Crossroads | The Sydney Art Quartet & Emanuel Synagogue

Image by Ofer Levy

The synagogue is described as a home for prayer, community, and learning so in collaboration with Emanuel Synagogue, The Sydney Art Quartet have prepared a concert exploring the underlying forces of empathy and compassion in the dangerous modern world. Merging music, voice, film, and dance, Crossroads brings together experiences of connection in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Artistic director James Beck opened the proceedings with an explanation of Steve Reich’s composition Different Trains which he wrote in contemplation of the storming of the Warsaw ghetto and the simple hypothetical, “It could have been me.” Woven with audio from interviews of Reich’s loved ones and testimony from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the performance included a pre-recorded string octet with the live string quartet playing overtop. To accompany the music was a cinema installation by Gabriela Sa and Mariana Garcia created to honour Reich’s 80th birthday in 2016.

The installation begins with a reel of film streaming past, quickly replaced by clips of horizons and street scenes rushing past as the strings play a repetitive rhythm like the clunky noise of train wheels on tracks. In the three movements titled “1. America: Before the War”, “2. Europe: During the War”, and “3. After the War”, the film uses a collage of archival footage of Jewish school children, German invasions, and happy travellers on a speeding train to construct a story around train lines that cross the US from Los Angeles to New York but also the train lines used to transport people to concentration camps across Europe in during the war.

The string quartet, made up of Veronique Serret and Anna Albert on violins, Andrew Jezek on viola, and James Beck on cello, mimicked the familiar sounds of the train journey with grinding, fricative sounds like a braking train or occasionally a deep horn-like call. While sometimes melodic and mundane, the repeating rhythms became sinister and haunting with images of foreboding storm clouds and the recorded phrase “Are you sure?” in the third movement, and then again became dreamy overtop of kaleidoscopic images of passengers and countrysides.

For the second act the quartet were joined by Avital Greenberg making her soloist debut singing Sim Shalom (Grant Peace) by Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar. While a short piece, its slow opening with a surprising complexity was a well done entrance for Greenberg’s smooth and full vocals. Near the end, the violin and voice mirrored each other crystal clearly in the climb to the song’s climax.

Bringing out another performing art for the finale, the quartet played Michael Nyman’s String Quartet #5: let’s not make a song and dance about it with an accompanying dance performance from Cass Mortimer Eppier and Kristie Pike, choreographed by Anton. Across the six movements, Nyman’s composition explores a couple entering the new world and attempting to overcome obstacles and hardship in their search for healing.

Anton’s choreography is fact, fluid, and evocative in its big gestures. Both dancers have solo moments with Eppier performing a seeming lose of control, his body segmenting and spinning out before finding the recalibrating touch of his partner, glazed in a golden light. Later, the duo embrace and twist in ballroom-esque poses over a pitter-pattering string rhythm which highlights their bodies’ closeness and synchronicity. The dance performance was a stand-out of the collaborative concert that could only have been enhanced by raising the dancers or introducing a clearer line of sight so more of the audience could enjoy Anton’s groundwork.

Emanuel Synagogue with its tight-knit community was an ideal setting for a concert celebrating human connection and remembering the fine line between us and them. From the emotive images of fear and uncertainty in the film installation to the expression of love and hope in the final dance, the evening covered an enormous range of experiences with compassion and an understanding of the work involved in remaining open-hearted.

Crossroads is running at Emanuel Synagogue from November 27th – 28th

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