Music By The Sea Festival Review

  • Written by  Jackie Smith
  • Wednesday, 14 January 2015 14:25
FourPlay String Quartet FourPlay String Quartet

The 13th annual Music By The Sea Festival saw music genres collide, with the performances of Ensemble Diaspora, and FourPlay String Quartet.


To the untrained eye it would seem that a fiddle, violin, digeridoo, upright electric bass and banjo, as well as various other percussion and wind instruments wouldn’t mesh well together. Throw in the occasional vocal and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Ensemble Diaspora, however, have delighted audiences around Australia and, individually, are considered among the best in their field internationally.

At 25 years old, I was raised on a healthy diet of Eric Clapton and the Eagles, as well as modern commercial acts. As such, I consider myself to have a rather eclectic taste in music. Thus far, this has not extended itself to the traditional world music as played by Ensemble Diaspora.

With so many players on stage at the one time, the music was somewhat frenzied and overwhelming. For a world music novice, it took a while to warm up to the music on offer, especially as there was so much to digest. As I said, alone, it would seem that these instruments would have no chance of working together, let alone producing a sound that would appeal to listeners’ ears. Ensemble Diaspora is, however, comprised of professionals, and the audience was taken on a journey of some of the world’s richest cultures.

Despite only forming in 2013, it is clear that this band enjoy playing, especially together. Even when all members weren’t participating in a particular song, they laid their instruments to one side and clapped along to the beat, absorbed in the melody produced by another member.

For a newcomer like myself, the highlight came, not at the end but rather in the quieter moments, such as when half the band members left the stage, leaving Nawres Al-Freh and his joza spike fiddle, to duel Aresh Zanganeh on the spot. Showcasing such skill, without the cacophony of the other instruments, whipped the audience into a frenzy.

A quick glance around Sandgate Town Hall proved that Ensemble Diaspora certainly knew how to work a crowd, even when so enthralled with the music themselves. There is something awesome in seeing a musician so passionate about what they play. 

Audience members were enraptured by the band, whether all musicians played or just a few. They were only too happy to be listening to the story of displaced Jews from Israel and traditional Yugoslavian pieces, African tribal songs (in which, led by Zimbabwean Tichawona Mashawa and his mbira, they delightfully participated), as well as Polish tunes and Ensemble Diaspora’s own composition. Calls for an encore were heard long after the ensemble had left the stage.

Where Ensemble Diaspora maintained traditional world music, Australia’s FourPlay String Quartet brought classical music screaming into the present. An indie band disguised as a string quartet, this group has been educating audiences in this new appreciation of classical music since the '90s.

Again, I didn’t really know what to expect when these musicians came on stage. I had heard their name vaguely mentioned on 'Spicks And Specks', but what that actually meant I did not know. It didn’t take long to realise why they felt unsuited to sitting in the back of an orchestra for the rest of their lives. Classically trained, they offered a twist on that which others have not dared to mess.

Like Ensemble Diaspora, it is obvious that FourPlay String Quartet enjoy playing together and feed off one another to create riffs one did not realise could be produced in classical music. Certainly the energy with which Shenzo Gregorio shredded the viola like it was a guitar, rubbed off on band members and the audience alike.

While Ensemble Diaspora entertained a somewhat older crowd, this band appealed to audiences both young and old. As the players did their best to rock the hall, bows started to come apart. Some audience members even took to the floor to dance.

Although their ability was never really in doubt, their classical training shone when the playing wasn’t quite as focused on turning this quartet into a rock band. As FourPlay String Quartet took audience members through the track listing of their latest album This Machine, the epic performance continued. The added vocals of Lara Goodridge, Peter Hollo and Tim Hollo (on the violin, cello and viola respectively) enhanced the performance, adding life to songs that, whilst far removed from the usual expectations of this genre, needed that something extra for a viable commerciality.

© elysiumtheatre

In a blaze of glory, and an enthusiasm that had held the audience captive since they first began to play, FourPlay String Quartet brought the house down with an impressive cover of Rage Against The Machine’s 'Killing In The Name'. This, their only cover of the night, was homage to a band that, in their humble beginnings, set about reworking some of the music industry’s greatest tracks.

Though these musical acts were just a snippet of the music on offer at Music By The Sea, it is a testament to the hard work of the event’s organisers. Striving for a versatility that may not be offered by other showcases, it is clear why festival-goers keep returning for another round.

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