Bristol Proms: An interview with Sacconi Quartet

Friends of Bristol Proms, and Bristol Old Vic Associate Artists, Sacconi Quartet make a triumphant return to the festival with BEETHOVEN IN THE DARK and HEARTFELTAlways pushing the boundaries of chamber music, we caught up with Robin Ashwell ahead of their performances to see what they have in store for their lucky audiences…

Sacconi Quartet - Photo by Mark Douet

Why have you chosen this particular repertoire for Bristol Proms?

These two quartets by Beethoven – opus 131 and 132 – express human emotion unlike any other piece of music.  Written at a time of desperate illness and deafness, Beethoven plunges us into the full highs and lows of being human through these pieces, and forces the listener to confront who they are and why they are here.  In opus 132, Beethoven entitles the central slow movement Hymn of Thanksgiving to the divinity, from a convalescent.  Through the use of robotic hearts and interactive lighting, musicians and listeners alike will share in the experience of those extreme emotions in a way that has never before been undertaken.

Have you performed any of these pieces before?

We have performed both the pieces many times before – we wouldn’t be able to perform opus 131 in the dark if we hadn’t!  When we’re performing Beethoven, more than any other composer, I feel that his presence is with us on the stage.  His music is so emotive and so extreme that it seems to take you over, to possess you, and when it’s all over you feel wrung out and exhausted.

Which moments within the music are you most looking forward to performing? 

The Hymn of Thanksgiving in opus 132 is amazing to play, every time.  Time seems to stand still, and even the smallest gesture or statement is stretched over an incredible length of time.

What music do you most like to listen to?

The four of us in the quartet listen to a massive range of music.  Lately I have been listening to early music group Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, violinist John Holloway and singer-songwriter James Varda.  I am also a devoted Stones fan.

On a more personal note, what do you do to relax?

Spend time with my wife and daughters!  There’s never enough of it.  Usually we get out into the country or to a nice house with gardens, and if we can tie that in with a good steam train ride then the day is complete!

Photo by Mark Douet

Returning to the Bristol Proms, the Sacconi Quartet will perform Beethoven in the Dark in Bristol Old Vic Studio on opening night at 6.45pm. They will also perform Heartfelt in the Studio on Thursday 30 July at 6pm. As the Quartet play, 50 audience members will hold beating robotic hearts that mirror the musicians’ heartbeats, offering a more intimate connection between with the performers than ever before in a classical music concert. Snap up your tickets, and your heart, here.

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