ACO musicians on the uniquely visceral music of Bartók

“His music often takes on a highly intoxicating and enchanting dance-like character.”


In our next National Concert Season tour, the Orchestra will take on Dvořák's sublimely beautiful Serenade for Strings and Bartók’s visceral String Quartet No.5 – arranged for strings by Richard Tognetti – in one rewarding program.

While all ACO programs delight and challenge the Orchestra as much as our fifth tour, this combination of pieces – which will also include Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning New York-based composer Caroline Shaw's Entr'acte and Josef Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn St Wenceslas – is particularly technically challenging, especially when it comes to the Bartók.

"To prepare for Bartók's String Quartet No.5 requires a lot of study, beyond learning the many fast and challenging notes on your instrument," ACO Cello Melissa Barnard says. "First, listening to the music repeatedly while following the score with all the parts helps to understand the complexity of how the lines fit together, then slowly learning your part and working it up to his (often frenzied) tempos, before we come together to pull it apart and then put it together again - phrase by phrase, section by section - until we have processed it enough in our brains and bodies to play movements through!"

"It’s a lot of fascinating detailed work," Melissa says. "Then you add the adrenalin of live performance to hopefully create an expressive and electrifying event. This is music I really look forward to playing as it’s a true event for a musician and a 'tour de force' for a quartet or chamber orchestra to perform."

We have been catching up with our musicians about what makes Bartók’s music so challenging for string players, and why the String Quartet No.5 will take them to the very extremes of their playing.

This really is music you’ve got to experience live. We can’t wait.

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2023 Tipi 1x1

'Unique language'

Timo-Veikko ‘Tipi’ Valve, ACO Principal Cello

“What makes Bartók’s music unique is the language. It is this utterly complex, rough, but beautiful, enigmatic and distinctive language and is near impossible to master. Bartók’s String Quartets are truly one of the wonders of human achievement.”
2023 iKE1x1 - Copy

'Intoxicating and enchanting dance-like character'

Ike See, ACO Violin

“What really defines Bartók for me is the way he melds classicism with folk music of his native Hungary to great effect. His sound world has a distinct colour, and his writing often takes on a highly intoxicating and enchanting dance-like character.”
Liz Woolnough

'energetic and visceral'

Liz Woolnough, ACO Viola

“Bartók's music's got all these intricate patterns and they change subtly  just when you think you've got the hang of it! We are really excited for you to come and hear this amazing, energetic, visceral music – which we are all excited (and daunted) about.”
Melissa Barnard

'extreme emotional experiences'

Melissa Barnard, ACO Cello

Bartók's music reveals the raw and uncomfortable coexistence of modern and pre-industrial worlds: rigorous, electric and livewire, with the earthiness of punchy folk rhythms, evaporating wisps of beautiful melody and jagged dances.
Dvořák's Serenade tours to Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Newcastle, 4-19 August. Click here to book tickets now.