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Period-instrument Brandenburg Quartet Makes First Appearances

The Brandenburg Quartet
Graham Strahle
| June 5, 2017

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has begun an interesting process of diversifying into chamber music. You’ll notice from their website that there is now a separate group that has formed under the orchestra’s umbrella. This is the Brandenburg Quartet, which brings together the four leaders of its string section: violinists Shaun Lee-Chen and Ben Dollman, violist Monique O’Dea viola, and cellist Jamie Hey.

The new group’s first four concerts come up soon, at Ukaria in SA in May, and then in Wollongong, Bowral and Bundanon in NSW in July. Details here.

Notably, this is the first time that a string quartet dedicated to performing on period instruments has been established in this country. The period-instrument ensemble Ironwood frequently plays string quartets in its concerts, but this six-member group aims at taking on a wider mix of chamber repertoire.

These initial concerts are low-key and represent an embryonic, developmental phase for the Brandenburg Quartet. Dollman explains how the group got started. “Last year when Shaun came in as [ABO’s] new concertmaster, we as section leaders clicked together and started picking up actual string quartet repertoire.”

“It gathered momentum and earlier this year we went to Japan, where Jamie Hey spends quite a bit of time and sees [baroque cellist] Hidemi Suzuki, who is a kind of mentor for him, to have more time together and gain feedback from Hidemi. It was really successful and we have been building things up since.”

Suzuki, it should be noted, is one of the pioneering names in period-instrument playing in Japan and was a student of Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma.

A challenge along the way is that all four members of Brandenburg Quartet are based in different cities. However, Dollman is unfazed about that. “The orchestra gets together once or twice a month and then everybody disperses. So it brings together musicians from around the country, and so far we’re finding ways of making it work. We’ll be apart for a time but fresh again when we meet.”

Brandenburg Quartet’s appearance signal a maturing of the period instrument movement in Australia. For many listeners, listening to ‘heartland’ quartet repertoire by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven played on period-instrument set-ups, including gut strings, will be a new experience. Only occasionally have groups such as Quatuor Mosaïques, one of the first in this field, visited these shores.

“I’m sure many modern string quartets look at this area [of historical performance practice} too, but it’s a particular perspective that we’re bringing to it,” says Dollman. “We’re not really looking at [playing] later repertoire. Schubert, obviously, and Mendelssohn, but we have not drawn a line in the sand. If we manage to get to late Beethoven, though, I’d be thrilled.”

Details of their forthcoming concert here.

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