Discover Symonds’ new quartet

Jack Symonds

Composer Jack Symonds sat down with the Australian String Quartet’s Dale, Francesca, Christopher and Michael to chat about his new commission which receives its World Premiere performances on our upcoming Symonds Beethoven tour.

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Video duration 32-minutes. Filmed at the Boyd Community Hub, City of Melbourne on 2 July 2022.


00:00 — Introduction
01:00 — Jack Symonds introduces himself
02:58 — How much did your relationship with the ASQ impact your musical choices?
06:56 — Rehearsal excerpt 1
07:40 — Did you start with a blank canvas or did you already know what you wanted to write?
10:16 — Rehearsal excerpt 2
11:15 — Rehearsal excerpt 3
12:13 — Rehearsal excerpt 4
13:08 — How much did the Quartetthaus setting influence the final work?
15:20 — How do you feel about writing for string quartet?
18:01 — Rehearsal excerpt 5
18:20 — Did you ever play a string instrument yourself, Jack?
19:40 — How have you developed such an amazing ability to write for strings?
21:47 — Rehearsal excerpt 6
23:55 — What advice would you give to listeners hearing this for the first time?
25:43 — Rehearsal excerpt 7
26:35 — How does having this kind of interaction with the performers change the composition process?
28:25 — How do you feel at the end of day one working together on this new work?
31:27 — Rehearsal excerpt 8



This program note has been provided by the composer.

String Quartet No.2*

Part One: an abnormality of growth

a) Andante amoroso
b) Scherzo I
c) Scherzo II (in imitazione) – Trio (senza energia) – Scherzo II (con difetti)
d) Finale I

Part Two: a continuity of paradoxes

a) Adagio inquieto
b) Scherzino interrotto
c) Adagio stagnante
d) Finale II
e) Finale III

These two movements pursue similar material from radically different perspectives. The first begins with a wide-ranging cello melody ornamented with a quicksilver muted violin mapping out the same harmonic landscape again and again, providing most of the work’s content in embryonic form. This then calms down into a true slow movement. The ‘abnormalities’ of this Part refer to the quirk of the material growing too quickly for a ‘normal’ development of the structure, forcing the music to change into radically different forms and expressions. Scherzo I alternates violence and entropy in an unstable manner before coalescing into the strict canons of Scherzo II. The dissipation of energy in this Scherzo generates a true Trio section, struggling to regain direction. Its eventual resumption (‘with defects’) menacingly grinds the music into mechanistic repetition and dissolution. Finale I polyphonically grows the fragments of the opening cello melody in multiple directions simultaneously, eventually proliferating and accelerating out of control.

Part Two’s ‘continuity of paradoxes’ attempts to force together music built on irreconcilable differences. It begins with a dyad slowly ‘bleeding out’ into uncomfortable fragments of faster music. These become the dominant idea and prepare the way for another Scherzo, this one cut into by windows to wholly opposing material. When this spins itself to quizzical extinction, the piece finds its still, Adagio centre – but it proves too slow for ‘productive’ development. Nervous repeated-note twitches finally provide the key to opening Finale II, a do-over of Finale I from Part One but in a far slower tempo. Many of the developmental ‘problems’ of the original are given potential solutions, and the entropic and oppositional forces are reconciled. The key out of the quartet-labyrinth is a third Finale for this two-movement work, gathering together the piece’s entire material in a fast toccata which nonetheless gets stuck on loop: is it resolved, finished or simply gives up?

*Commissioned by the Australian String Quartet for the London season of ANAM Quartetthaus through the Australian String Quartet Richard Divall Australian Music Fund

Hear this work

We give the World Premiere performances of Jack Symonds' String Quartet No.2 on our upcoming tour between 18 Oct—20 Nov 2022.