In a time of cutbacks to Arts funding it is refreshing to find an undaunted group of gifted young musicians keen to promote contemporary chamber music. Formed by cellist Mee Na Lojewski (pictured), Affinity Collective comprises alumni and students from the Australian National Academy of Music.
For the second concert of this newly formed enterprise, ANAM alumni guest musicians Peter Clark (violin) and Christopher Cartlidge (viola) joined Affinity Collective’s Nicholas Waters and Mee Na Lojewski. With considerable experience in major symphony orchestras and ensembles, including the Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, this quartet of players raised expectations of a thoroughly professional standard. Happily, expectations were more than met.
What distinguishes this ANAM Fellowship Project from the work of other groups is an invitation for audiences to witness part of the rehearsal process, which can become quite a heated affair as the performers seek to resolve their interpretative differences. This provides further insights into programs that have been carefully designed to enable the chosen works to inform each other.
As the composer in the spotlight for their 2015 series, Jack Symonds is contributing three world premieres and for this performance explained how his composition for solo cello, Schattensfere, relates to the opening work on the program: Panufnik’s 1990 String Quartet No. 3. Symonds’ work draws on Panufnik’s favoured structural device of the palindrome – hence the ‘shadows of the title. The “sfere” refers to Panufnik’s Sinfonia di Sfere (Symphony of the Spheres) and the beginning of the first movement echoes the unifying chord from Panufnik’s Cello Concerto. Dedicated to the memory of Panufnik, Symonds notes that, “My three brief requiem-like movements attempt to find many ways of conceiving an expressive and meaningful palindromic form”.
Being placed after the string quartet, Symonds’ musical intentions became much clearer than they might otherwise have been on a first listening. Lowjeski’s playing was dynamic and as full of meaning and expression as the composer could have wished.
Panufnik himself may well have been gratified by the playing of his quartet, five miniature studies which he imagined as ‘five paper-cuts from different areas of Poland, strongly contrasted to each other in shape and colour’. Although short, they call upon an astonishingly high degree of technical skill from the players, both as individual performers and as members of an ensemble. There was a remarkable affinity of tone, particularly between the first and second violins of Peter Clark and Nicholas Waters. Sometimes it was difficult to hear where one left off and the other began, so seamlessly dovetailed were their interchanges. All four players produced an appealingly warm and generous tone, while providing a varied palette of timbre and dynamic range as required. Their vigour and precision were positively electrifying in the “prestissimo possibile” movement.
The final work, Alexander von Zemlinsky’s forty-minute String Quartet No. 2 (1913-1915) drew us back to the beginning of the Twentieth Century and the achievements of Arnold Schoenberg’s first two string quartets. A mesmerising fusion of violent dissonance, expressive melodic lyricism and everything in between, it calls upon an equally intense response from the players, alongside technical and musical assurance. In contrast to the many smooth, rich passages for viola, Christopher Cartlidge was willing to put his instrument through a frenzied assault in a dramatic climax of repeated notes. Juxtaposed against passionate outbursts, pure high silvery notes from Peter Clark contributed to an almost eerie atmosphere of meditative calm at times. The efforts of all four players resulted in a compelling performance of this extraordinarily complex and exacting work.
In the intimate venue of the Ballantyne Room, this concert was a reminder of the important role of ANAM in fostering enterprise at a more personal level. The Fellowship Project is a valuable opportunity for performers to collaborate with composers of new music and offer audiences a fuller appreciation of musical connectedness. Under the guidance of highly talented and adventurous musicians such as Mee Na Lojewski (so aptly nicknamed The Pocket Rocket), audiences can look forward to some very illuminating explorations.
Affinity performed at the Australian National Academy of Music, South Melbourne Town Hall, on June 5, 2015.