What makes a piano quartet progressive in the 21st century? For the Australia Piano Quartet, UTS’s ensemble in residence since 2011, the key to remaining relevant is combining the traditional elements of a classical group with technology to create performances that open chamber music up to a whole new audience.
The Australia Piano Quartet, made up of Rebecca Chan (violin), Thomas Rann (cello), Evgeny Ukhanov (piano) and James Wannan (viola), aims to blur the line between traditional and modern performance in a series of projects and collaborations in 2014. Mozart Meets Electronics will feature an innovative new work commissioned by the quartet, performed using a traditionally esoteric instrument – the viola d’amore.
“The music director of Sydney Chamber Opera, Jack Symonds, has written this piece for us. There’s definitely that element of opera that comes through,” explains Wannan. “It’s very challenging music, and there are strong gestures and complicated rhythms that create a lot of tension.”
These operatic tendencies, however, won’t be the only thing to startle the audience. “The elements of the piece played with the viola d’amore will actually be pre-recorded,” says Rann. “These pre-recorded snippets will be electronically distorted and triggered by foot pedals, creating a progressive performance piece that showcases the dichotomy between new and old.
“We’re trying to be innovative with our choice of contemporary works. We want to create that balance between these new works and works that are more traditional,” says Rann about the quartet’s aim to bring the conservative world of chamber music into this century.
The quartet will also perform Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo Concertante and Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat to accentuate the extraordinary nature of Symonds’ postmodern piece. “Performing an old work in a new environment brings a fresh approach in listening. It’s not only the performance itself that changes, it’s the way it’s perceived by the audience that renders it utterly different,” says Wannan.
The Australia Piano Quartet continues to experiment with combinations of well-known masterpieces and cutting-edge modern works, collaborating across the university to create multi-disciplinary performances and unique learning experiences. “The residency allows us to engage with a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily go to these kinds of cultural events,” says Rann.
So far, the quartet has teamed up with the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building’s animation and architecture students to create performances and workshops that encourage a practical approach to the creative process. The acoustics of the Great Hall’s Balcony Room were explored with the architecture students, while collaboration with animation students used visual and aural elements to create a multidisciplinary performance. “Following on from last year’s success, we’ll be doing further work with animation,” says Rann with pride.
Later this year, the quartet will perform a newly commissioned piece reflecting stories about refugees and asylum seekers working in collaboration with the journalism department. They will also engage with the wider UTS community through a composer’s competition that aims to break down barriers.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate. That’s when the most incredible artistic outcomes take place,” says Wannan. “When there are all sorts of different influences coming together, that’s when you get out-of-the-box ideas.”
Learn more about the quartet at uts.edu.au/australia-piano-quartet