An Interview with the Borodin Quartet

MVA ICS 2014 Borodin SQBeethoven and Shostakovich form the core repertoire for the Borodin Quartet’s Australian tour.

“We absolutely love these two composers, deeply and constantly,” says violist Igor Naidin.  “They are geniuses. You can play them all your life, and you’ll always find something new, something interesting, something unreachable. You can never play them too often.”

The group has recorded complete cycles of both composers’ string quartets – Beethoven in 2000, and Shostakovich in earlier incarnations of the 69-year-old Borodin Quartet’s line-up.

Though fourteen years have passed since the quartet recorded Beethoven, says Igor, the passage of time has not significantly changed the way the players view the music.

“Of course each of us, every time, approaches the masterpieces in a different way. As time passes we become different, and more wise, I hope. But as long as the generation of the quartet is the same, there will be no major different approach in the way we perform this or that Beethoven quartet. Of course the membership changes, but each newcomer is first trained in the reading of the pieces by previous and current members of the group.”

Naidin and his colleagues do not wait with baited breath for new academic discoveries which might shed light on Beethoven’s music.

“Of course we have his letters, and some information from those who first performed this quartet. But overall we feel that it’s a matter of the way we read the piece.  I’m not talking about interpretation, in any official sense. It’s more about perusal, about the way that when you read a book, you have an impression.”

Paradoxically, the Borodin Quartet is a little too young to have actually premiered Shostakovich’s string quartets – that honour generally went to the Beethoven Quartet – but the group’s members did know and play for the composer.

“He was a man of great humour and sarcasm; he was able to be joyful and funny. He didn’t dedicate anything to us, but I think nobody has played his music more in the world than the Borodin Quartet.

“His Quartet No. 11 is overall a very unusual piece, not very well-known, but very special.  It is very difficult and complicated, with seven movements non-stop. Also it’s rather gloomy, because it’s one of his latest works, and there’s really no joy.”

The 2014 tour will be the first time that the Borodins have performed Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet since 2006.

“It’s definitely one of his most famous quartets,” says Naidin.  “It’s not only in memory of the victims of Fascism, but is also in a way Shostakovich’s own memorial. He was not an old man when he wrote it, but in letters of the time he said that it was a piece in which he mourned for himself, because of his situation. It will definitely be the highlight of that programme.”

Borodin SQ

A further highlight, Naidin says, will be Tchaikovsky’s second string quartet.

“There is some similarity between Shostakovich’s 8th and Tchaikovsky’s second string quartet. I could compare them in terms of power and emotion.

“Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 2 is something like Beethoven’s fifth symphony. It’s very powerful, and clearly understandable for a wide range of listeners.  While his first string quartet is very pastoral in mood, and his third is rather mournful and funereal, No. 2 is a combination of everything.  It’s an absolute fairy-tale. It’s very emotional, full of variety, and very sophisticated at the same time – it’s totally contemporary music.

“And actually, it’s not that easy to perform. After you have played it, you are completely emotionally exhausted. It’s not a piece you can play every day. You can’t live through those emotions on a daily basis.

“We just hope that the audience in Australia will experience a profound impact when they hear this piece.”

Like Tchaikovsky, Schubert had more than his share of antagonistic critics during his lifetime. The violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, leader of the Razumovsky Quartet, told Schubert that his “Death and the Maiden” quartet was worthless, and that he would be better off confining himself to Lieder.

“Schuppanzigh told him, ‘You know, this is no good!’ – despite that fact that he was a close friend,” says Naidin, “despite the fact that the piece is fantastically famous these days.”

The Borodin Quartet’s first violinist, Ruben Aharonian, says Naidin, is a great Lieder enthusiast and record collector; he brings his passion to the way the players view Schubert’s quartet, which has at its core his own famous setting of Matthias Claudius’ famous poem.

“Particularly in the second movement, it goes without saying that we have the singing nature of the melodic line in mind.  The piece has inspired many people, and it requires total control when performing.  We enjoy it immensely!”

