Archytas on Strings: This quartet’s limited luxury

UBC musicians are, truly, excellent.

With David Harding on viola, Dale Barltrop and David Gillham on violin and Ariel Barnes on cello, this first class collaboration between UBC and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra promises a rare, world-renowned show. 

Four friends and colleagues who have known each other for the entirety of their careers, but have never been in the same place at the same time, have finally come together to form a new strings quartet. Debuting on campus this Friday as Archytas, their quartet is named after the ancient Greek musical mathematician and political leader. 

Each member shares similarities with this forward-thinking personage. As individuals, they are prominent in their own right and have extensive careers to prove it. Some are leaders, like Dale Barltrop, VSO concertmaster, and Ariel Barnes, VSO’s principal cello, while some are scholars like UBC’s own David Harding and David Gillham. 

While the focus of music is fascinating and rewarding for them, they are also exes. Ex-what, you might ask? Well, all four are former members of committed touring quartets and are internationally known and admired. But they are exes of the touring life for a reason. If music is going to be your business of choice and travelling is tied with your repertoire, it may seem a dream come true at first. However, the sacrifices you make for that life often outweigh the excitement. 

Back-to-back shows halfway across the world from each other, long programmes typically numbering 60 or 70 per year, and sleepless nights and days for often for months on end don’t look so glamorous when all you want to do is settle down. For most of them, this is the life that’s truly worth living.

But with this standard of experience, it’s no surprise that the opening night of their performance this Friday will be their first time playing a piece onstage. That’s taking the phrase, “We’ll play it by ear,” to a whole new level. 

They are all performers at heart, whether it be performances on stage, for a group of family members at a gathering or even just trying to keep a masterclass in music upbeat and interested. The desire to make music and share it is as simple as it is fulfilling.

There is also an unspoken fifth member of this quartet who won’t be playing, but whose music speaks volumes. Marcus Goddard is currently a Vancouver based musician and composer with 40 works accredited to his name and extensive affiliations with VSO, Vancouver Opera and New Wave, among other distinguished institutions.  

His string quartet piece Allaqi has already been met with great praise and is described as rhythmically energetic, catchy and infinitely tonal. It is on the score for the performance Friday evening, along with Webern’s Langsamer Satz, a romantic piece whose debut  surprisingly occurred in Seattle following WWII and can be seen as the “Twilight of romantic music,” and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, a pillar piece of string quartets because of its beauty, contrasting themes and unexpected character portrayal.

The performance will be in Barnett Hall on Friday, January 29 at 7:30 p.m.