The Australian String Quartet has appointed Christopher Cartlidge as its new violist. Cartlidge will leave the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, where he has been Associate Principal Viola, to take up the position. He will make his official debut with the ASQ on 21 July when he performs in the Australian String Quartet with William Barton concert at the new Illuminate Adelaide festival.

He replaces Stephen King, ASQ’s violist from 2012 to 2021, who steps into the new role of Director of Learning and Engagement.

Cartlidge studied at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music and the Australian Academy of Music (ANAM), where he met the ASQ’s second violinist Francesca Hiew and cellist Michael Dahlenburg (who joined the Quartet in 2020 when Sharon Grigoryan left). He joined the MSO in 2011 and in 2019 was appointed Associate Principal Viola. Cartlidge is a founding member of Melbourne Ensemble. In 2015, he was a grand-finalist and multiple prize winner in the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards.

Earlier this year, he spent eight weeks with the ASQ during which time he performed as part of Adelaide Festival’s Chamber Landscapes series, and in the world premiere season of Rafael Bonachela’s Impermanence for Sydney Dance Company. He also took part in a four-day education residency on Kangaroo Island, and performed with ASQ in the Dunkeld Festival of Music in regional Victoria. Christopher Cartlidge spoke to Limelight about his new appointment.

Australian String Quartet 2021

The new-look Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo © Agatha Yim

You have spent most of your professional career so far with an orchestra. What was the appeal of joining a string quartet?

I have a special affinity for string quartets, and there is a certain freedom and spontaneity that comes from working in a small ensemble that really appeals to me at this point in my career. It is an incredible privilege to be invited to join such a pre-eminent national string quartet and to have the opportunity to perform on an outstanding 1783 Guadagnini Viola (Turin) with thanks to UKARIA.

Was leaving the MSO for the ASQ a difficult decision to make?

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra family is such an important part of my life. After 10-years with the MSO, it was certainly difficult to decide to move on, but it equally feels like right decision. Working with the ASQ is a dream gig and I feel privileged to have this opportunity to share string quartet music with people across the country.

What do you see as the main joys, and challenges of being part of a quartet?

Being in a quartet is a bit magic! There is something very special about four people who are all on the same page, so to speak. One of the main joys of being part of a quartet will be exploring the incredible breadth of music, both old and new. Similarly, it is the music that offers up the kind of fun challenges that I can’t wait to tackle in the rehearsal room with my friends Dale [Barltrop], Francesca and Michael. As for other challenges, I have had a little glimpse into the unpredictability of national touring during the COVID-19 crisis and I am getting ready for a white-knuckle ride!

Did you meet Dale Barltrop through the MSO (where he is Concertmaster)? And was that part of how this came about?

Dale Barltrop and I met about ten years ago and have been working closely together as part of the MSO for many years now. I have also been friends with Francesca Hiew and Michael Dahlenburg for many years and all four of us have played a lot of chamber music together over the years in various settings and various places. As for my journey with the ASQ, it all started with a surprise phone call from Francesca inviting me to come and work as a guest violist with the quartet and it has developed from there.

Australian String Quartet 2021

The Australian String Quartet with Christopher Cartlidge. Photo courtesy of ASQ

How did you enjoy the eight weeks you spent with the ASQ earlier this year?

From a collaboration with Sydney Dance Company to premiere Rafael Bonachela’s Impermanence, to the Adelaide Festival’s Incredible Floridas Chamber Landscapes program curated by Kim Williams AM, to a week-long residency for the community on Kangaroo Island, to the ASQ’s flagship Dunkeld Festivals of Music – the eight weeks that I spent with the quartet earlier this year offered a whirlwind introduction to life with the ASQ. It was like jumping into the deep end and I loved it!

Did you feel that you forged a strong musical partnership with the other players in that time?

As friends and long-time collaborators, there were certainly some musical ties that unified us from the outset, but it was so powerful to witness how these grew over the eight weeks of intense rehearsal, touring and performance.

What was the experience of performing with Sydney Dance Company like?

One word – amazing! I am incredibly proud to have been part of the premiere season of Rafael Bonachela’s Impermanence with Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet and to have had the opportunity to perform Bryce Dessner’s incredible score. It is an enormously powerful work, and I am so excited to be part of its continuing journey across the country later this year.

What are you most looking forward to as a member of the ASQ?

So many things, but most of all the opportunity to be part of the broader ASQ family, which is spread from the Quartet’s home-base at the University of Adelaide, Elder Conservatorium, right across Australia. As the only nationally funded string quartet in the country, it is such a privilege to be part of this organisation and I look forward to continuing its important work as we share music far and wide.

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