars of approval, agreed.

27 February 2014

Flinders Quartet: Over a skinny latté I

Helen Ayres

The first in a series of interviews with members of Flinders Quartet.
First published in Flinders Quartet: February update 2014

Some eight year olds at Highbury Primary School in Adelaide sat in a circle. The teacher asked what they wanted to be. Helen, firmly, “Violin teacher”. Two years later school camp clashed with the visit of advanced Japanese Suzuki students.
 “I can’t decide. I can’t.”
 Dad said, “I’ll count, you say ‘camp’ or ‘violin’.”
 “One … two … .”
 “Ever since,” Helen says, “violin has been my priority.”

Image: www.nicholaspurcell.com.au:
Used with permission. Thank you Nicholas

She had piano lessons, too and swam. Eventually she played netball and squash. “Lately,” she says, “I’ve been tempted by the cello and the viola. I wanted a C string on my violin (violas have one) to see what I could get out of my violin. But it makes sense to play at the highest level of self-expression you can on the instrument you play best. The temptation for other instruments is about discovering aspects of your own. For me, it comes back to the violin.”

 “I’d always wanted to play second violin. Playing with Seraphim Trio showed me that the violin in a piano trio is like first violin in a quartet. Now, with Flinders Quartet, I’m happiest in that role.”

 She once wrote “Enescu's music exploits the tactile joys of being a violinist.” “Tactile joy,” she says, “is the physical experience of playing. The physicality of the way your fingers move, the way you can feel your body moving, the way you feel the bow on the strings. Enescu’s is very earthy, gypsy-influenced music. I love letting go of everything I’ve learned, playing the way I imagine a gypsy violinist would play, completely from the heart – even though his work is influenced by Brahms and Ravel – being aware of every single finger movement for what it is, not trying to force my fingers into a particular way of playing but letting them do what they want to do.”

OVER A SKINNY LATTÉ - the series
This month Helen Ayres, Violin I, talks about violins and violin playing. Other members of Flinders Quartet will follow during the year.

Next month Paul Dean talks about his new quartet, to be premiered by FQ in October. He was taking his daughter to hockey when the opening hit him: a G# – actually three. Second violin, viola and cello will play a G#, each with a different type of mute.

During 2014 I will follow the growth of Paul’s quartet – writing, rehearsal, performance – and all the bits in between. ‘Bits’ here are, critically, the Flinders Quartet musicians who will take Paul Dean’s response to the death of the brilliant young violinist and Paul's  friend Richard Pollett and present it to you, FQ’s friends.