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Orava Quartet Interview September 2022

Answers from Karol Kowalik (Orava Quartet Cellist)


Your 2022 UKARIA program opens with the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 6 and can come as a surprise to audiences more familiar with the grit of his other quartets. How do you make sense of this piece within Shostakovich’s oeuvre?

The sixth quartet by Shostakovich is for some reason very rarely performed. It was written at an interesting and happy time in his life. Stalin had just died, and Shostakovich had just been married to his second wife. The quartet starts off very optimistically, before Shostakovich takes us on a rollercoaster of twists and turns. In Shostakovich's quartet cycle, I find interest in each quartet as an intimate snapshot of what was going on in his life at the time. His output is more bleak as it goes on. The eighth quartet is just around the corner!

The second piece you are playing, Orawa by Wojciech Kilar, clearly means a lot to you. What drew you to this piece initially?

Orawa is a piece that me and my brother Dan [Orava Quartet Violinist] grew up listening to as children. We are of Polish heritage and have a very special connection to the work. The piece draws on the mountainous terrain, grass covered mountain pastures as well as the rivers that run through the Orawa region. We love being a Polish Highland band for 10 minutes!

A lot of people would have heard Kilar’s music – with some of his work famously appearing in the film The Pianist – and yet his name may still be unfamiliar. When did you first discover him and his music?

We listened to Kilar's music as children, and we used to watch movies that Kilar wrote the score for. Most notably Pan Tadeusz, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, and The Pianist. I just recently played in the Queensland Ballet's production of Dracula, and this has inspired me to seek out more works by Kilar.

After interval, the program takes a turn towards folk traditions from across Europe. What similarities do you detect in these works, despite their disparate origins?

The Mad Piper, Orawa, and even moments of the Shostakovich are based on folk melodies with deep roots in the Eastern European tradition. The Nordic folk music is very new to us and we are very excited to enter into this new and foreign sound world, similarly with the Greek folksong that is the basis of the new Kats-Chernin quartet. We connect with the simplicity of how they are presented which allows us to try and connect with each region; we’ve been enjoying the process.

What is next for the Orava Quartet?

We have a busy and exciting 2023 coming up. We are itching to finally release our new album in early 2023 for Deutsche Grammophon. We can't wait to share it with the world. It contains two works from our UKARIA program, the Shostakovich sixth string quartet and Kilar’s Orawa, as well as works by Erwin Schulhoff and Australian composer Luke Howard. We will also continue our residency with Camerata – Queensland's Chamber Orchestra – and Bangalow Music Festival, and perform in various regional centres and capital cities in Australia. And as we inch closer to ‘normality’ we are looking to resume international touring; hopefully to North America, watch this space!

Emily Sun and Andrea Lam Interview August 2022

Emily Sun and Andrea Lam spoke with Acting Communications Manager Ben Nicholls about their work as a duo before their concert at UKARIA. Based around the French program of their debut album, their recital at UKARIA is augmented with the inclusion of Mozart and Piazzola.

Your album Nocturnes gleams with its all-French repertoire. What does this music mean to you both?

It was such a joy to work on this French repertoire so closely and intensely together. We experimented so much with our tonal palettes and timbre to try and find the intimacy and freedom of the repertoire. It was fascinating to push each other to the limits of what was possible, from the quietest whispers of Debussy’s Clair de lune to the intensity of the Allegro in the Franck Sonata. The heart of the album are the two major sonatas by Franck and Fauré, and the Fauré Violin Sonata in particular was an incredible journey of discovery. There are moments of such exquisite delicacy – at the premiere, fellow composer Saint-Saëns commented that it was ‘magic which floats above everything’.

The program you’re preparing for UKARIA moves beyond these borders and includes Mozart and Piazzola. These composers seem like great pairings for the Fauré, Debussy, and Boulanger. Why do you think they fit together despite geographical and chronological distance?

Piazzolla was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris – the sister of Lili Boulanger who wrote ‘Nocturne’ which we will be performing. Nadia Boulanger taught many illustrious musicians and composers, from Philip Glass to Quincy Jones! Piazzolla was embarrassed by his non-classical training, and tried to hide his background in tango music and the bandoneon from Nadia Boulanger. From his memoir:

"She (Nadia Boulanger) kept asking: 'You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?' And I didn’t want to tell her that I was a bandoneón player, because I thought, 'Then she will throw me from the fourth floor.' Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: 'You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!' And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds…" – Astor Piazzolla: A Memoire

So, we really have Nadia Boulanger of the French school to thank for bringing Astor Piazzolla’s tango music to the concert hall!

We’re so grateful that your schedules aligned for this recital and your collaboration clearly means a lot to you both. Do you have plans for further albums or concerts together?

We love performing together and we are so excited to present our program in UKARIA. We have another album in the works – stay tuned!

Slava Grigoryan Interview August 2022

Ahead of Slava's two sold-out shows at UKARIA with Paco Peña and brother Lenny, Acting Communications Manager Ben Nicholls talked to him about working with Paco, the importance of collaboration, and creating opportunities for future generations.

I understand that your first international tour was with Paco. How did that come

I was 18 years old, had just finished high school and my first album ‘Spirit of
Spain’ had just been released on the Sony label. It was my first year of being a
freelance performer. Clifford Hocking and David Vigo were promoting a ‘Great
Guitars’ tour which was billed to feature Paco Peña, Leo Kottke and Pepe
Romero. Unfortunately, Pepe cancelled his involvement with only a few days
notice as his father was very unwell. I was very fortunate to have been asked to
step in and represent the ‘classical’ component within this performance.

How did it feel, as a teenager, to be sharing the stage with those guitar icons?
I was terrified! Both Paco and Leo (and Pepe of course) were hugely inspirational
to me and sharing the stage with them in what was literally an overnight set of
circumstances was incredibly surprising. It was certainly my ‘lucky break’. I’d
gone from playing small churches and guitar societies to some of the biggest
stages in Australia. After this tour I promptly returned to the small stages where I
very much belonged, but the experience was unforgettable.

And this upcoming collaboration with Paco and Lenny, how long has this been in

Lenny and I got to tour with Paco in 2017 as part of the first ‘Guitarra’ tour which
also featured Phil Manning and Jim Pennell. It was a thrill to reconnect with him
after so many years and we talked about wanting to do it all again soon. And, here
we are!

You seem to effortlessly meld with so many different musicians, ensembles, and
organisations, across genres. What is it about musical collaborations that
inspires you?

I think that playing with musicians is the ultimate way of learning and is
something that I treasure the most in this profession. Traditionally the classical
guitar tends to be a very solitary instrument and I’ve done everything possible to
get away from that. Surrounding myself with players who I can continue learning
from is a constant reality check and endlessly inspiring!

Collaboration and mentorship strike me as strong themes of your programming
with the Adelaide Guitar Festival. What drives this holistic approach to programming and music making?

I guess that for me, deep down, this is all about connection with audiences and future
generations of artists. Creating unique experiences on stage so that audiences can
experience something truly unforgettable goes hand in hand with providing
opportunities for young players so that they can develop new ideas for themselves
into the future. The guitar festival has no limits on genre and history so it really is a
blank canvas for connection and the creation of new musical experiences.

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