Phoenix rises in digital mode

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The Phoenix Collective… facing a digital season.

FLUSHED with success after having received a $10,000 injection from the Australia Council’s arts resilience fund, “Create”, the Canberra-based director of the Phoenix Collective, violinist Dan Russell is busy talking up his newest venture.

In early June, Phoenix will present as an online event a screening of the quartet performing a filmed performance of “Different Trains”, a three-movement piece for string quartet and tape written by American minimalist legend Steve Reich. Always performed to a tape by Kronos String Quartet pre-recorded in 1988, the work makes use of pre-recorded train sounds, warning signals and actual voice recordings of train conductors and Holocaust survivors.

While the Kronos component is always there, Phoenix has added a visual element well-suited to the times by commissioning a film created just for them by Thai-born Sydney videographer, Sina S. of VDO Symptoms, who edits her videos on royalty-free stock footage and animates titles.

Russell met Sina through the quartet’s violinist Yuhki Mayne and was bowled over by the imagery she came up with, which he describes as “incredible, very much based on movies…the images connect to World War II and German offensives, with a focus on trains and different railway systems”.

“Sina has not only helped by creating world premiere visuals for Steve Reich, but she will stay on and help in video digital elements of the future… It’s not just a matter of sitting in front of the camera and playing with nice angles.”

The $10,000, he notes, is not a fortune for one year and its connections equipment will take the majority of the grant, but a very small portion can go to the artists, Mayne, violist Ella Brinch, cellist Andrew Wilson and Russell himself. The Australia Council grant will help Phoenix fund the equipment “to pull it off”.

That allows Phoenix to resume its planned 2020 season, much of which will now be done in digital format though elements will be slightly changed – “Same same, but different”, Russell says.

The grant ensures that three of the four planned for this year will go ahead, pre-recorded.

You buy tickets to listen to each concert and, as well, Russell has created a fundraising site to get people sending money for musical development.

Next up will be “Maîtres de la Composition,” featuring Russell himself with Canberra virtuoso Teddy Neeman at the piano playing colourful and “almost jazzy” soundscapes of French compositions by Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc and in what he calls “my ‘fat’ programming”, a monster work by Fauré.

The final concert, “Songs & Folk, Across the Ages” will celebrate the way composers have always incorporated folk music into their work.

“Throughout COVID-19, I want to get our subscribers to experience music, converting what would’ve been live into digital performances, little programs, all little concerts pre-recorded online,” he says.

“Maybe it’ll all be happening in the concert halls by September, fingers crossed,” the optimistic Russell says.

“But if it doesn’t happen in the hall, it will definitely happen online.”

Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” performed by the Phoenix Quartet, 1pm, June 7, tickets at

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Helen Musa
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