St Lawrence String Quartet & Diana Doherty
By Tomas Boot, artsHub, April 24, 2012
There can be something very comforting about a string quartet, and the Canadian St Lawrence String Quartet is no exception: there’s a sense, no matter how illogical it may be, that, compared to a symphony, the players of a quartet are far more acutely aware of the audience’s presence in the room, and that the audience is more aware that they’re aware, and so on. All this is a rather roundabout way of saying that string quartets are more ‘intimate’, of course, but there’s more to it than that, and whatever that more is, is what was floating around the City Recital Hall on the night I attended Musica Viva’s latest concert series. In addition to all this, however, was the added bonus of hearing two Australian works, both relatively new (though not premieres), and, as an added bonus to the bonus, both Australian works were well worth this critic’s time.
We began with Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, op 20 no 5, in one of the most enervating renditions of Haydn this critic has heard in quite some time, played with much gusto by the four players, many a pair of legs projecting out into space and being pulled back in again, shoes thumped on the floor, the long hair of one of the violinists flying around his face. It was a performance that brought to the surface what often lies stagnant underneath.
Gordon Kerry’s Elegy for string quartet came next after an introduction by the composer himself. The piece, commissioned by the Australian Youth Orchestra in 2007, was a heartfelt and moving tribute to Kerry’s mother, and, while lacking the size and scope of, say, Nigel Westlake’s Missa Solis last year – a requiem for his son Eli – it nevertheless was a pleasure to listen to. Alternating between mournfulness and forced levity, its ten minute duration held the attention (and then some) for the entirety.
Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, K370 finished the first half, Diana Doherty (principal oboist for the Sydney Symphony) subbing in for one of the violinists. The performance was refreshing and vitalising and came as a perfect antidote to the grief of the piece by Kerry beforehand.
After the interval we were treated to Beethoven’s String Quartet no 4 in C minor, op 18 no 4. Here the quartet was not as energetic as previously, but this is not to say that the piece lacked in power – indeed, the change of style was well suited to the demands of the work.
Last was Matthew Hindson’s Rush, for oboe and string quartet, a work based on his piece of the same name except for guitar and string quartet. What Hindson has done, as he informed us in his introduction to the piece, is to transform the guitar’s part into one for an oboe, adding and detracting from the quartet’s textures when needs be. The piece is frenetic in all the good ways, and displayed Doherty’s skills to the highest.
An encore was called for, and it was given: a short tango by Hindson, a world premiere, no less, and one that was vociferously appreciated by the audience. A fine concert, finely realised.
St Lawrence String Quartet & Diana Doherty
Reviewed by Martin Duffy, The Age
April 26, 2012
In its role as Stanford University ensemble in residence, the St Lawrence String Quartet regularly explores new boundaries in their engagement with university life. With their informal and passionate performance style, the players demonstrated their flexibility with repertoire ranging from classical to contemporary. Joining the quartet was oboist Diana Doherty, her presence a sheer delight.
Violinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St John alternated the role of first violin, each musician possessing an individual approach. Opening the concert was Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20 No. 5. Nuttall set the tone with emphatic playing of the opening theme and exquisite obbligato in the Adagio. Later, St John proved more than equal leading a riveting performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C minor with cellist Christopher Costanza and violist Lesley Robertson.
Gordon Kerry’s haunting Elegy for string quartet was written at a time of personal sadness, but the work is no lament. Its search for meaning in grief featured ethereal harmonics and concluded with hope in a major key.
A sublime performance of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major again shifted the mood, with the achingly beautiful adagio in contrast to the joyous outer movements.
Concluding was Hindson’s aptly named Rush, a reworking that replaced guitar with oboe. This was a rollicking ride that showcased the technical facility of the performers and left the audience wishing for more.
The St Lawrence String Quartet and Diana Doherty perform in Melbourne tonight; the third last concert of their current tour.
Yesterday the St Lawrence String Quartet performed in Hobart as part of Musica Viva’s CountryWide program. They’ve also given a masterclass in Brisbane, tutored Musica Viva Rising Star ensemble the Enigma String Quartet, and tomorrow give a private masterclass for ANAM students who are so dedicated they’ve agreed to come in on a public holiday to spend one-on-one time with this world-class ensemble. Oboe fanatics are also giving up their public holiday for the chance to work with Diana Doherty in Perth tomorrow evening.
If you haven’t been able to make it to one of these concerts, and you can’t attend the remaining Perth or Melbourne concerts, you can listen to a concert online for a limited time at ABC Classic FM’s website. And while you’re there, make some time to listen to an interview with 2012 Featured Composer Gordon Kerry, whose Elegy for String Quartet has been one of the talking points of this tour.
