ANAM QuartetthausLooking at the plain plywood box we were about to enter for the ANAM Quartetthaus the other night, I was a little worried. Why was it chocked up off the ground?Was it going to hold our weight? How uncomfortable were the seats going to be? Will we really all fit in that?

Note to self – don’t let external looks deceive you.

Inside you enter a circle of beauty which, whilst small and intimate, is also larger inside than it looks on the outside (hello tardis). And it’s air-conditioned. And the seats are surprisingly comfortable, enough for some of the 50 or so audience members to fall asleep at the 7pm performance I attended (more on that later).

The concept of building an intimate, small scale venue was simple for the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM); “design and build a place that is shaped to every turn by the music performed within it.”Design Company Bluebottle (the Company’s Melbourne arm BB3 to be precise) took up the challenge a few years ago and created the “Haus – part design installation, part architecture, part music”. 

What Perth International Arts Festival attendees will experience is being no more than two meters away from whichever Quartet is playing passionately in front of you. You can read their music, hear their breathing and if you get bored by that you are so close to audience members on the other side you can look at them. Magically, the tiny stage rotates, so slowly it feels sometimes as though you are imagining it, but enough so that your view of the performers is constantly changing.

For the festival, ANAM has partnered with the University of WA to bring 14 pieces to the “Haus” ranging from Mozart to Shostakovich in eight different performances.With such a range of compositions and four performances a night it was no surprise when after the first piece concluded (Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18) the four young musicians left the stage for another four to take their place. Here’s a note for PIAF program writers – please include the names of the performers!

Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 was contrasted yet complimented by Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.14 in F Sharp Major Op. 142. Beethoven’s quartet is simplicity (of sound) and delicacy, and tended to focus on the first violin. The third movement (the fast paced scherzo) was executed beautifully as the foursome captured the contrasting volumes, paces and speeds expertly.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.14 has elements of Beethoven in it – his use of fast-slow-fast movements, and using snatches of previous work with the piece (Beethoven uses his theme from an earlier string trio in the finale movement).The cello dominates this piece, and the young gentleman played it with passion and ease.

Shostakovich is quite harsh on the ears in such a small space, off beat and dissonant.I was surprised to look through the musicians at points to see some of the more elderly audience members nodding off. Beethoven’s calming movements I could understand as sometimes they sounds better with your eyes closed, Shostakovich’s melodious heart ache poured out in a cello and violin duet is hard to fall asleep to! Thankfully no one snored, and the musicians were hopefully too focussed to notice.

ANAM Quartetthaus is a wonderfully immersing experience, as through the clever combination of architecture and music, the audience is transported out of the everyday and into the wondrous.I think every orchestra should have a “haus” like this.

Australian National Academy of Music and Bluebottle
ANAM Quartetthaus

Venue: Perth Writers Festival Precinct
Dates: Tue 19 Feb 2013 - Mon 25 Feb 2013
Tickets: $35 – $25

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