Interview by Shirley Apthorp

The Borodin Quartet tour Australia 22 September – 14 October. For more information on the Borodin Quartet, and to book your tickets, please visit;

On the Vine – September 2014 – Borodin Quartet

Borodin SQThe Borodin Quartet was founded in the same year as Musica Viva, 1945, and shares the same ideals of preserving the finest musical tradition while constantly renewing itself. Although its first cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, lasted only a few weeks, the principle of longevity was clearly established by his successor, Valentin Berlinsky, who remained the group’s cellist for the next 62 years. The current cellist, Vladimir Balshin, was Valentin’s star pupil.

The group’s members obviously have great affinity for their fellow Russian composers, and music by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky figures prominently in the tour program. The group famously collaborated with Shostakovich on each of his quartets, but never finished up giving a premiere performance or receiving a dedication from the great composer. The Eighth Quartet is particularly poignant for the players, as it not only honours the victims of Fascism, but is also the composer’s reflection on his own situation under oppressive rule. The Eleventh Quartet, not nearly as well known, is set in seven continuous movements – a complex work exploring the absence of joy.

Tchaikovsky’s Second Quartet is a powerful, wide-ranging and immediately appealing work that provides a fine conclusion to the first program. The second program closes with Schubert’s famous quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ – one of the monumental mainstays of the chamber music canon.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

The Borodin Quartet tour Australia 22 September – 14 October. For more information on the Borodin Quartet, and to book your tickets, please visit;

Musica Viva Announce 70th Anniversary and 2015 International Concert Season

MVICS15-Season Brochure-frontIn 2015 we celebrate the 70 years during which Musica Viva has brought the world’s finest chamber music to Australia. Refugees from war-torn Europe found themselves in an exciting young nation brimming with promise but lacking the capacity for, and history of, the fine music they had left behind. The pioneering founders of Musica Viva chiselled out a unique niche in the New World for string quartets, piano trios and everything else that followed.

Old and new combine to perfection next year with Tafelmusik, the brilliant Baroque orchestra from Canada, presenting the sequel to its ingenious show, The Galileo Project. This season we get to enjoy House of Dreams, a kaleidoscopic journey through the art, architecture and music of Europe brought to life as musicians and narrator inhabit the stage and encircle the artworks themselves in a single musical flow.

2015 also heralds the 20th birthday of Australia’s most loved and enduring string quartet, the Goldner Quartet. They will undertake a nationwide concert tour befitting this national icon and featuring new music by Paul Stanhope specially crowd-funded for the Goldners by the audience of the Huntington Estate Music Festival.

Longtime favourites abound, with appearances by renowned English cellist Steven Isserlis, the ever-popular Eggner Trio from Austria, and the brilliant young Modigliani Quartet from France, first seen here in 2012 in performance with Sabine Meyer. One of Britain’s most prized exports, pianist Paul Lewis, will undertake his first full national Australian tour since 2010.

Making its debut appearance for Musica Viva is the outstanding English vocal ensemble, I Fagiolini. Their program spans the full compass of music for combined solo voices, starting in the Renaissance and ending with new music by Australian composer Andrew Schultz who was commissioned especially for this tour.

We honour this landmark year in Musica Viva’s history with a multitude of performers who have been most admired by our audiences on recent visits. We also honour it with a limited number of special performances by an extraordinary soloist, the exceptional Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, in his first ever recital appearances in Australia.

The founders of Musica Viva didn’t agree about everything 70 years ago, but agreed with great passion that excellent music makes the world a better place. This simple precept, when all else is said and done, has propelled the company since 1945, and shows no signs of losing its potency.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

For more information on Musica Viva’s 2015 International Concert Season, the Musica Viva Festival, and teh 70th Anniversary, please visit;

Musica Viva Launches: 2015 Program


Long-time Musica Viva subscriber, John Garran, shares his thoughts on Musica Viva’s 2015 International Concert Season, the Musica Viva Festival, and the Coffee Concert Season. We look forward to seeing you in 2015, John!

