Forming and maintaining a string quartet is a really big challenge. I have watched from the sidelines as two or three have evolved over the past couple of decades. The reward is the great joy of group musical performance and the discovery of greater understanding of the expressive powers of music.
It is easier to survive in big cities than in the more restrictive environment of a regional area such as the Bellarine Peninsula. The Geelong-based Rita Sousa and her Lua Nova String Quartet is a case in point– Portugese-born Rita is the leader of the quartet and first violin. The quartet was formed with the aim of exploring both classical and contemporary repertoire. A regional society like Barwon Heads Fine Music is a welcome opportunity for the quartet to perform for an appreciative and engaged audience.
The ensemble has been together for about a year. Disruptions, however welcome, included the leader having her first baby and the need to find another second violin. (Members of string quartets will find this a common concern.) Other members of the quartet are Sara Senftleben (viola) and Jeannette Carnie (cello), with Kathryn Buttigieg (second violin) who only joined the quartet a few months ago. All are engaged in music teaching around Geelong plus other activities – Geelong Symphony, theatre pit work … even corporate functions, weddings, parties, anything!
Their program opened with the sixteen-year-old Schubert’s String Quartet No. 4. After a slightly hesitant start, the performers settled into this joyous youthful work, and delivered a good cohesive and expressive ensemble performance. The rest of the program comprised arrangements of Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the Flower Duet from Lakmé, and music by Kern and Porter. Josh Groban’s “You Lift Me Up” received a suitably sentimental performance, and to finish, there was a nod to the Portuguese/Brazilian tradition with Tico Tico.
The Quartet’s interest in exploring music from the Jazz Age was evidenced in arrangements of Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”. Swing is not something that is easily notated, which can be a problem for a classical performer, let alone a string quartet. However, Geelong is a city with a significant jazz heritage, and I hope they benefit from this as they continue to explore this significant art form of the 20th century.
The acoustics of the Church are very dry (but thankfully reasonably free of outside noise), and can leave string players very exposed. This problem is likely to be one of the smaller problems the Quartet will encounter in the pursuit of their dream. It is far outweighed by the opportunity to bring their performance to a supportive audience such as this one.
(From the editor: In Viewpoint pieces, we invite an individual perspective on an event, such as we have in this account. The writer, John Smyth, is a sound engineer (which may explain his comments about acoustics near the end of the article!) and advisor to Classic Melbourne. He has decades of experience working in community-based broadcasting with many of those years in classical music station 3MBS.) John also has a long involvement with 3CR’s “Jazz on a Saturday” and interest in different types of music offered in rural areas.
John D Smyth attended the performance of Rita Sousa & her Lua Nova String Quartet on Sunday June 9th.