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The Escher Quartet - Recording for Radio 3

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Dane Johansen Dane Johansen | 13:11 UK Time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Picture of the Escher Quartet

The Escher Quartet

Dane Johansen is cellist with the Escher Quartet, who are part of Radio 3's New Generation Artists scheme. Here, Dane describes their recent recording work.

Gregynog Music Festival
Our first NGA concert was at the Gregynog Music Festival, just outside Newtown in Wales. Dating all the way back to 1933, it's the oldest music festival in Wales - Elgar and Britten themselves have visited. The festival's current director, Rhian Davies has done a marvellous job of developing interesting and provocative programmes. One of the themes of the festival was composers who experienced synaesthesia, a rare perceptual condition that causes one to see colours while hearing music: our programme included the quartets of Debussy and Sibelius, both confirmed synaesthetes. Rhian pointed out that Debussy and Sibelius first met in London, after Debussy had completed his quartet and just before Sibelius composed his 'Intimate Voices’ quartet. Debussy and Sibelius expressed themselves very colourfully in these works, not surprisingly as their brains were wired to associate sound with colour. Radio 3 is associated with the festival, so staff from the  Wales production team were sent to record our concert. In addition to the Debussy and Sibelius, we performed Haydn's 'Sunrise' Quartet, Op. 76 No. 4. In the middle of the third movement, an enormous bee of some sort flew into the hall and hovered menacingly in front of Adam, our violinist. I was watching him, and amazingly, he didn't flinch or fail. Listen carefully to the broadcast (at 1pm on 18 November in the Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert series) and you might hear his would-be assailant buzzing around the stage!

City of London Festival
Leaving Wales was difficult because it was exceedingly comfortable and cosy, in spite of the rain. We returned to beautiful, sunny weather in London to perform as part of the City of London Festival. The festival has strong ties to the New Generation Artists scheme:  festival director Ian Ritchie, and the head of Radio 3's NGA scheme, Adam Gatehouse, came to the concert to check up on us and lend their support. Our managers from Hazard Chase were also in attendance, so it was great to see everyone and have so much wonderful energy in the room!  As the first NGA concert at the festival, the programme was originally conceived as a 'sunrise.' We assumed that Brett Dean's 'Eclipse' must have been inspired by a solar eclipse. Beginning with cold, chilling, 'night' music, the piece gradually evolves into a frenzied, driving and pulsating musical churn (possibly inspired by a blood-red moon?) The frenzy blusters and screams, boils down and returns to the cold of night, this time with mournful melodies cried by each instrument. The piece ends, slowly disappearing into electric silence… That’s my interpretation, but as I found out, it’s wrong! After reading the foreword to the score (which yes, I know, I should have done before playing it...) I discovered from Brett Dean himself that the piece was composed in response to the Indian Ocean ‘boat people’ refugee crisis of 2001. He writes about the actual meaning of the title 'Eclipse,' stating that it refers NOT to the astronomical phenomenon, but to the idea that each voice is continually 'eclipsed' by another. Brett Dean is the composer so his interpretation reigns I suppose; and there are certainly many voices 'eclipsed' and 're-eclipsed' throughout his piece… but I still prefer the lunar eclipse idea - it works! Log on to decide for yourselves ...

Read the Quartet's details at the New Generation Artists site.



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