The Sun sets and rises for the Australian String Quartet

As the sun sets on one horizon, it rises on another. ‘Sunset’, is the farewell tour of the Australian String Quartet as it is today. In truth, the sun has never really set on this outstanding ensemble which was formed in 1985. The musicians in the ensemble today worked as the Tankstream Quartet from 2000 and reconvened under the title of  the Australian String Quartet in 2006. Together they achieved high acclaim nationally and internationally in performance, competition and in recordings.

Next week, the tour comes to Sydney as two of its members, violinist Sophie Rowell and violist Sally Boud leave to further their careers along a different path. There are four works in the programme, which opens with Haydn’s jolly String Quartet opus 76 no 1 and closes with Ravel’s luscious String Quartet in F major (recorded by the ASQ on ABC Classics).

In between are two works that are sure to rouse interest of a different kind. The first is by Osvaldo Golijov, and the other by Ottorino Respighi. Goiljov, born in 1960, is of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, but grew up in Argentina. His bio describes a delicious mix of musical influences: ‘surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla’. The ASQ is augmented by the seraphic voice of soprano Sara Macliver to perform his Two Songs for Quartet and Voice, an unusual combination, which is also featured in Respighi’s Il tramonto (The Sunset) for Quartet and Voice.

SoundsLikeSydney spoke to violinist Sophie Rowell about what the audience can expect to hear from Golijov’s Two Songs. “These particular Golijov songs evoke an ephemeral sound-world. The voice floats over the string quartet creating a spell-binding atmosphere. These songs really take ones breath away and I can imagine they will haunt the memories of our audience members long after the concert is finished” she said, adding “I think the role of the quartet in these songs is like that of the piano in the great Schubert song cycles – we are an equal partner creating the scene for the voice who is the storyteller. I like to think we are all working together as do duo partners in other song cycles, Sara being one partner and the quartet the other”.

Whilst using the same forces, the work by Resphighi is quite different: “The Respighi, having been written in 1914, is at the pinnacle of Romanticism whereas Golijov’s approach reflects aspects of Baroque playing combined with more dramatic sound effect so the resultant sound worlds are dramatically different. The texts are also quite different. The Respighi uses a translation of a Shelley poem – a tragic tale of how a woman carries on through life having lost the man she loves. I remember feeling like I’d been struck a blow when I read the poem for the first time”.

The addition of the voice to the string quartet is a decidedly novel permutation and like welcoming a new in-law to the family the quartet has to modify its practices to accommodate this 5th ‘instrument’. Rowell believes the natural homogeneity of the string quartet complements the voice allowing a graceful congruence of sound. There are adjustments required though and she adds “We can also change our colour to reflect what the singer is doing. In some ways I find this combination easier than adding another string player. A string quartet has such a fine internal balance which we can manipulate and alter instinctively having played together for so long, so having a completely different sound to react to is easier than trying to add another similar one to our mix”.

In 2012, the sun rises on two new members of the ASQ – violinist Kristian Winther and violist Stephen King. Sally Boud will be moving  back to WA where she is looking forward to spending more time with her family. Her performing life will continue with appearances in Perth and at the Blackwood River Music Festival, some of which will be in solo roles.

Sydney will become Sophie Rowell’s base in 2012 as her concerts take her around the country. Watch for her at the Adelaide Festival and in performances with Selby and Friends.

Eyes firmly locked on the horizon she says “Although I’m going to miss my friends in the quartet like crazy and I wouldn’t exchange the last 12 years of my life for anything, I’m interested to see where the world of music takes me. I simply love playing the violin and can’t wait to see what notes are around the corner…”.


Haydn: String Quartet Op.76 No.1
Respighi: Il tramonto (The Sunset) for Quartet and Voice
Golijov: Two Songs for Quartet and Voice
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

Tickets are Adult $63, Concession $49, Student $22 (additional fees may apply).

Book at  or phone (02) 8256 2222 or in person at City Recital Hall Angel Place. 

Review of the ASQ Perth concert:

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