From Russia With Love

The Quercus Ensemble are back, and this time, it's all about the Russians

It has always been about combining music with other forms of art for the Quercus Ensemble.

When they launched in May 2011, the mixed chamber music group from Derry-Londonderry demonstrated how impressionist paintings could be used as a backdrop to the likes of Fauré and Debussy. Now, artistic director Kim Vaughan (pictured above) has her mind on a different kind of culture altogether.

A renowned Derry-born cellist, Vaughan has joined forces with development director and violinist, Niamh McGowan. They are going to take audiences on multi-staged 'chronological journey through the history of Russian music'.

From Russia With Love starts at the Nerve Centre in Derry on November 30. Vaughn, McGowan and pianist Maria Cutliffe will be treating their audience to Russian trio music prior to a special screening of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

'Events such as the screening are important to both the Ensemble and the culture in the city,' Vaughn says. 'They’re taking live music out of the concert hall and into a more accessible arena for the general public.'

The Ensemble will take to the stage at St Columb’s Hall on December 8 and 9 to complete their 'musical journey'. Through composers such as Tchiakovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, the group will transport the audience back in time to 'romantic' Tsarist Russia and the Russian Revolution, before finishing in Soviet Russia with the theme of 'triumph over adversity'.

'Tolstoy was a great music lover,' Vaughan explains. 'For me, the music speaks for itself in its historical context. I want the event to reflect both a traditional and transitional period, based on what the audience hears on the nights.'

McGowan, a successful violinist who has performed with the likes of Lady Gaga, U2 and Ronan Keating, says that the event has been an intriguing undertaking for the Ensemble.

'As a country, Russia is very powerful, but it’s also very interesting. Its political history ties in with the music produced at certain times, for example, that of Shostakovich. Composers like him used hidden messages within their music to voice their oppression in those days. It was like a battle against the regime.'

From Russia With Love

In turn, the Ensemble have set out to include an 'intelligent narrative' within their programme, one that can be interwoven with the music so that the audience will have tools to further appreciate and understand what they’re hearing. 'It’s all about identifying relations and building connections between the music and its broader context,' adds McGowan.

Vaughan believes that any kind of art – be it performing arts, literature or film – adds an extra dimension to experiencing music.

'Too often, when you hear a tune, it’s removed from its historical context,' she says. 'We’ve set out, since we formed, to show how artists can influence one another over a period of time, and to provide a platform for different cultures to exhibit themselves. We’re all about reenergizing the classical concert experience in a unique manner, and giving something back to the community.'

So far, audiences have responded positively and enthusiastically to both the variety of repertoire and the diversity of instrumental combinations – from harp, to violin, viola to piano and cello – that they have heard from the group members, which include Vaughan, McGowan and the Benyounes Quartet.

McGowan is hopeful that From Russia With Love will lead the way for many more interesting projects for the Ensemble, all involving different artists and writers. It’s hoped that these, in turn, will act as a successful 'performance platform' for Irish music.

'We believe that being part of a smaller ensemble gives us a flexibility that’s just not possible in larger orchestras,' McGowan comments. 'It’s something that can bring quality musicianship to the City Of Culture and beyond.'

For more information on From Russia With Love and other upcoming events, check out the Quercus Ensemble’s official website.