Testament | Acacia Quartet

In their 2019 return to the Independent Theatre, Acacia Quartet offered of program of tonal variety in the concert Testament. Balancing classic string composers against untested contemporary pieces made for an afternoon of pleasant playing and peppery moments.

Starting with the most well-known piece of the program, “String Quartet K.465 ‘Dissonance'” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it was also the boldest selection in terms the dramatic shifts between and within each movement. Beginning with a light and airy atmosphere, the violins, played by Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy, seem to skip, hop, and play around the rambling, steady walk of the cello, played by Anna Martin-Scrase. The next two movements are where the drama bounds forth with deep and Romantic stretches of cello playing against the whining violins. The conversation between the violins and the cello and viola (Stefan Duwe) feels like an urgent retelling of an adventure story the violins are racing to get out. In the final movement, the conversation between the squeaky and more rounded strings takes on a turbulence of tone as though attempting to return to the fleeting care-free feeling of the opening.

From the likes of Mozart, the concert takes a turn towards a fresh new composer who was present to introduce the next piece. Alice Chance wrote “A Sundried String Quartet” inspired by the idea of leaving music out in the sun to decay and ferment in the way that fruit would, perhaps creating something richer or potent. This performance saw Acacia Quartet play the first two movements of Chance’s work in progress, starting with a watery and open movement and transitioning into something more experimental. The first, titled “Exposure”, begins with long, drawn-out notes mimicking long-shots in a film used to establish landscapes. The high violins reverberate their sound through the other instruments like light refracting in a mirror or water splashing off of a surface. It builds an atmosphere of tranquility and also gentle, organic movement.

Similarly, but with a completely different outcome, the second movement titled “Dribble Castle”, attempts to capture the sounds of beach play with a lot of string plucking and whacking to recreate dripping water and sand. While the Mozart piece uses high-affect to manipulate a sense of momentum and awesome fullness, Chance’s piece speaks to small remembrances of shared or even individual moments in everyday living.

In the second half of the concert, Acacia Quartet again poses a classic against a contemporary piece to illuminate the nuanced similarities and/or differences in each. The title piece for the program, “Testament” composed by Tigran Mansurian invokes his heritage, in particular the traditional choral music of Armenia. This slow and sorrowful piece stretches time across a single movement. While maintaining a steady pace, the composition builds to fuller and more dramatic moments before thinning out into the evocative sound of a single violin.

The final piece for this concert is familiar Claude Debussy: “String Quartet in G minor, Op.10”. In the first movement, the players alternate between fluttery and racing with soft crescendos and stretches of excited tension that descend equally energetically, powered by a kind of nervous energy. The energy picks up in the second movement where the violin and cello mirror each others’ quick-step with the urgency of a new romance. The depth of the cello is on display in contrast to the heights of the violin when the momentum slows to a smaller and more subtle tone and the instruments seem to rest. This is typical Debussy style where even in the drama of the final crescendo, the composition remains humble and restrained, aiming for the sense of beauty in reservation.

Even across the greatly variant styles and tones of each piece, Acacia Quartet play with a clean sound and delicate attention to the details of the music as though cradling each composition in the palms of their hands. Their flexibility for performance shines through as a testament to their talent.

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