I feel so fortunate to be in Acacia Quartet, this year more than any other. It is our sixth year together and so many things are falling into place. Of course our playing has matured, and I believe we are better with every performance, but 2016 is a year of firsts! It is to be the year of our first international appearance, our first international guest artist and our first ever sponsorship (Acacia is being sponsored by D’Addario Strings).
Incredibly, we have been honoured with the long-term loan of a Smith violin for our first violinist Lisa Stewart to play. This loan is even more special because it means that both our violinists now play violins built just three years apart by Australian luthier A.E. Smith. The story of how these violins have come to be a part of Acacia Quartet involves childhood mentors, the generosity of strangers and a train accident.
Myee Clohessy, our second violinist, has owned her own Smith violin since she was 14 years of age. A Mittagong girl, she began lessons with one of Australia’s best violinists and teachers, Ernest Llewellyn, who had recently retired to the Southern Highlands. Llewellyn had been concertmaster of the SSO and founder of the Canberra School of Music before seeking a quieter life with his wife Ruth.
Ruth’s father, Arthur Edward Smith, is known as the pioneer of Australian violin making. Smith, a British luthier self-taught from A. E. Hill’s book on Antonio Stradivari, came to Australia as a young man in 1909. After studying and working in Melbourne and San Francisco, he eventually established A.E. Smith & Co. Ltd in Sydney. Apart from instrument repair, Smith made 250 instruments over the course of his lifetime, mostly violins and violas. His violas are considered world-class, and at one point, every violist in the SSO played on a Smith viola.
Smith was in high demand and the soloists that travelled to Australia to perform with the SSO would bring their instruments to him for adjustment and repair. These soloists included such distinguished players as Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, both of whom later purchased violins from Smith. Menuhin even bought three! While working on Isaac Stern’s priceless Guarneri, Smith took its measurements and the copy of it he built would become Myee’s violin. It was Myee’s teacher Llewellyn that found the violin for her and convinced her parents to buy it for their daughter.
Story of ‘Harold’
Lisa Stewart was also blessed with a fantastic violin education. She was one of the first Australian children to go through the Suzuki system. She received weekly lessons from violist William Primrose and his wife Hiroko on violin. The Suzuki children were treated to chamber music concerts with Primrose and the Tokyo String Quartet. The Australian Suzuki Association was founded by Harold Brissenden and his wife Nada who had travelled to Japan to see the success of the system there, and Lisa remembers them both fondly.
“I remember Harold and Nada since the beginnings of my life with the violin. Nada played piano for all my concerts and there were lots and lots of concerts. Harold was an incredibly friendly, warm and loving man with a friendly smile and always a kind word. His dedication towards music education in Australia was extraordinary.”
We first came across “Harold” after a disturbing accident last year when Myee’s violin case opened as she was getting off a train and her precious Smith fell onto the platform. In shock, she rushed straight to her luthier who reassured her that he could repair the cracks and that he knew of an instrument she could play in the meantime. He brought her to Nada Brissenden who agreed to loan Myee her late husband’s Smith violin. Myee spent the latter half of last year playing “Harold”.
After her violin was repaired, Lisa returned “Harold” and we all went our separate ways for our well-earned summer break. Then, in late January Myee phoned Lisa with the news that a patron had offered to buy “Harold” for her to play.
We were all bowled over the generosity of this private donor but so grateful as our two Smith’s have blended beautifully and added a new richness to the Acacia sound.
– Anna Martin-Scrase