Sound work

UTS's chamber music ensemble-in-residence does more than play music.

UTS’s chamber music ensemble-in-residence

Known as 'the music of friends', chamber music evolved during the medieval and early Renaissance periods, with pieces composed for two to nine players who each play a distinct part. The name evolved because the ensemble was small enough to fit into a palace chamber.

The Australia Piano Quartet has been one of UTS's best kept secrets over the past four years. The university's own chamber music ensemble-in-residence, its four members are Thomas Rann, the quartet's founding artistic director and its cellist, violinist Dr Rebecca Chan, violist James Wannan and pianist Daniel de Borah.

"Our UTS residency gives us the chance to develop and showcase both old and new work before taking it to the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Recital Centre and venues overseas," says Rann.

September saw the quartet head off on its second international tour; first to Oxford's Holywell Music Room, then London's Wigmore Hall, the Hôtel Magnol in Montpellier and finally to Shanghai University.

The quartet also works with a range of emerging and established Australian composers. It has commissioned more than 20 pieces over the last four years, including work from didgeridoo composer and performer William Barton.

Some of the works also exploit the fascinating acoustics of UTS's signature architecture, such as the Tower building and the Frank Gehry-designed UTS Business School.

"These kinds of collaborations really expand awareness of what our quartet can do in a university environment, leading to wide audience engagement and exploration of new artistic ground," Rann adds.

The quartet has just finished working on a light and sound installation with second-year UTS Bachelor of Design in Animation students for the recent Vivid Sydney festival. The performance is called Chronos and Kairos – two ancient Greek words for time.

A spectacle of sight and sound, Chronos and Kairos explored how time affects humans and their environment. For the premiere, against the backdrop of a giant animation, the quartet played music by Lachlan Skipworth at UTS's Great Hall. The performance was recorded and then played every evening at the heritage-listed Carlton Brewery for the duration of the festival.

Visit the Australia Piano Quartet website for information on its upcoming performances.

In another project, the quartet collaborated with Jessica Irwin, an acclaimed photographer born with a high level of cerebral palsy who dreamed of playing music. Chan, the quartet's violinist, composed the musical score for Irwin to play, but it was biomedical engineer and UTS alumnus, Dr Jordan Nguyen, who created specialised software that enabled Irwin's participation.

"With her eye movement, Jess chose the type of sound that she wanted to use; a string sound or percussion. In effect she was the conductor of the piece, as she picked up different rhythmic patterns, reacting and responding very quickly," says Rann. "It was a very exciting junction of technology and human production of music with a creative result."

He adds, "Jordan has employed cutting-edge technology to make it possible for Jess to realise a lifelong ambition to perform at the Sydney Opera House." The quartet is also involved in an education outreach program with workshops and performances with young students from diverse backgrounds in conjunction with the UTS Australian Centre for Child and Youth: Culture and Wellbeing, a centre that combines educational research, technology and practice.

Story by Melinda Ham