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HEAVEN & EARTH II with Castlemaine Chamber Players

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From Beethoven to Shostakovich

"Their concept of sound is glorious", Zoe Knighton, Flinders Quartet

Beethoven, String quartet Op 59
Shostakovich, String quartet No 8
Rebecca Clarke, Comodo et amabile

Castlemaine Chamber Players will play two of the most exciting string quartets in the quartet repertoire, plus a charming piece by early 20th century British-American composer Rebecca Clarke.

The Beethoven Quartet (known as the second Rasumovsky quartet) and Shostakovich quartet No.8 represent these composers at their finest and in the white-hot heat of developing new styles of string quartet music.

Ludvig Van Beethoven (1770 –1827) pushed the boundaries of the string quartet form in ways that brought out strong reactions from both audiences and performers. Loud chords are followed by surprising pauses and playful melodies are tossed around between all players. In the Adagio, Beethoven shows us visions of the sublime. The clock of the universe ticks on, with constant soft beats accompanying sublime violin melodies that take us to the edge of heaven.

However, it took a while for this quartet to become appreciated. The cellist Bernhard Romberg threw his music to the ground and stamped on it because he didn't like Beethoven's cello part in one part that Beethoven called "Sempre scherzando", always joking. We hope he did this in the first rehearsal and not in the performance!

Beethoven himself said: "They are not for you, but for a later age."

Dimitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) wrote his Quartet No.8 in 1960 after a lifetime of composing in Russia throughout many challenging political times. His music was politicised, with Stalin famously walking out of a performance of Shostakovich's opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk". Shostakovich was for years terrified he would be imprisoned and executed by the KGB, as many of his fellow composers were. This trauma is thought to have affected this quartet, which references many of Shostakovich's key compositions, including Symphonies Nos 1 and 5, Cello Concerto No.1, and Piano Trio No.2. The main theme that appears in every movement is based on the letters from Shostakovich's name

Quartet No.8 dramatically changes between its slow and fast movements. A spooky waltz in the middle adds to our sense of unease. It is short in contrast to Beethoven's longer quartet, however, the emotional journey is profound.

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was a viola virtuoso and composer who was one of the first female professional orchestral players in London. She is most famous for her viola sonata, and this string quartet piece was published after her death. We hope to make it more widely known. Her music is romantic and melodious, with modern harmonies and textures.


The Castlemaine Chamber Players are Sasha Bronshtein and Heather Cummins, violin; Frances Gall, viola; and Elisabeth Anderson, cello. The majority live in Castlemaine, and they perform in Castlemaine and the surrounding local region regularly.

The group was formed in 2014 and performs a wide range of string quartet music featuring iconic classical composers such as Shostakovich and Beethoven. In their April 2023 concert ‘Bringing Female Composers to the Fore’, they brought new music to regional audiences by Rebecca Clarke, British-American early 20th-century composer, and Andrea Keeble, contemporary Melbourne composer. Previous concerts with guest performers Fintan Murphy, Sam Goble and Emma Wade have included Mozart’s quintets and Brahms’ string sextets. They like to perform contemporary Australian compositions and have commissioned music by Castlemaine composer Wendy Rowlands.

Castlemaine Chamber Players frequently attend the Mt Buller Chamber Music Summer School held in the summer in Mt Buller, Victoria. Here, they immerse themselves in chamber music, learn from guest tutors of renown and enjoy sharing with like-minded musicians.

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