The audience looks very much as one would expect at a string quartet recital. But a woman gets up from the front row as we wait for the Edinburgh Quartet to take their places, enters the performance space, and flicks a page of the night’s score. That might not fly at the Queen’s Hall, but we’re sitting in an unused unit at Ocean Terminal as the Quartet takes a revolutionary turn in the way it interacts with its audience.
The idea of the Edinburgh Quartet taking up residence at Ocean Terminal sprang from 2017 being the centenary of the October Revolution, and a desire to do something new. The Quartet and their collaborator for this project, painter Erik Petrie, have been rehearsing, leading workshops, creating, and performing pop-up concerts at Ocean Terminal in the lead-up to this free public concert. The night’s music focuses on works for string quartet by Shostakovich and Beethoven. Shostakovich was both patronised and denounced by the Communist Party; Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3, commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, was considered musically revolutionary in its own time.
Conducting open rehearsals appears not to have hindered the Quartet’s preparation in any way. Their warm playing fills the space appealingly during the night’s more pastoral moments, while the clean rendition of technical passages lights up both the profundity of the Beethoven and the bright moods Shostakovich envisioned for his piece. The Quartet’s practiced understanding is evident in close-up as leading passages flow across the instruments. And at close quarters, the group’s quiet passion is transmitted to the audience, not distracting from the music in any way, but adding to the listener’s experience of the music. Behind them, Petrie’s large canvases vividly express the kinetic joy of the performance in slashes of blue and pink.
Before and after the recital, the Quartet and the artist talk a little about the work they are presenting, and the process of bringing it to the audience. The whole idea of the EQ: Revolution! project is thoroughly vindicated at the end with a warm ovation from a public that has been fully involved in the evening’s music, and is keen to engage further as the evening draws to a close.
The Edinburgh Quartet continues the EQ: Revolution! project on 22 March (The Steeple, Dundee), 27 March (Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh), and 28 March (Glasgow City Halls).
Photo by Julie Farrell