String Quartet: an AIDS Activist’s Memoir to premiere this weekend

String Quartet: an AIDS Activist’s Memoir to premiere this weekend

LAST UPDATED // Thursday, 03 July 2014 17:07 Written by // Cec Busby

Composer and former AIDS activist Lyle Chan will premiere his work ‘String Quartet: Memoirs of an AIDS Activist’, a piece that chronicles the tragedy of the HIV epidemic, in Brisbane this weekend.

Chan will introduce the work, which will be played by the Acacia Quartet and recorded by 4MBS radio at Sandgate Town Hall.

The quartet will then have its Sydney premiere in a free concert at the Eugene Goosens Hall on July 18.

Chan first began work on the quartet in the early nineties but didn’t complete it until almost 20 years later. Between 1991-1996, Chan and fellow activists couriered AIDS treatments from the US that were unavailable here, lobbied federal government to approve experimental treatments more quickly, and collaborated with drug companies to design clinical trials of promising new treatments.

The composer says: “I saw AIDS transformed from a frightening, near-universally fatal illness to what it is today, a chronic manageable condition. This transformation took place within a mere two decades of identifying HIV. In the history of medicine, there had never been progress made at such speed.

“This progress came out of an unprecedented cooperation between three groups normally wary of each other: the patient community, the medical and pharmaceutical researchers, and the government regulators.”

Today, Chan is a renowned composer whose works have been performed by soprano Taryn Fiebig, pianist Simon Tedeschi, Sydney Philharmonic Choir and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

“During those years, I’d given up music to be an activist,” he says. “But a composer is always a composer. I still sketched a lot of music. The music were my diaries, a way of writing down feelings. As a composer I think of music as the sound that feelings make.”

The 90-minute work has been described as a tour-de-force of emotionally powerful music, sometimes agitated, sometimes tender, but always beautiful.

It contains portraits of famous activist friends now dead, and unusual effects like the use of police whistles to recall street demonstrations by ACT UP, the direct action protest group of which Chan was a core member.

Oscar and Grammy winner composer John Corigliano describes Chan’s Quartet as a compelling work born out of tragedy.

"Lyle Chan's string quartet is a very ambitious work born out of a seemingly endless plague. Its composer has taken his experiences of living through the enormous tragedy of AIDS and from them has molded a serious and deeply felt work of art.”

Brisbane promoters Music By The Sea say the Acacia Quartet played at a previous Music by the Sea event, and Sandgate Town Hall is renowned for its fine acoustics – hence the choice of the town hall for the world premiere.

In 2013 the Sydney-based Acacia Quartet was nominated for both ARIA and Arts Music Awards for Excellence and their CDs feature regularly on ABC Classics, Fine Music 102.5 and Qantas In-flight Entertainment.

The quartet consists of Lisa Stewart (violin) Myee Clohessy (violin) Stefan Duwe (viola) and Anna Martin-Scrase (cello).

‘String Quartet: Memoirs of an AIDS Activist’, Sandgate Town Hall, Brisbane, Saturday, July 5, 7.30pm. Bookings here.

Sydneysiders can see a free performance of Chan’s String Quartet: Memoirs of an AIDS Activist at Eugene Goosens Hall. Book here


Cec Busby

Cec Busby

Cec Busby is the news editor of SX and online editor of

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