SYDNEY’S newest string quartet is coming to town and its livewire founder, Perth-raised violinist Dan Russell, has a strong Canberra connection – in fact he might move here.
Russell exudes enthusiasm as he speaks of his ambitions for the Phoenix Quartet and its umbrella organisation, the Phoenix Collective.
“I started the collective last year as a flexible ensemble, with sometimes piano and violin, guitar and violin, sometimes a tango trio with bandoneon, violin and piano,” he tells “CityNews”.
The latter, he reports, brought the strongest audience attendance and he wants to do it again – “tango is something people really dig”.
Fate intervened when violinist/violist and director of the Crossroads Festival Charmian Gadd spotted him and picked up the quartet to perform Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” at her 2018 event.
“The performance turned into a launch… she got me to bring it out a year earlier than I planned,” Russell says, explaining that he wasn’t finished with the broader collective, which allowed him to experiment with the rare guitar and violin combination, and to bring in people he wanted to work with.
He and his fellow players Yuhki Mayne, violin; Ella Brinch on viola and Andy Wilson, cello, are turning the concert title, “Life, Love and Death” back to front, starting with death in the form of Philip Glass’s minimalist String Quartet #3, written for the 1985 film tracing the notorious seppuku ritual suicide of writer Yukio Mishima, then they switch to an uplifting, satirical and quirky polka by Shostakovich, followed by Mozart’s 1st string quartet, written when he was a teenager.
The “main course” as Russell puts it, will be Beethoven’s 10th string quartet, “The Harp”, concluding with a rendition of D Balakrishnan’s Turtle Island work, “Skylife”, a funky classical/ jazz fusion that may allude to life after death, or being in cyberspace – it’s up to the listener.
Russell is no novice. Trained at the University of WA and the WA Academy of Performing Arts, he came east as an orchestral musician with “The Phantom of the Opera” and found himself in Sydney for the first time.
After taking a few classes with a concertmaster with the Opera Australia Orchestra he was offered full-time work, playing for opera and ballet. It allowed him to buy a small apartment in Sydney and was an education for the young violinist, who has recently cemented his interest by becoming concertmaster for the new Coast Opera Australia, based in Gosford. He describes opera as “a force of nature of its own”, saying: “It’s quite incredible to see how the human voice, unamplified, can soar over an orchestra”.
Russell also played around in Australia with the German Kammer Philharmonie Köln, later touring with them to the UK, Germany and Spain for hundreds of concerts.
It was on tour to Townsville with Kammer Philharmonie that he met his wife, a Canberra-raised public servant. He talked her into flying to be with him in Europe and the result was a marriage, one daughter and now, another baby on the way. His wife’s mum, two brothers and stepfather all live here and he visits regularly, playing with the CSO.
And, yes, as well as bringing another concert, “The Baroque Bizarre”, to the ACT in May, Russell is seriously thinking about a move to Canberra, which he calls “my second home”.
“Life, Love and Death”, Phoenix Quartet, Larry Sitsky Room, ANU School of Music, Thursday, March 7. Book at trybooking.com