Originally posted on JohnofOz:

Musica Viva has launched its 70th Anniversary Season. Unlike some larger organisations who have to consider attracting a conservative audience base Musica Viva has eschewed, in the main, the bland populist approach and brought together an eclectic selection of ensembles and individual musicians which cannot fail to find favour with a wide range of audiences. And there certainly can be no quibble about quality. You like Baroque? Tafelmusik returns. It may be hard for them to repeat the incredible impact of The Galileo Project so impressively performed on their last visit. But their planned “House of Dreams” project, taking audiences on a tour, musical and visual, of the worlds of Bach and Vivaldi sounds impressive. It will take great skill to raise such a performance above the mundane of a European tour video. Tafelmusik has the artistic clout to do this.

Did your correspondent mention quality? How about Steven…

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Tim Matthies Remembers Peter Sculthorpe

composer Peter SculthorpeI can’t recall the first time I met Peter, nor the first time I heard his music. In thinking about him over the past few weeks, they both seem to have always been a part of my life. The beauty of his mellifluous voice, his warm presence, the emotive power of his visceral music have all come together as I reflect on the joy he has brought to my life.

An early memory is singing his 1988 carol The Birthday of thy King in the Sydney University Musical Society’s Carolfest in the university’s majestic Neo-Gothic Great Hall. The combination of the memorable text after Henry Vaughan and the vibrant music with its wonderful alto solo line was a powerful indication of what contemporary music could do. Similarly hearing his 1990 his eleventh quartet, Jabiru Dreaming performed by the group he wrote it for, the Kronos Quartet, that year was a very powerful music experience.

Some of my most memorable listening experiences in the past few years have been hearing works by Peter, including those that I have played a small part in helping to bring to life.

When Peter was Musica Viva’s Featured Composer in 2005, he decided to adapt his 1999 String Quartet no 15 to feature William Barton alongside the Goldner String Quartet. After much discussion with the musicians and a lot of re-workings the performances proved a great hit.

Two other memorable performances involved the Goldner’s. Their performance of the String Quartet no 6 (the first Australian work Musica Viva commissioned in 1965) at Ken Tribe’s 90th birthday concert was a reminder of how striking a compositional voice Peter had. Equally, their performance of his String Quartet no 17, commissioned by Ken as his gift to Australian music, at the 2007 Huntington Estate Music Festival was a very moving occasion for everyone in the hall.

Most of all, Peter’s String Quartet no 16 has a very special place in my heart and is the work I’m most proud to have worked on with him. It was commissioned for Musica Viva by Julian Burnside, QC to be performed by the Tokyo String Quartet in November 2005; the group reprising it on their June 2013 farewell tour, and the last time Peter took at a bow at a Musica Viva concert. The work was inspired by From Nothing to Zero, a book of extracts from letters written by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres which Julian had written the preface and chapter introductions for. Peter’s response to its heart-rending testimony of the inhumane treatment of refugees, including children, was some of his finest music and the work stands as a powerful reminder of the power of art to help tell important stories. The response to the work was palpable and the Tokyo’s cellist Clive Greensmith commented at the time that It’s always a special feeling to work with a composer but to play Peter’s piece all over Australia with him in the audience for almost every performance was very special indeed.” Peter himself said that “the work is, I feel, among my very best.“

From the time I began to work in the artistic area at Musica Viva, a particular pleasure was calling Peter. It felt a huge honour to be given his private studio number rather than having to call. Best of all, though, was receiving either a hand-written note – what a distinctive and wonderful hand Peter had – or beautifully composed email. Looking through my folders in writing this, I came across many such emails however this is my favourite. It’s a wonderful combination showing Peter’s pride in his achievements and his love of people and a good party!