Steve Moffatt, Northern District Times
17 April 2012
Oboist Diana Doherty is one of the most passionate and demonstrative performers on the Sydney classical music scene, so when she teamed up with the stellar Canadian St Lawrence string quartet and its co-frontman Geoff Nuttall it was pretty likely there would be musical fireworks.
They came in the final work on the program, Matthew Hindson’s Rush, which was originally written for guitar and string quartet but which Hindson adapted for Doherty in 2002.
The rhythmic intensity of Hindson’s techno-inspired work was underlined by Doherty’s crouching and swaying and Nuttall’s stamping and flying hair as the 10-minute work built to a furious finale.
Earlier Doherty showed that few can match the sweetness and clarity of her playing with an enchanting performance of Mozart’s oboe quartet. Scott St John took the violin part, aided by violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Christopher Constanza.
The Canadian ensemble, now based in California, first impressed Musica Viva when they won a competition in Melbourne 21 years ago. The quartet has gone on to become not only a strong international force in its own right but a mentor to a new generation of musicians.
Their performances are characterised by passionate attack and derring-do coupled with an extraordinary delicacy when needed.
This latter quality was evident in Haydn’s unusually sombre Op 20 No.5 quartet, with its precise pauses in the minuet movement and the quiet adagio.
For its more sunny intervals Nuttall’s restless stage presence was a feature.
St John led the quartet for Beethoven’s Op 18 No.4 – a tight and perfectly paced performance – and for the other work on the program, Gordon Kerry’s Elegy for string quartet, composed in 2007 to commemorate his mother.
Kerry is Musica Viva’s featured composer for the 2012 season and this work skilfully balances the feelings of anger and sorrow that grief brings.
From weighty adventurism to Arcadian perfection
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
April 19, 2012
This program moved deftly between two of Musica Viva’s core missions: presenting enduring works of the Classical era and engaging performances of new Australian music.
Although the emblematic identity of 18th-century classicism is that of sunny balance and wholeness, where everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, two of the works drew out the darker mood that emerged in the 1770s and was famously adopted by Beethoven. The St Lawrence String Quartet‘s performance of Haydn’s Quartet in F minor, opus 20, No. 5, stressed weight and, at times, heaviness, with expressive, strongly projected playing that was a long way from the well behaved performance styles that sometimes dog this composer. At times in the first movement, however, the effect was slightly ungainly.
Gordon Kerry’s Elegy for string quartet was written at the end of his mother’s life and moved between anguish and moments of lightness of spirit, between intensity and letting go. The phrases and rhythm embody the rhythm of speech and thought as though mapping an inner conversation, making the music both highly personal but also public, as is the nature of an elegy.
For Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, K.370, three of the players were joined by Diana Doherty, and the mood returned to Arcadian perfection – not only Mozart’s serene lightness but in the wholeness of tapered shape that Doherty created with each phrase.
For Beethoven’s Quartet in C minor, Opus 18, No. 4, the St Lawrence quartet swapped leaders. This produced a markedly different style of performance from the Haydn, notable for its rhythmic discipline, pointed shape of phrase and finely focused storminess.
The concert concluded with Rush, an arrangement for oboe and string quartet by Matthew Hindson of ideas conceived idiomatically for guitar and realised here through Doherty’s commanding virtuosity.
Panache and precision an unbeatable match
Murray Black, The Australian
April 19, 2012
WHEN the St Lawrence String Quartet last toured Australia in 2006, its Shostakovich readings took a brighter than usual view of his quartets. On this tour, the players again aimed to stamp their individuality on the music.
A spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Op 18, No 4 quartet was the concert’s high point. Exploding out of the blocks with emphatic attack, swift speeds and extreme dynamic contrasts, the quartet’s urgency and vigour compelled attention.
Fortunately, its intrepid enthusiasm was balanced with tight-knit ensemble, rhythmic acuity and lightness of touch. Muscular yet sensitive, impulsive yet thoughtful, the group’s dramatic interpretation pointed this early work towards the volatile world of Beethoven’s three Razumovsky quartets but still paid tribute to its classical heritage.
Opening the concert was another quartet classic, Haydn’s Op 20, No 5. Here, the ensemble’s similarly bold approach had drawbacks.
First violinist Geoff Nuttall was unable to overcome his periodically abrasive tone and unclear articulation. It also took time for the ensemble’s timbral blend to sound appealing. However, once it did, the group’s well-sustained textural clarity illuminated the fugue finale’s dense counterpoint.
Gordon Kerry is Musica Viva’s featured composer this year. Introducing his Elegy for string quartet (2007), Kerry spoke of how it was written after his mother’s death and aimed to balance joy and sadness in honouring her life.
