Concert Review: The Man In The Other Room/Acacia Quartet/Anna Fraser

Acacia Quartet
Acacia Quartet

The Man in the Other Room

Acacia Quartet with Anna Fraser, soprano

Mosman Art Gallery, November 8, 2015.

Lisa Stewart, Myee Clohessy, violins; Stefan Duwe, viola; Anna Martin-Scrase, cello.

Last weekend, Acacia Quartet performed the Sydney premiere of a new composition by Newcastle based contemporary Australian composer Ross Fiddes, The Man in the Other Room.

This is a complex though enormously appealing cycle of seven songs for soprano and string quartet, and was impressively performed by Anna Fraser and the quartet.  Both words and music are immediately engaging and if I could look into a crystal ball, I expect that The Man in the Other Room will become a popular and often performed item in chamber music and vocal programmes.

Written by Ross Fiddes between 2005 and 2014, with text by his daughter, Samantha Fiddes, The Man in the Other Room originated as a poem for a family wedding. The composer and librettist were present at the concert and this, along with Ross Fiddes’ spoken introduction to the piece, made for a historic occasion with Fiddes describing Acacia Quartet as “the most innovative and exciting group I’ve heard in Australia so far….not just interested in new music but who could play it.”

Of his new piece, Fiddes said “the music is intentionally lyrical and unapologetically melodic with the intention that such an approach best serves to bring out the emotions involved.”

It is never easy to talk about new music after just one hearing. However, first impressions, though fleeting and subjective, are powerful and the appeal of this piece is unmistakeable. Acacia Quartet with its technical prowess and experience, played the songful melodies, rich harmonies and catchy rhythms reflecting the many emotions of the text, which describes a “love and loss” journey.  Opening with the gently swaying The Cord, Breakfast in Bed is a short an impish cameo with a dark ending. Then follows the title piece, Autumn’s Wake, The Lesson, A Suitcase Outside Your Door and Regret. Inclusion of the full text in the programme greatly aided an understanding of the piece.

The voice indeed told the story, but together, voice and strings coloured the words and the music. The voice became another instrument in the ensemble and the synergy  of the music with the words took this form to considerable heights.

Also on the programme were two well-chosen works by the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov  (b 1960), whose music is fast gaining traction amongst performers and audiences alike. The opening item,  How Slow the Wind (2001) for soprano and string quartet, was a plaintive piece built up from the lower strings with a haunting soliloquy for cello and languid lines for the voice with underlying animation from the strings – rather like smooth, long swathes of wind sweeping through trees, creating much murmuring and rustling beneath its strokes.

Golijov’s Tenebrae (2003) for string quartet was performed with mesmerising beauty. The planetary inspiration is palpable. Once again the lower strings introduced the piece with the upper strings joining in and all four string players spinning the sound in space. There was a spectral feel created by  Golijov’s mix of modes and diatonic harmonies; acoustic effects were achieved by different bowing techniques. A restless middle section was followed by a reprise of the serene opening section.

Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor K 421 has a happy disposition despite being written in a minor key. The musicians kept a fine balance as the phrases were propelled forward and its mood was upbeat.

Sadly, soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal, who was scheduled to perform with Acacia Quartet premiering The Man in the Other Room, had to withdraw from the concert series due to injury. Anna Fraser performed incomparably well at short notice, mastering the difficult music and telling the tales with sympathy and conviction.

The Man in the Other Room is a song cycle that must be heard. This was a clever and innovative programme, performed with finesse.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLike Sydney©

The Acacia Quartet with Anna Fraser perform The Man in the Other Room on Thursday November 12 at the Australian Hall, Elizabeth Street, Sydney  and on Friday November 13 at the Newcastle Museum.


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