3 April 2023

Innovative and 'unusual', Brodsky Quartet headlines at the Canberra International Music Festival

| Dione David
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Humorous black and white portrait of the Brodsky Quartet holding their instruments

Krysia Osostowicz, Ian Belton, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas form the Brodsky Quartet, an innovative and lasting ensemble. Photo: Sarah Cresswell.

After 41 years on the Brodsky Quartet, Paul Cassidy still jokes he’s a “Johnny Come Lately”.

He is after all, part of an ensemble that’s endured half a century.

Revered for its innovation as much as its virtuosity, the quartet has performed thousands of concerts worldwide and released more than 60 recordings since it was formed in 1972.

Now it’s headed to the nation’s capital for the Canberra International Music Festival.

On the viola, Paul joins founding members Jacqueline Thomas on cello, Ian Belton on second violin and Krysia Osostowicz – the only other member to join later than he – as first violin.

He says the secret to their longevity is that “you have to really want to make this your life”.

“If you’re that type of person, it’s exciting to be with others who match your passion,” he says.

“You can build that group into a force. You make your own kind of brand.

“Luckily for us that’s all we have all ever wanted to do. So we were fortunate to find each other.”

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Jacqueline was just 10 years old and Ian 11 when they formed the original group in Middlesborough, north-east England.

The quartet later went to college together in Manchester to study as a group.

“That in itself is very unusual. To my knowledge, it had never been done,” Paul says.

“Groups are more often formed at college or the National Youth Orchestra. But coming out of college, the quartet had already been together 10 years.”

In college the original viola player decided he wanted to do something else and Paul, who was studying in London, was invited to join.

“When I got the call, it was quite something,” Paul says.

“They [the Brodsky Quartet] were already building a bit of a name for themselves because they were so unusual and so far ahead.

“I was tremendously excited; it was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Portrait of the Brodsky Quartet holding their instruments

The Brodsky Quartet has endured 50 years. Photo: Sarah Cresswell.

In 2021 the final member of the quartet joined. A “formidable violinist”, Krysia had been known by the rest of the quartet most of their lives.

Well known in the UK for her long-standing role in the Domus Piano Quartet, and for fronting the Endymion Ensemble and her own ensemble the Dante String Quartet, she was of Brodsky Quartet pedigree.

The group’s long history has been captured in Paul and Jacqueline’s books Get Beethoven! and Got Beethoven. But these days they’re celebrated as much for their inventiveness as their longevity, for example in how they approach arrangements.

“If you get an encore in a concert, a lot of groups just play a movement from a quartet. Or worse yet, they play a scherzo from the composition they’ve just played, but they play it the way they should have played it in the first place,” Paul says.

“That has never been our style. We like to surprise people.

“We started arranging pieces from different repertoires – guitar, piano, anything that took our fancy. We would play our arrangements as encores. It became one of our things.”

In each of the five decades since its inception, the quartet has released a CD that houses those arrangements.

On 17 March the latest one was unveiled; Golden Oldies. Paul says it’s his 50th anniversary present to Jacqueline and Ian.

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It is hoped audiences will get a sample of this signature creativity when the quartet headlines the Canberra International Music Festival.

“It’s such an exciting festival, so diverse and artistically innovative,” Paul says.

“You’re not quite sure where you’ll play – you could be in a recital room or you might be playing in a tent.”

The Brodsky Quartet will perform three concerts, starting with Brodsky@50 on Saturday 29 April, marking the ensemble’s anniversary.

On Sunday 30 April you’ll be treated to Bach Barton Brodsky with the renowned William Barton; a combination billed as a “compelling pairing”.

Finally on Monday 1 May, French for Breakfast #1 will see the quartet play Ravel.

To purchase tickets for the Brodsky Quartet concerts or for more information visit the Canberra International Music Festival.

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