The context was useful as Kerry’s work was unusually optimistic for an elegy. Powerful unison chords gave way to a series of delicate harmonics, fluttering trills and cascading tremolos which, in turn, evolved into evanescent swirling textures recalling Debussy and Ravel. The St Lawrence’s astute tonal variety realised Kerry’s inventive colours and wide expressive range while its scrupulous tempo and dynamic control maintained the work’s structural integrity.
For the other two pieces on the program, the quartet was joined by Australian oboist Diana Doherty. Their elegant account of the opening movement of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet elicited an audible collective sigh of delight from the audience.
It deserved it. In the opening movements, Doherty’s shapely phrasing, pleasing tone and superb breath control balanced expressive warmth and refinement. By contrast, her impressive dexterity and clarity of articulation easily surmounted the finale’s virtuosic challenges.
Matthew Hindson’s Rush (1999), which closed the concert, was originally written for guitarist Slava Grigoryan and the Goldner Quartet. Hindson’s 2002 reworking for oboe cleverly preserved its infectious energy and relentless drive while allowing Doherty to display her distinctive brilliance. Shawm-like yelps and wails and blisteringly fast repeated runs were executed with panache and precision.
Today we bring you a guest blog post from St Lawrence String Quartet violinist Scott St John.
A few words and photos from my trip yesterday on the Countrylink service from Sydney to Brisbane– generally an enjoyable trip! I should point out that this trip was viewed with much initial skepticism from the Musica Viva staff… and now everyone wants to hear about it!
Traveling in the First Class car was definitely a good choice, as the train got quite crowded after a few stops. The XPT is a comfortable train, and service was courteous. A striking number of announcements were made about not smoking!
The buffet car was definitely not a modern espresso bar by Sydney standards– here’s my somewhat disappointing coffee bag:
But they had a very good and inexpensive hot lunch option, that you ordered an hour in advance. No processed ingredients! Tastes better than it looks:
Much of the trip was quite beautiful. Once we turned off the main tracks north of Broadmeadow station, we were on a single track most of the way to Casino. Speeds were very moderate, perhaps 70 km per hour, but this was due to the lovely valleys that we were winding through. Time rolled by quickly with a snooze here and there and we arrived in Casino only 15 minutes late, at 6:55 pm.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the bus portion of the journey from Casino to Brisbane. I enjoyed a loud conversation between four “mates” behind me, one of whom was very excited about his release from prison and the hours of the bottle shops in Brisbane!
Time to get ready for our SLSQ performance tonight in Brisbane…
When journalist Shirley Apthorp interviewed the St Lawrence String Quartet last year, not all of the material could make it into the final article. Here’s an extract that didn’t make it to print, where the Quartet discusses their foray into digital media.
Shirley Apthorp: In the 20 years that your quartet has existed, changes in the use of digital new media have enormously affected our lives. Is that something you’ve felt?
Geoff Nuttall: Well, we live in the centre of the universe in that respect – it’s hard to escape here in Silicon Valley.
Scott St John: I think it’s been actually very positive in many ways. I think we’ve found that we can get a fair amount of community or neighbourhood feeling from a very disparate environment like Facebook. A lot of people, I think, are more aware of different music options, whether it be quartet, chamber music, or alternative music in general. So there’s a lot of good stuff kind of bubbling around. I’m not sure if we’re on the apex of that frontier, but we did a hilarious video for the iPad when that came out.
Lesley Robertson: We thought it was hilarious.
Scott: A lot of those who commented on the site thought it was less than hilarious.
Chris Costanza: There was an app created by some friends of ours who live just down the road from us called Magic Fiddle. And it’s basically three strings.
Scott: You can hold it on your shoulder like a violin, and there are three strings that are touch-sensitive on it – you can actually finger the strings very accurately, and vibrate – that works really well – and then you hit this little Tron-like thing here that makes the sound come out.
Lesley: You can do pizzicato on it too.
Chris: But of course there’s no feeling.
Scott: It’s very hard to play. The biggest problem was that we sounded absolutely horrible on it.
Chris: It’s designed for people who can’t play the instrument, so if you’re used to the feel of a real one, it’s maybe even harder. If someone is learning from scratch, and they do tutorials – they have tutorials where you learn where to put your fingers – maybe then it’s good.
Lesley: We had all kinds of cheesy tunes – Pachelbel’s Canon, the Wedding March – which we thought were very funny.
Chris: We thought late Beethoven might be a bit of a stretch.
Lesley: It comes across as being very serious. But we thought it was funny.
Geoff: (sighs) Oh yeah. You can find us on You Tube. We could add that to the tour program…
Dancing oboist bears her sole
Robin Usher, The Age
April 16, 2012
Diana Doherty moves to the music as she plays so a composer wrote a ‘dance’ piece for her.
