Goldner String Quartet Celebrate 20th Anniversary with National Concert Tour
“We’re trying to come into the 21st century,” says violinist Dene Olding, “but sometimes I don’t know where we are. We’ve just come straight from 1780, rehearsing Haydn.”
Our conversation links Berlin to Sydney via Skype; the connection breaks down at regular intervals, as the quartet moves from one device to the next, seeking a better communication solution.
“We want to be part of the 21st century,” laughs violinist Dimity Hall. “We’re just not very good at it! We’re technologically challenged.”
The self-deprecation masks an utter assurance in today’s repertoire. It is entirely in keeping with the quartet’s character that its members elected to celebrate two decades together by performing a new quartet by Paul Stanhope.
“He doesn’t write bad works,” violist Irina Morozova says. “Everything of his that we’ve heard has been really good.”
“His music is well-crafted, approachable, but sophisticated,” says Olding.
“And always drawing aspects from other different influences or sound worlds,” adds Hall.
What do they expect from the new piece?
“A piece that we can play again,” Olding responds immediately. “And that will be well-received, and a useful addition to our repertoire.”
Also on the quartet’s birthday wish-list for the tour is Beethoven’s String Quartet no 15 in A minor, op 132.
“We love to play it,” says Morozova. “We’ve played the slow movement for a lot of people, unfortunately, who were very dear to us, who have died. It’s so profound and so beautiful.”
“It’s life-affirming,” adds Olding. “It’s all about his recovery from an illness, a song of thanks, and it means a lot to me personally, too. It’s a glimpse of something beyond what we usually understand.”
In the year 2000, the Goldner String Quartet presented a 10-concert musical retrospective of the 20th century over 12 days at the Adelaide Festival. It was for that occasion that they learned Ligeti’s first string quartet, “Métamorphoses nocturnes”.
“That project was one of the highlights of our life,” remembers Morozova.
“It nearly killed us, but it was fantastically rewarding,” agrees Hall.
Twenty years in the same line-up is a remarkable achievement for a string quartet. It is impossible to resist the urge to ask the players about the secret of their long-term relationship.
“Marriage!” they chortle in unison (the quartet is made up of two couples).
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” continues Olding. “You get less than that for murder.”
“We’ve survived because we have,” observes cellist Julian Smiles drily. “It is purely a chance thing when a string quartet is formed whether they’ll work. Ours happens to do so. I don’t think that there is a secret.”
“I think we have common ground in many areas,” hazards Hall.
“We’re all Australian,” Olding agrees. “We all have some sort of similarity in background and education. Even though I went to university in America, Dimity and I actually studied with the same teacher in Amsterdam for a while. And we all knew or studied with or were friends with Richard Goldner. That’s why we named the quartet to honour his memory.”
But it is not only the similarities which define the group.
“I’m particularly proud that within our quartet we are four distinct voices,” says Smiles. “I’ve known many quartets where one figure dominates both in personality and on the stage. But I think we have four very strong people, both as individuals and as players, and I think we maintain that while we work on playing together.”
“We can have very individual flavours if the music calls for that,” notes Hall. “But then we can immediately morph into this one organic 16-string instrument.”
Many things have changed over the quartet’s twenty years, not least the role played in everyday life by digital media. Olding immediately thinks of 1780.
“Presumably there was a concert once a week for the local aristocracy in Haydn’s time. They seemed to have a more leisurely lifestyle, and there was more time to do things. Everyone is rushing around now. Who knows what the audience of the future will look like?
“At a concert, we’re there for a reason. We’re professional musicians. But why does the audience go? What drives them to be there? I’ve had various answers over the years, but I think in a way it’s a kind of searching for a way to stop time. In a good concert, time stops for everybody. They’re absorbed in what’s happening. It’s actually a different world. And if we can make time stop for those people for those minutes or hours, then I think we’ve done a good service.”
Their tour repertoire, Smiles observes, is a faithful reflection of Musica Viva’s core values – quality, diversity, challenge and joy.
“You couldn’t find four better words to describe this programme. The pieces are all well-crafted, which we will also bring to the audience with great attention to quality. There’s fantastic joy in the Beethoven, which is remarkable for a composer who was nearing the end of his life, suffering all kinds of health issues. And challenge – I’m sure the Ligeti will be challenging for the audience, but in a really great way. As for diversity – it’s this programme!”
What hopes does the quartet have for its next two decades?
“A nice view, good food…” says Hall.
“A blue drink underneath the palm tree…” adds Morozova.
“No,” counters Olding. “I think it’s to continue to find balance in life.”
“Darling,” says Morozova, “that’s too sensible.”
“When I look back over the last couple of decades, it’s been a whirl of activity,” Olding answers earnestly.
Smiles snorts. “His gravestone is going to say, ‘Still looking for balance…’ “
The four players dissolve into contrapunctal laughter.
Interview by Shirley Apthorp
The Goldner String Quartet tour Australia 21 April – 12 May. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit: musicaviva.com.au/GoldnerSQ