Byline: Musica Viva

Daniel Smith and Eunise Cheng are brilliant, versatile and exciting musicians. A violist and cellist who have enjoyed plenty of highlights so early on in their careers, the pair make up one half of the Partridge String Quarte; our newest FutureMakers.

Dan and Eunise will be taking to the Melbourne Morning Masters stage alongside Adam McMillan and Madeleine Jevons on Monday, 2 March. We wanted to learn more about the pair, but we haven't asked the questions - they have. Learn about them, as they learn more about each other.

What is your first memory of each other?

Dan: I remember meeting Eunise in front of the South Melbourne Town Hall, after a busy day at ANAM. Eunise was talking about her audition (that day) and I related to what she was talking about, and also found her really funny. Something else that hasn’t changed to this day, and something I very much admire in Eunise is that she is someone who will speak her mind; not shying away from speaking up if there’s something not right with a situation. She’s a go-getter, and is the hardest worker I know. Fun fact, Eunise is not only our Viola Hero, but also the undisputed Google Docs Queen, her skills are beyond comprehension.

Eunise: I remember seeing Dan at ANAM in 2015. I was stressed out of my mind and quite frazzled as I had just finished my audition for ANAM so I may have unintentionally freaked out bumping into someone sitting at the steps at the entrance of ANAM in a dark leather jacket, dyed blue streaks in his hair and a cello case with skulls on it. I vaguely remember mumbling a few things, thinking that this person was intimidating and also much too cool for me before running from the building. In a funny chance coincidence however on my first day at ANAM six months later, we ended up side-by-side for a year playing Schubert’s Quintet (along with my other current quartet members Mana and Will). I realised very quickly that my initial impression was way off and what an incredibly kind and chill person Dan is, we have gotten along ever since as colleagues and friends! Also, just hands down one of the most hard working and dedicated cellists I’ve ever met and is great fun to perform with.

What has it been like to be part of Musica Viva as a Futuremaker so far?

Eunise: Since day one, the Musica Viva team (Janet, Katherine and Paul) welcomed us with open arms and have walked every step of our Futuremakers journey together so far. They are the most wonderful team and we are so fortunate to have been given this opportunity of a lifetime. It is very special to have a team who not only challenge and inspire you in every conversation together but for that team to believe in you as a person, artist and your vision has meant the absolute world. We’ve since had conversations and professional development sessions with incredible artists and leaders within the arts industry which has allowed us to reflect and think creatively on many levels. Perhaps because we had been so fixated in our little chamber music world thus far in our performance training, it has been amazing peering out into the huge arts world as a whole and what that offers. To realise that despite how completely different our art forms are, we actually have so much in common in the challenges that we face, our responsibilities as artists how to look forward for our industry and contributing to the community. 

Dan: Due to this year being what it was with coronavirus and lockdowns, I was initially afraid that this would place many limitations on what we could accomplish for our time with Musica Viva as part of FutureMakers. However this has absolutely not been the case, and the entire team within the program have been nothing but incredible, providing so much support, making themselves so available to us, and connecting us with leaders in various creative industries (not just music related industries). Because most correspondence has been over zoom thus far, I think it’s actually had some practical benefits, allowing more variety and convenience for these incredible speakers and leaders in their fields to talk to us, not just being restricted to those who were available in Melbourne/available to travel to talk to us. We’re currently busy, scheming behind the scenes about what our end project will look like. It’s such a satisfying process, due largely to those within this awesome program. I’m terrifically thankful in particular to Paul Kildea, Janet Mckay, and Katherine Kemp with whom we’ve worked the closest, and we're concurrently having a great time, and a hugely informative and developmentally stimulating time.

A memorable performance that you have watched?