Diana Doherty has a reputation for exuberance that is unusual for someone whose role as principal oboist with the Sydney Symphony requires her to play in unison with about 80 other musicians.
“I am known as the oboist who dances, which is a little odd,” she says. “But I have always tended to move when I play.”
Her reputation was enhanced when Ross Edwards composed the oboe concerto Bird Spirit Dreaming for her, which required her to dance barefoot through the orchestra as the lights came up for her to begin playing.
“It was a new challenge that I enjoyed doing at the time.” She performed it in America as a guest of the New York Philharmonic’s chief conductor, Lorin Maazel, in 2005.
The piece has developed a life of its own away from her performance. It has been performed by other oboists and rearranged for saxophone. “Ross’ vision allows it to stand on its own away from the theatrical presentation,” she says. “More and more composers are finding ways to entertain audiences with many senses at once. That’s what people are used to and it can lead to pressure to step outside the box.”
Doherty is preparing for a rare assignment away from the SSO, joining Canada’s acclaimed St Lawrence String Quartet for a national Musica Viva tour later this month playing Mozart’s oboe quartet and Matthew Hindson’s Rush for oboe and string quartet.
She is quick to say she is not feeling any pressure, adding that she will be sitting with the other musicians during the performance. “I don’t want to get people’s hopes up about dancing with bare feet,” she laughs.
She finds it rewarding to play away from the orchestra. “Musicians need opportunities to develop their skills and take something back to the orchestra,” she says.
“It is quite different playing chamber music. There is no conductor to impose an interpretation on the music, which makes us all responsible for the outcome.”
She says orchestral musicians are unusual in staying in their jobs for a long time. “That is not very common any more and it means we have to take every chance to stretch ourselves.”
Doherty first performed the 10-minute Rush that will end the concert on a national tour with Britain’s Belcea Quartet 10 years ago and she says it has a rock-music influence in its rhythms and drive.
“It can be tricky to put together because it begins with complex rhythms that are layered on top of each other,” she says. “There is a long wait before my opening note.”
She says it is no longer considered unusual programming because musicians are always listening to many different sorts of music. “I have known the St Lawrence players for a long time and that is pretty normal these days.”
The quartet was formed in 1989 and achieved international prominence when it won the Banff international competition three years later. For the past 14 years it has been based at Stanford University near San Francisco.
The group will also play music by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak on the tour, which Doherty says has been planned for more than two years.
“It is impossible for me to travel very often because the SSO tours overseas every year,” she says. “It is going to China in November when my eldest daughter will be doing her HSC so this year’s program has needed a lot of planning.”
She and her husband, Alexandre Oguey who also plays with the SSO, met when they were postgraduate students in Zurich. They have two daughters, who they took on the orchestra’s 2010 European tour.
“The orchestra understands because so many of the players have families.”
Both she and her husband are going to China. Doherty stayed home from last year’s tour to Japan and South Korea to be with her daughters.
“Everybody knows what’s involved but you have to be mindful of the orchestra’s schedule all the time,” she says.
Diana Doherty is perhaps best known as Principle Oboe of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a position she has held since 1997. Her diverse career has, however, included solo engagements, chamber music and teaching as well as orchestral work.
Ten years ago Diana toured Australia for Musica Viva with the Belcea Quartet. Since then she has performed regularly for Musica Viva, including our CountryWide, Coffee Concert and Menage series. So it was interesting for us to read Diana’s thoughts about touring in a recent interview with Shirley Apthorp. “As a student I always had the feeling that for an Australian to be touring the cities for Musica Viva was a real mark of achievement. And so it’s something that I really appreciate and relish and hope to live up to.”
Something that is often remarked upon is Diana’s physicality during performance. Ross Edwards used this as inspiration to incorporate choreography in his oboe concerto, written for and premiered by Diana Doherty in 2002. Diana clearly enjoys music and performance, and audiences often comment how nice it is to see musicians enjoying themselves. When asked what she hopes the audience will discover from the music in her tour program with the St Lawrence String Quartet, Diana replies:
“That playing classical music is fun. That it can be of a high quality – the music itself – and the performance can be of high quality – but at the same time completely accessible and not excluding anybody. Sometimes you get that feeling that something is terribly serious and takes itself terribly seriously to the point that some people may feel a little bit excluded by it. I would hate anybody to feel like that. I want everybody to feel that they’re part of the performance as much as we are. That’s what a concert is about – it’s about creating a moment, all of us together, and creating a vibe in the hall. Making that connection with the audience. Making the audience feel like they’re part of it.”