I can’t think of many young musicians who wouldn’t be enticed by the idea of getting paid to stay up all night with their best friends and play chamber music. That being said, pulling off a crazy idea like that in front of half a million people is enough to make anyone think twice.
On Saturday the 17th of February at 7pm Briar String Quartet will be playing the first notes of an epic 12-hour performance at White Night Melbourne. To make things even more interesting we will be presenting our dusk to dawn performance on an awning high above the street level with the ultimate view of the city and the crowds below.
Flash back to October 2015 and I am standing in Melbourne International Airport about to board a flight to China with the Australian International Opera Company and my soon to be quartet members Navin and Georgia. Our experience playing together began in cramped hotels crowded around a bed using pillows, instrument cases, and mirrors as music stands. A few kind hotel managers allowed us to borrow their computers to print quartets by Dvorak, Beethoven, Schubert and whatever else we could find. It was Georgia who came up with the idea to continue on as a quartet once we returned to Australia. Three weeks rehearsing, performing, staying up all night talking, and roaming foreign cities was an amazing bonding experience, which unknowingly set us up with a lot of the qualities and knowledge necessary to co-exist as a quartet later on. Most importantly, it wouldn’t work if we weren’t friends to begin with. As far as we knew there was no step-by-step guide on how to create a successful chamber group, so everything we are now is thanks to the knowledge we sought, the audiences who loved us, and the risks we took. Which brings us back to now...
A performance of this magnitude is no easy feat to put together. For every hour we have spent in rehearsal, at least three have been spent purely on planning and logistics. To-do lists, spread sheets, and calendars have been my best friend and kept me sane for the most part. I have enjoyed every aspect of curating this special project, even the administration, because at the end of it all getting to perform and see it come to life is the best reward.
Choosing repertoire for this event has been incredibly liberating. We will be covering genres including Classical, Gypsy, Danish Folk, Contemporary, Romantic, Movie Themes, Jazz, Modern Folk, Minimalist, Russian Folk, Avant Garde, and Baroque. Included in the program are two works by the incredibly talented local composers Chris Perren and Troy Rogan. A number of our own compositions will also make an appearance, including a sweet Waltz written by Navin this past Valentine's day.
With the generous amount of time we were given we jumped at the opportunity to showcase the unique individuals in our quartet and their diverse musical interests. As well as quartets, we will be teaming up in duos and performing as soloists throughout the night. Navin is highlighting both his love of classical repertoire and new music by performing Bach and the popular contemporary composer Olafur Arnalds. Maxim's experience as a Suzuki teacher, composer, and classical violinist lead to his choice of classical violin repertoire. Georgia is currently undertaking her Masters degree at Monash University studying Hindemith's early sonatas for solo viola, which strongly influenced her choice in repertoire for White Night. As for myself, I have chosen to perform a set of covers and original songs for cello and voice.
As well as playing our instruments, each of us has a different role to play in the day-
to-day workings of the quartet. Every situation is different so naturally, a lot of talking and delegation also occurs. Our biggest strength is that everything is done DIY so we have complete control and flexibility over the direction of the group. Maxim is our leader and always arrives early to our rehearsals and gigs to set up the space. Georgia is our go-to girl for all things wedding related and is an exceptional arranger having produced a huge portion of our modern repertoire and White Night duets. Navin has been invaluable to the group not only for his playing and enthusiasm but also for his ability to network. I’m convinced he is the most easy-going person on the planet with an ability to make friends with everyone in the room. Most of my contribution aside from playing the cello has been related to marketing content and social media, including creating and designing our website, organising photo shoots, creating advertisements, and running our Instagram account. Having had not much experience online other than owning a Facebook account, it has been an insightful learning opportunity.
It takes every one of us with our unique skills and perspectives to make this work as a whole. I am incredibly proud of the work that has gone into this project and thankful for the support of the quartet and those who have helped on the sidelines. We couldn’t be more excited to be part of this iconic Melbourne event and to see what else unfolds for us over the year.
Briar String Quartet perform at Melbourne's iconic White Night on Saturday 17th February. Check out the program here.