Today another chamber ensemble 2015 brochure hit your correspondent’s mailbox. Late, you say? Yes. But with reason. The letter and brochure came from the Australian String Quartet. Please ignore the sad past year and “irreconcilable artistic differences”. The ASQ board and management have been presented with one massive dilemma: how to create a string quartet program for their thirtieth year with a busted line up.
Management assures us they are doing everything possible to locate two new violinists. But in the interim, what have we got? The offering is Stephen King, Sharon Draper and Friends. Friends? Well, only “first violinist” friends. For the three tours proposed there is no mention whatsoever of the players who will take on the second violin role. Are they unimportant? Are they not yet contracted? Has management no idea? Has the board no idea? Oh, well, we all know: second violinists don’t exist. Or do they? Remember the wise words from the Julliard: the second violinist has to be able to play everything the first plays, and in a much more difficult register.
Not that your correspondent has any problem with the first violinists contracted by the ASQ to play in 2015. They are session instrumentalists of the first order: Wilma Smith, recently departed from the concertmaster chair at the Melbourne Symphony; Susie Park,, a soloist of growing stature; and then Sophie Rowell. Alert readers will recall that Sophie was, just a couple of years ago, first violinist of the, wait for it, Australian String Quartet. But, whatever your point of view, a string quartet consists of four players. They need time to build a mutual understanding and a musical soul. So the ASQ has a 2015 program of music to offer. But it is not a string quartet program.
This begs the question: what do you do if two members of your quartet resign? Your correspondent is of the view one player is replaceable, two probably not. The last time the ASQ board was placed in a similar position and came up with a sound plan, they determined to replace the busted line-up with an established quartet (The Tankstream). Brilliant. The next time they screwed up. Why have they not taken the sensible approach in 2015? Is there no one available? Then perhaps, rather than offering a festival lineup of session musicians, the board should have bitten the bullet and canned the whole program year. Find your quartet. Build it. Then introduce it to a waiting public. Your followers deserve better than the current debacle.