The American | Acacia Quartet


Centred around an Antonin Dvořák “String Quintet” inspired by his time in the United States, Acacia Quartet combine three pieces from Romantic, classical, and contemporary eras for an easy-listening but wide-ranging spring concert.

Opening the program with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 15 in D Minor”, Acacia Quartet slips into their playing smooth like honey. The string quartets are dedicated to Haydn after the influence his compositions had on Mozart’s interest in the string quartet form. In the first movement of this piece, there are moments of elevated feeling that seem to always return to a mellow baseline which suits the reserved playing styles of Stefan Duwe on viola and Anna Martin-Scrase on cello where the more energetic Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy dance overtop with their violins. The second movement is thinner and more flighty with a less continuous rhythm that allows for pauses and moments for reflection before the cello welcomes in some discordance. In the fourth movement these alternate strengths of sound come together where Stewart’s violin seems to go off on its own journey with an overall timid tone that frequently makes use of small and delicate sounds. Clohessy muses that this piece may represent a turning point in Mozart’s life when the birth of his first child opened up great uncertainty for the future.

For the second piece the Quartet races forward 300 years for a contemporary piece by Australian composer Alice Chance. “A Sundried String Quartet” was commissioned especially for Acacia Quartet and features four movements that explore ideas and images of sunlight and time in a particularly Australian way. Acacia Quartet incorporated the first two movements into their Testament program earlier this year but this concert saw the piece in its entirety. Each movement is remarkably different from the others from the bold and unusual tone of “Exposure” with bursts of sound that fade out resistantly to the playful plucking of “Dribble Castles” that represents a silly beach time activity. The third movement titled “Tomatoes” has a jazzy influence opening with a hazy, lazy cello that continues while the other strings experiment with different rhythms overtop the steady beat. The close simmers out like a sun shimmer or a mirage fading on the horizon. “Aloe Vera”, the final movement, is the most conventional in composition but was also a standout for its dreamy quality that perhaps become repetitive in the build but doesn’t fail to be emotionally evocative and a great listen.

For the final piece and the star of the show, Acacia Quartet played Antonin Dvořák’s “String Quintet”. Written during his time in the United States in a type of celebration or remembrance of spending summer in Iowa surrounded by other artists, this piece is said to demonstrate the influence of African-American music on Dvořák. The piece opens bright and lively just like a summer’s day full of possibility but it continues to hint at a lurking drama like a threatening thundercloud on the horizon. The strings are discordant and complicated to paint a detailed scene. Stewart’s violin has an interesting hollow quality to the sound, almost like a warble, that stands out in the first movement and seems to return at intervals throughout the piece. In the second movement the pace slows down considerably, almost coming to stillness in some of the slow and high moments.

The final two movements seem to capture that sense of adventure and novelty of being in a new place with a dancy third movement where the music travels through and around the quartet like partners taking turns on the dance floor. The more prominent cello grounds this short piece while the violins and viola leap around the space. In the final movement, the opening racing pace feels like the soundtrack to an adventure film with an almost cinematic quality to the piece’s narrative. It’s an interesting choice for a closing as it dashes off into the distance like the beginning of an exciting journey.

Three very different pieces from across time, Acacia Quartet again demonstrate their talent for unique programming and skill for uniting pieces through their harmonious playing. Of particular pleasure was hearing “A Sundried String Quartet” in its entirety before the heat finally takes over Sydney.

The American was played at the Independent Theatre on October 27th

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