5 January 2023

Riverina Conservatorium of Music's Assai Quartet set for regional tour

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Quartet playing music

The Assai Quartet features Rhiannon Xeros, Brett Thompson, Dr Harold Gretton and Kara Williams. Photo: Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

Riverina Conservatorium of Music’s Assai Quartet is set to embark on a musical education tour around the Riverina in the new year.

Quartet member and conservatorium associate director Dr Harold Gretton said the group was formed more than a year and a half ago just for an event at the conservatorium.

The Assai Quartet comprises RCM staff Brett Thompson (on flute), Rhiannon Xeros (violin), Kara Williams (bassoon) and Dr Gretton (classical guitar).

Dr Gretton said the band enjoyed playing together and had expanded its repertoire.

“We play a mixture of sort of late-baroque music, early classical music and very modern music,” he said.

“Karen and I have written pieces for the group to play or made arrangements just for us because it’s quite an unusual combination.”

Dr Gretton said Eastern Riverina Arts executive director Tim Kurylowicz suggested the RCM apply for funding from Riverina Waters and received $7502.34.

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With the funding, Dr Gretton said Assai Quartet could do a classical tour around the region and provide workshops to local schools, which the RCM would subsidise.

“We will visit the Riverina Federation Council, Hume Council and Lockhart Shire Council,” he said.

“We will be getting out into the towns and villages rather than sticking to central Wagga … we play up here anyway, so we’re looking for something different.

“We will perform two concerts and two school workshops in each council area.”

Dr Gretton said three new pieces would be written for the upcoming tour.

“It’s so exciting to have new pieces inspired by the Riverina, which we’re going to be touring and premiering within the region and with a grant from a local organisation.”

The Assai Quartet will start the tour in late February and continue for about a month.

Dr Gretton said music producer Remy Chadwick, who recently moved to Wagga, would be the tour manager.

The associate director came into the music profession as a classical guitarist. As the youngest of four children, the Canberra man completed his Bachelor of Music with honours at the Australian National University.

Conservatorium quartet

Ready to take their talents on the road, the Assai Quartet members play a mix of music styles. Photo: Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

His parents believed in a Renaissance-style education whereby he and his siblings learned a musical instrument and a second language.

“After dinner every night, everybody just went and practised their instrument … I’m the only one who pursued music professionally,” he said. ”So it was an absolute cacophony, there was a lot of music in the house.”

He later completed his PhD in Early 19th Century Performance Practice and focused on one composer and how people played in Paris from 1800-1830.

“It was fun … some of the music sounds very sort of light and fluffy and nice,” he said.

“But when you start looking at how it was performed, you realise there was a lot going on … these people were real show ponies.

“They put a lot of emotion into their performance, and some people might say the music is boring, but it comes to life … super exciting.”

Dr Gretton then went overseas and was based in Germany for nine and a half years.

“I did further study in Strasburg as a guitar duo with another guitarist and picked up some work in the area and lived there (Germany) for a little while,” he said.

“I gained some really valuable experience, especially working as a teacher.”

And about four years ago, when the classical guitarist was looking for a change, he saw the guitar teaching position advertised at Wagga.

“I got the position, and I didn’t know Wagga all that much before I moved here.”

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Dr Gretton said since moving to Wagga, he had been “performing more than ever”, which for him was “very important”.

“I also feel that what I’m contributing to this organisation (RCM) is worthwhile … it’s not what I imagined when I moved here as a guitar teacher,” he said.

“I fell into the head of strings role, and when my current position opened up, I felt I should apply for it … none of it was planned.

“But everything has been worthwhile, and I feel like I’m making a positive difference, and as long as that’s the case, I’m happy to keep doing it.”

Asked what music meant to him, Dr Gretton said it was part and parcel of his life.

“I can’t imagine my life without it … can you imagine life without music?”

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