Dan: There’s a few contenders for this, but I’ve got to give it to the Goldner String Quartet, for their concert that was a part of the 2015 Canberra International Music Festival. It was an amazing program, with works by Stanhope, Ligeti, and Beethoven. It was the Ligeti Quartet No.1 (Metamorphoses nocturnes) however, that really stole the show for me. It was my first time hearing the piece,and I couldn't be more on the edge of my seat for the entire twenty minutes. I fell in love with it, the Goldners played it so electrically that I think my hair was still on end after the end of the concert! It left such an impression that years later I introduced the Ligeti to Eunise, and the rest of the Partridge String Quartet family. I’m certainly glad I did, as we won the ANAM 2018 Chamber Music Competition with it. I feel like I owe a lot of my life’s trajectory as a chamber musician to that piece, and I will always adore it. Thanks Goldners!!

Eunise: It looks as though 2015 was definitely quite eventful for both of us as my life changing performance was also in that year. I’ll never forget watching the Doric String Quartet performing Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 No. 1 at the Musica Viva Festival. I remember so clearly being in shock trying to process what had just happened. It's still really difficult today years later without making it sound over dramatic to describe in words the exact feeling of joy I had while also wanting to cry at the same time - it was honestly the most moving performance I had ever experienced. It was as though I had a very belated epiphany of just how incredible and powerful music is and fully realised what impact we can have as musicians on others.

What excites you about chamber music?

Eunise: I love the full process of learning a new chamber music piece which I feel is so different to preparing a solo or orchestral work. The open collaborative discussion and rehearsals means that we are all able to really delve in together to understand the piece, share our ideas equally and combine our skills to create something new which I find incredibly enriching. You can always learn so much by understanding and taking in what your colleagues have to offer as everyone has their own approach. With such open and honest conversations about what we love to do most, there is a very special bond that you end up forming with your colleagues and mentors who are side-by-side on this journey with you and I feel it creates overall a much more meaningful performance.

Dan: The things I enjoy most come from the very fundamentals of playing chamber music: collaboration with other musicians in a small setting. The things you learn from your colleagues, trying different ideas out and experimenting, whilst maintaining an individual “voice” within the music. All of this, with the musical (and personal) support from others in a group. I enjoy playing chamber music more than I ever would enjoy playing solo, and I feel the courage I gain from a chamber group being on stage with me enables my best playing as a result, so it’s kind of a win-win situation. Not to mention that composers often write their best/most experimental works in a chamber music setting. Looking at you, Beethoven.

Any pre-concert rituals?

Eunise: Generally, as long as I’ve had enough time to settle in the concert space and run a few things quickly before having an appropriate break is enough for me. Aside from that, as long as I’m feeling pretty awake and energised, I feel like everything will be fine. I suppose when we perform in quartet together, we all have a habit of checking in on each other to make sure we’re all feeling ready and give each other a fist bump or hug right before we jump onstage (and after as well!). Usually a cheeky smile will happen somewhere right before we play otherwise definitely after.

Dan: I’ve gone through different amusing phases of pre-concert rituals, but a consistent one for me is to find a quiet corner and do some slow and relaxed warming up. I’m always amazed by musicians who can be talking with friends or audience members right before they perform, without much warmup. That’s not me personally, I like to have a bit of a quiet space. The lucky undies just weren’t seeming to make enough of a difference... 

What albums are you listening to at the moment?

Eunise: ‘Orange’ by the Attacca Quartet which contains a collection of American composer Caroline Shaw’s string quartet works. I was recommended this album by Mana, dived straight into it and have had it on repeat quite a few times this week. I love how the album itself takes you on a journey from beginning to end and Shaw’s unique compositional style and aesthetic is just so lovely to listen to. I’d highly recommend!

Dan: Currently the Doric String Quartet recordings of the Benjamin Britten String Quartets are a regular theme in my day. Throughout the lockdown in Melbourne I developed a connection with Britten’s music, I found it was strangely relatable to the situation in the world right now in an abstract way. They are exquisite quartets, and Doric’s playing is unbelievable. I was lucky enough to see them perform the 2nd Britten string quartet live many years ago. It was absolutely unforgettable. But variety is the spice of life; I’ve been going through a bit of a Schnittke and Björk phase too - Kronos Quartet’s recording of Schnittke 3rd string quartet, and Björk’s album, “Post” make up my accompanying lockdown tunes, and are all easy recommendations from me.

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