Nick Russoniello & the Golden Age Quartet are part of the Prelude in Tea series of afternoon concerts held at The Independent Theatre in North Sydney. Nick is an award-winning saxophonist, teaming up with a period-string ensemble of violinist's Julia Russonielle and Meg Cohen, Tara Hashamboy on viola and Caroline Hobbs on cello to perform the enigmatic, expressive and uplifting music of the 1920's. The virtuosi perform on original instruments, using gut and silk strings rather than their modern equivalents, and the end result is a sublime and mesmerising display of exceptional talent.
large picture windows upstairs The Independent Theatre
I had the pleasure of attending the performance in the intimate and historic North Sydney Independent Theatre. Built in the 1930's, the art-deco-style building is the perfect backdrop for my afternoon's entertainment - a celebration of the saxophone and the popular music of the early 20th century. I easily find on-street parking in Miller Street and a decadent display of cakes greets me as I walk through the double doors of this iconic local theatre. The sun is starting to sink low in the sky sending shafts of autumnal colours through the huge picture windows. Included in the concert's price is a fabulous afternoon tea. What a totally civilised and entertaining way to spend a Sunday afternoon! On offer are chocolate mud cake, pavlova, gluten-free orange and almond cake, cheesecake, tiramisu to name just a few, and an endless supply of coffee and tea. The friendly and helpful staff swiftly slice generous portions of sweets for the swelling crowd. I grab my choice of lemon-layer cake and meander upstairs where extra seating is available. I find a table adjacent to the upstairs windows, making the most of the last of the afternoon sun, then help myself to the coffee and a variety of teas provided on a corner table. The relaxing vibe of the afternoon soon begins to wash over me. Families, young couples and the more-mature make up the crowd and, once satiated, we leisurely make our way to the main auditorium.
just a sample of afternoon tea
In the 1920's in America, the saxophone was king. The war had ended and an infectious groundswell of optimism swept across the country. Musicians such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane made the saxophone the instrument of the moment, making it the king of cool. Everybody wanted to play the saxophone. Nick Russoniello and the Golden Age Quartet successfully carry on the passion of the musicians of that time. Dressed in 1920's attire the group fill the stage with their enthusiasm for the performances. A gramophone sits on a small table on one side of the stage and a row of Nick's beautifully crafted original saxophones sit on their stands awaiting their turn. Pieces from composers such as Gershwin and Charlie Chaplin and well-known American classics slide off their strings with ease and precision. I'm transported to a long-forgotten era of Charleston-filled music halls. The rapport between the musicians is evident and many pieces played, although unfamiliar to me, carry the skill and weight of movie themes or larger orchestras. Between songs, Nick and Julia provide an interesting and amusing narration of the history of the music and the time in which it originated, and how their original instruments provide them with a unique playing experience. A short 20-minute intermission breaks up the 80-minute concert.
a simple stage set with gramophone
THE MUSICIANS Nicholas Russoniello is a saxophone virtuoso who has appeared as a soloist with the Adelaide, Queensland, Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras. He has won the Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year and the Fine Music Kruger Scholarship. He is a rising composer whose performances can be heard on ABC Classic and Fine Music 102.5.
Julia Russoniello is first violinist and a recent Master's graduate. She is a keen researcher and performer of historical styles and has performed with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, The Australian Classical and Romantic Orchestra and the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra. Her performances are also available on ABC Classic FM.
Meg Cohen, violinist, has recently studied and performed with the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne. She is accomplished in performing historical styles and is founder and director the Sydney Baroque Music Festival.
Tara Hashambhoy is a virtuoso of the historical viola. Having studied at the Conservatorium of Music, specialising in historical performance, Tara has performed with many leading ensembles including the Sydney Consort and Sydney Philharmonia Orchestras.
Caroline Hobbs is a leading cellist who studied her Post-graduate Diploma in Music Performance in England and performed as principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra (the Netherlands), along with performances in world-class stages such as The Hermitage in Russia and the Konzerthaus in Berlin.
Held on the last Sunday of the month the Prelude in Tea series of concerts include afternoon tea, served from 2.30pm, and concerts commencing at 3.30pm. The series include chamber music ensembles or a song series of some of Australia's leading vocal ensembles. Subscriptions are available for 3, 6 or 12 concerts. Visit here to find out more.
If you enjoy a bit of history with your music, a blast from the past that melds with the modern, then this concert is your cup of tea.