From Milan to Madrid

The beautiful roof of the Todi theatre, Italy.

ASQ cellist Michael Dahlenburg reflects on the Quartet’s time in Italy and Spain, including the international premiere of Impermanence in Madrid.

When entrusted with a position in the Australian String Quartet, there’s a great responsibility that goes far beyond just playing the notes well. Wherever we are, we are advocates for chamber music and ambassadors for our organisation and the nation. Whether it’s regional South Australia or the Umbrian hillside town of Todi in Italy, our mission is always the same: to bring the closeness and emotion of our music to people, wherever we are. Chamber music – music – is genuinely universal. You may not know Mozart, but you can experience an emotional response to his music. Chamber music celebrates the elements that connect us all—it transcends language and cultural barriers.

There are moments of clarity when these things are so painfully—and beautifully—clear. Two examples from our recent travels in Italy stand out. At our second performance at the MITO SettembreMusica Festival in Milan, we played a short encore of Benjamin Britten to the Milanese audience—a quirky but highly emotive moment in music. Although I could not introduce it in fluent Italian (sorry!), it was clear that without much context, all of us in the room were breathing as one and experiencing the music together for those brief minutes.

Performing for students in Todi. Photo by Gabriele Sagone

Similarly, interacting with the students during an up-close presentation at the local school in Todi, in the beautiful Umbrian countryside, was equally rewarding. Seeing the students’ faces lighting up at the collective sound of the Quartet and the unabashed commitment that my colleagues and I show to our craft and the music was inspiring to the students. It made for a real highlight of the Italian portion of the tour!

The ASQ rehearsing at the Verdi Conservatorium in Turin.
Rehearsing at the Verdi Conservatorium ahead of our Turin performance.

After our Italian adventures, though, I had to part ways with my gorgeous cello for it to receive some vital care and attention from an incredible luthier in London. Enter stage left my replacement instrument for the next leg of our adventures with the Sydney Dance Company. Affectionately known as Alejandro, this new cello and I spent a few days getting to know each other in Madrid before it was time to take to the stage!

We were very fortunate to be able to be in Madrid to play the International Premiere of Impermanence—a work the Australian String Quartet co-commissioned with Sydney Dance Company featuring choreography by SDC’s Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela and music by Bryce Dessner from The National

Working with SDC on Impermanence has been a journey, a shining example of two arts organisations collaborating to make something more significant than the sum of their parts. Every year, it grows into something more splendid, reaching more and more people across the globe. It next goes to The Hague and Bonn, without us, for the first time. As much as we would love to continue touring Europe with our extended family at Sydney Dance Company, our busy concert schedule at home is calling.

See you all soon!

Two cellos in a workshop.
My replacement cello for our Madrid performances, Alejandro!

My photos

The ASQ’s international engagement is made possible through the generous support of their Major Partner – The University of Adelaide, Government Partners – Arts South Australia, Creative Australia, Instrument Partners – UKARIA, and international project partners the Australian Embassy, Rome, Todi Musica, OperAffinity, Comune di Todi, Real Arts and the Sydney Dance Company.