Performance, sound and space: the Akilone Quartet in Leiria

Training | June 5, 2024

Quator Akilone
Akilone Quartet

On the 19th of February 2024, the Lithuanian musician Magdalena Geka and three musicians from France, Elise De-Bendelac, Lucie Mercat and Perrine Guillemot, arrived in Portugal. Together they form the Akilone Quartet, active since 2011 with an established and impressive curriculum. Coming from different locations in France, they reunited in Leiria, a small city two hours away from Lisbon for the MERITA Residency, where they stayed for an entire week.

They were hosted by Ana Oliveira in the historic Manor Verde de Oliveira, located in the centre of Leiria. Dating back to the XVIII century, the house has been in the Oliveira family since its establishment. Constructed with a neoclassical facade from the XVIII century, the interior of the house features Rococó-style decorative arts, including wooden painted and stucco ceilings, seasonal rooms, a chapel of Saint Ana, tile panels, and stonework — a unique hidden gem of the Leiria region. A beautiful and mysterious manor filled with colour, art and memories that served as a source of inspiration for this residency, which focused on the concepts of place and space and their connection to music and performance.

The day after arriving in Leiria and settling in the house, the Akilone Quartet met the residency trainers João Garcia Miguel and Rui Gato. João Garcia Miguel is a performance artist, programme director, and researcher; his artistic practices are characterised by performative experimentalism and a concern for the role of the artist as a researcher and in social interventionism. Rui Gato has been developing multidisciplinary sonic laboratory work, with the modulation of sonic matter and the exploration of its limits as his main conceptual basis; his professional and artistic activities centre on real-time musical composition and human-machine interfaces. Invited by experimentadesign, both artists took their role as trainers to challenge the quartet to think deeply about the importance of space and performance beyond instrumentation. Throughout the week, they challenged the musicians to relate to the space and to the audience in unexpected ways, from space interaction to physicality and interpretation.

Over the following days, the quartet and the mentors collaborated to push the boundaries of classical music performance, reflecting on art, visual culture and theatre. Rehearsing their repertoire and simultaneously deconstructing the classical approach to string quartet concerts, they sought to develop new ideas of interpretation and performance to later materialise them into a final concert at the end of the week. However, they did not spend the entire week rehearsing in the historic rooms of Manor Verde de Oliveira. Through a partnership with the Municipality of Leiria and the Leiria Castle, the quartet had the opportunity to visit and work in the mediaeval castle that overlooks the entire city. For a few days, the quartet rehearsed and prepared for their final test-concert, which took place at two different locations in the Leiria Castle: the Church of Our Lady of Mercy and the Palace.

These two concert venues allowed the quartet to conceive two very different performances defined by the space that involved them. The first, at Manor Verde de Oliveira, took on intimate traits for a smaller audience – a more personal atmosphere where the musicians could relate to their environment more strongly. In a very decorative room, with coloured walls, hanging portraits and other historic pieces placed all around, the quartet took everyone back to the XVIII century with their performance.

In Leiria’s Castle, a monumental symbol of Portugal’s mediaeval history, the four musicians divided the performance into two, playing first in the grand Igreja da Pena and then in the Nobel Hall, a very sombre environment. At these different locations, they were encouraged to explore the space and to reflect on the role of space and acoustics in musical performances, creating an original concert inspired by ambient, movement and choreography.

The MERITA Residency in Leiria proved to be a transformative journey for the Akilone Quartet, culminating in an extraordinary exploration of music and performance and their effect on space and place. Nestled in the historic Manor Verde de Oliveira, the quartet delved into an immersive experience, guided by the visionary mentorship of João Garcia Miguel and Rui Gato. Their collaborative efforts transcended traditional boundaries, igniting a creative fusion of classical music, art, improvisation and choreography.

As they ventured beyond the confines of the manor, the quartet’s partnership with the Municipality of Leiria and the Leiria Castle provided a majestic backdrop for their innovative performances. From the intimate setting of Manor Verde de Oliveira to the grandeur of Leiria Castle’s Church of Our Lady of Mercy and Noble Hall, each venue became an integral part of their artistic expression. Through their exploration of space, acoustics, and choreography, the Akilone Quartet attempted to push the boundaries of the classical music concert experience, leaving a mark on both the audience and the historic landscapes of Leiria.

Author: Experimentadesign