Rollin Zhao (violin 2020)
Rollin with Piccolo Quartet's Isabella, Jonah, Hayley and Jack in between lessons
“Chamber music is a conversation, not a political party” — one of Caroline Henbest’s memorable aphorisms in string class, April 11. Present at class, was the young Piccolo Quartet from Sydney, listening in as part of their ANAM Strike A Chord Residency that week.
Just for a bit of background, the Piccolo Quartet were awarded the ANAM Prize for their entry into the Strike A Chord competition in 2021. The purpose of such a program is to give a young emerging quartet a glimpse into what life at ANAM is like. The week consisted of coachings, classes, private lessons, and some additional chamber playing alongside ANAM colleagues, Matthew Garvie (1st year piano) and Clare Fox (2nd year clarinet). This all culminated in a performance for Musica Viva supporters at the Abbotsford Convent on Wednesday evening, April 14.
This year, as an ANAM alumni, I had the privilege of assisting ANAM Studio and Faculty Coordinator, Qian Ying Ong, in running the residency. When Qian called me at the end of February to help, I enthusiastically agreed. ANAM is a community I hold dear and something I’m eager to advocate for. Over the next month and a half, we coordinated and programmed the residency — a great on-the-job learning experience for me also, giving a glimpse into the incredible work that goes on in the ANAM admin team to make all its amazing programs possible.
Fast forward to Day One, April 8 morning, the Piccolo Quartet were in at the Convent rehearsing together with the fabulous first-year ANAM pianist, Matthew Garvie. After a brief discussion of tempo, the group launched into the luscious, rollicking lines of the Dvorak Piano Quintet — quite an incredible sight to behold, given these young musicians were aged 13 to 15, not to mention they had flown in that morning at 6am from Sydney. As a personal fan of in-flight snoozes, I asked them about their ‘red-eyed’ start but they said they hadn’t slept since they were all so excited to be out and about together at ANAM. What a way to begin a week!
Piccolo Quartet after their session with ANAM Head of Piano Tim Young and Matthew Garvie (piano NSW)
Catching up with the quartet’s own Sydney mentor Fox Chan at lunch, I heard how much they had been looking forward to working with ANAM’s illustrious faculty, including Sophie Rowell, Timothy Young, David Thomas, Zoe Black, Caroline Henbest, and Molly Kadarauch. He later mentioned how listening on these classes felt just like playing himself, if not more mentally taxing as he studiously scribbled down notes from each session. Even for Fox and I, as fellow violinists and music teachers, we all relish the opportunity to get a second-chance at school (so to speak!).
Head of Woodwind and Clarinet Faculty David Thomas during his coaching session with the Piccolo Quartet
Later that day, Sophie Rowell came in to coach the quartet on Schubert’s Death and Maiden — an inspiring session that would set the tone for an incredible week to follow. Sophie’s own wealth of experience as an elite chamber musician is also coupled with her genuine, warm demeanour and prowess for communication. She has a way of drawing our attention to the special moments in music and inviting us to listen deeply to how we play. Like how in school (and over our lifetimes), we acquire vocabulary to communicate persuasively, as musicians we are always searching to expand our musical palette. At first, it’s loud, soft, happy, and sad. But what about exhaustion, fear, romance, ghastliness, dejection, or even, things we have no words for (this is Schubert after all)?
Everyone, the quartet, mentors, and student mentors alike, all brought their individual personalities together for a phenomenal week of musicmaking. To take it back to Caroline’s words in string class, chamber music is conversation. Not a political party in which we cast votes on what decide, but something in which we actively interact, listen, and enjoy what each one of us have to say. To the quartet, Isabella, Jonah, Hayley, Jack, to their mentor Fox, to Sophie, Tim, David, Zoe, Caroline, and Molly, and to Matt, Clare, and Qian, and everyone else, I say thank you and congratulations. Listening in to their final performance on Wednesday, I couldn’t be prouder of what they’d all accomplished.
Addendum: Speaking to 13-year-old Jonah (2nd violin) afterwards – he says he wants to come back to ANAM one day as a student. I know many of us here would be very happy to hear that.