Dear Tim:

Yes, the Christmas party was just great.  I must confess, though, that I didn’t feel too good the following morning!

Thanks so much for the SMH article.  I’m really pleased to have a copy of this.  Meantime, have you seen this month’s ‘Limelight’?  String Quartet No.16 rates two questions in The Big Quiz.

Happy happy Christmas to you and to Chris.

Best wishes and love,


Tim Matthies
Director of Business Development, Concerts

Tomas Drevikovsky Discusses Imogen Cooper’s Repertoire

Chamber music lover and Musica Viva volunteer, Tomas Drevikovsky, discusses the repertoire English pianist, Imogen Cooper, will perform on her upcoming Australian tour. Most of the repertoire focuses on the extrodinary musical and emotional kinship between Clara and Robert Schumann and their friend and protégé Johannes Brahms – and in particular on Clara, another ground-breaking female pianist.

SCHUMANN Novellette in D major, op 21 no 2
SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze op 6
BRAHMS Theme and Variations in D minor (arr. from String Sextet op 18)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata no 21 in B flat major, D960

For more information on Imogen Cooper, and to book your tickets to see this repertoire performed live in concert, please visit;

Brilliance and Beauty in Equal Measure – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

choir-chapel-bigIt’s been 13 years since the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge last visited Australia and a full City Recital Hall Angel Place greeted the singers’ arrival on stage with thunderous applause. Music Director Stephen Cleobury noted that when he first toured Australia for Musica Viva in 1983 no one else on the stage was alive; equally, some of the boy choristers were not born the last time I saw the choir perform in Sydney in 2001. Yet here they were singing some of the most challenging choral repertoire ever written as they though were part of either of those previous tours!

And challenging repertoire it was, mostly for the Choir but also for the audience as many of the works are not often heard outside the king’s College Chapel. The first half’s mix of pieces by the some of the great composers of Renaissance and Baroque music saw the Choir singing a number of different compositional styles in quick succession. I especially enjoyed their interpretations of English composers Thomas Tallis’ Suscipe quaeso, Domine (1575) and Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei (c.1680) by Henry Purcell as well as Italian Claudio Monteverdi’s Adoramus te, Christe (c1620); each of these works saw the four sections of the Choir brilliantly realising the challenges of their individual parts as well as creating a rich and varied ensemble sound. Special mention must be made of tenor and bass soloists in the Purcell, Joel Williams and Henry Hawkesworth.

The second half featured, for me, the evening’s standout performances and was incredibly rewarding listening overall. Two pieces by Charles Stanford for a single soprano line accompanied by piano framed the late Romantic masterpieces by Charles Parry. The Choir’s performance of Parry’s very moving seven-part Lord, let me know mine end from Songs of Farewell (c1916-1918) was virtuosic and brilliantly shaped, highlighting both the high quality of the singers as well as Stephen’s great experience in this repertoire.

The opportunity to hear together the three Australian carols commissioned by the Choir from Peter Sculthorpe, Brett Dean and Carl Vine for their Nine Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service is rare and I’m glad Stephen agreed with our suggestion to perform them. Each work is very different to the other yet formed a very satisfying set, as well as being a terrific way to lead into the concert’s closing work, Benjamin Britten’s masterful Hymn to Saint Cecilia (1942). I have always loved this work, as both audience member and chorister  ̶  though it does instil fear in me being the latter due to its significant demands. I thought the Choir’s performance was superb, with every member of the Choir giving 150% including the youngest boy sopranos. The soft singing was especially beautiful and to hear it in Angel Place’s warm acoustic a very special experience.

Britten’s work is in praise of the patron saint of music, and it seemed a fitting close to a concert that celebrated the beauty of the voice and the richness of the choral music tradition. On this hearing, the 2014 iteration of the Choir seems a very special one to me, and the sustained applause at the end of the concert by 1,200 others seemed to indicate that everyone else was of the same opinion.

Tim Matthies
Director of Business Development, Concerts



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