The Art Of FOURPLAY – Strings At The Street Theatre

By Joshua Eckersley

FourPlay String Quartet have spent 30 years pushing the boundaries of contemporary classical music, breaking from the genre’s tried and true conventions to embrace experimentation and innovation.

Their journey has seen them evolve into a harmonious outfit, whose euphonious force will be delighting and entertaining The Street Theatre goers for a truly special night of music. To mark the occasion, BMA caught up with brother band members, Peter and Tim Hollo, to find out more.

The beloved quartet have come a long way from the early days of performing classical interpretations of modern pop songs, a time in which they caught peoples’ attention with compelling covers of artists as varied as The Beastie Boys, Jeff Buckley, Metallica, and The Cure.

Back in the 1990s, they were somewhat of a musical oddity, with their unconventional sound catching the imagination of a generation of indie-rock kids, thanks in large part to high rotation on the national youth radio station, triple j.

Founding members, and brothers, Peter (cello) and Tim Hollo (viola) recall what it was like to break into the music scene with such an unusual approach.

Photo by Rohan Thomson

“As rock music fans, we’d long wanted to capture that genre’s energy and creativity for ourselves,” Tim recalls. “In 1994, we decided we’d just go ahead and do it. We wouldn’t let our chosen instruments be a barrier.

“By the time the first album came out in 1998, we’d already seen how our weird idea connected with audiences. It was a joyful surprise to see how well it did.”

It is no surprise that those early cover songs would eventually find their way to the ears of the original artists, giving the quartet a huge boost of morale.

“We heard from a friend of Jeff Buckley‘s, who told us that he’d heard, and approved of, our cover of Grace,” Tim reveals.

“That still gives me goosebumps.

“We’ve also performed Supertramp’s Breakfast In America with Roger Hodgson in London many years ago,” he continues. “He loved our cover, and how we brought out the Jewish influence.”

Upon further thought, Tim goes on to add: “I have to say, I’d love to get Tom Morello’s reaction to our cover of Killing In The Name.”

An unlikely partnership!

As well as performing these songs from their extensive back-catalogue, the beguiling band plan to bewitch us with tracks from their recent album. Entitled Signs of Life, the LP is a collaborative project with award-winning writer and comic book author, Neil Gaiman, he of The Sandman, American Gods, and a multitude of other game-changing works.

This unlikely partnership began some 12 years ago as part of the Graphic Festival held at the Sydney Opera House.

FourPlay had the daunting task of writing a musical score to accompany a reading from Gaiman’s novella, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, creating 70+ minutes of written and improvised material to support Gaiman’s spoken word performance.

Peter describes the initial collaboration as “a success, and a great pleasure for both us and Neil. We really clicked creatively.

“We did repeat performances in Australia, recorded the entire work, and toured internationally, including Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, and other such venues.”

So successful was this collaboration that it culminated in the release of the album, Signs of Life, in 2022, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts in the Classical Crossover genre. The creative interactions for the album, Peter tells us, consisted of days-long jamming sessions in which they workshopped ideas.

“You’d find us improvising and hacking away at new music while Neil sat in the corner writing,” he says. “At some point, Neil would join us to read words over sections we’d written. For the opening track, Clock, we wrote the expansive music, improvising to a ticking metronome at 60bpm.

“When Neil heard it, he immediately said ‘Shakespeare!’ and read the beautiful 12th Sonnet over our music.

“It was incredible!”

The esteemed quartet will be bringing all of this and more to The Street Theatre as they celebrate their first-ever vinyl release, a compilation titled A Taste Of…

When it comes to choosing the setlist, Tim exclaims:

“This isn’t exactly Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, but we are definitely tapping into the back-catalogue for this show. People can expect a wide range of music, from rock to bluegrass, from jazz to post-classical. There will be a lot of our own music and, without giving too much away, I reckon you might find some Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead in the set too!”

Tim, who has lived in Canberra since the mid-2000s, adds:

“The city has always had a special meaning for me, and The Street Theatre is such a great venue. It has a beautiful vibe, and a wonderful selection of rooms. It’ll be lovely to play there again!”

FourPlay String Quartet perform at The Street Theatre on Sunday, 6 August at a special 4pm slot. Tickets are $35 + bf via the venue.

You can listen to all of their releases on Spotify and Apple Music

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