• Search
  • Lost Password?
Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Left to Right: Amy, William, Stephen, Stephanie. Image by Reece Donlan.
Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Left to Right: Amy, William, Stephen, Stephanie. Image by Reece Donlan.

Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki: Review

Home » Reviews » Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki: Review

Kate Bush said it perfectly when she said: “I don’t aim for perfection. But I do want to try and come up with something interesting”. This is the perfect analogy for the strikingly unique, yet superbly unusual experience that a small handful experienced during the latest performance from the Solem Quartet along with guest performer, Alice Zawadzki. 

Hidden down a dark and dreary back alley, somewhere between Cheetham Hills vacant industrial estate and Manchester City Centre’s bustling night life, is the most characteristic concert venue one will ever have the opportunity to visit. The White Hotel, a converted garage no less, opened its shutters to host four of the most highly praised and innovative string performers this generation has to offer. 

The dimly lit, secretly hidden site surely houses no more than 40, with only a small handful of chairs lined up in front of the quaint stage. The closeness only heightens the intense feeling of intimacy. Paired with the hued orange glow radiating from neon signs positioned behind vacant chairs on stage, culminating in a sense of surreal mystery. 

The night opens with violinist Amy Tress talking about the structure of the night’s set list, which was separated into two polar opposite sections. The first, a 30-minute long rendition of Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’, and the second being a selection of hits from 80’s superstar Kate Bush. The audience simply smile and nod with sincere admiration, and it’s only when we’re told that the quartet will be joined by Alice for the latter, that the audience hail and applaud. 

Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Image by Reece Donlan.
Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Image by Reece Donlan.

The first half has the small audience silent with suspense, with the recorded audio blaring through stereo speakers either side of the stage. The quartet play alongside the recording, flawlessly mirroring, and imitating the distinctive noises of once recorded trains along with imitating the sound of recorded speech through unique and specialised strokes. Stephen Upshaw can be seen plucking at his violin pizzicato style part way through, causing the sounds to cut through high above the collective. 

More than 25 minutes of continuous playing go by and the troupe show no sign of stopping. It’s only as the final movement of Reich’s piece ends does the quartet softly come to a tender conclusion. The room pauses for a moment in complete silence before breaking out in applause. Tears can be seen falling from the faces of several, whilst others turn to one another to reflect on what they had just experienced. 

After a short break Amy returns to stage and announces their guest performer, soul and gospel inspired singer Alice Zawadzki. The vibrant deep red of Alice’s dress cuts through the smoke filled room and separates her perfectly from the other four performers wearing traditional black attire with accents of white. Alice doesn’t sit like the others on stage, but rather stands tall behind a pre-positioned music stand, placing her hands faintly upon the top. She softly speaks the words: “Our first song of the night is one Kate wrote at the age of 13…The Man with the Child in His Eyes”, and the quartet begin to play. 

Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Left to Right: Amy, William, Stephen, Stephanie. Image by Reece Donlan.
Solem Quartet and Alice Zawadzki at The White Hotel. Left to Right: Amy, William, Stephen, Stephanie. Image by Reece Donlan.

As a complete contrast to the evening’s first half, which was heavily shaped by pre-recorded audio, Solem Quartet now lead with confidence and allure. Trills and harmonies sail through the air, complementing one another perfectly before landing the ears below. Cellist Stephanie Tress, nods and sways her head along to the melody, occasionally looking up at Alice for lyrical queues, all the while drawing her bow along the strings with grace. 

Various adaptations (courtesy of violinist William Newell) of Kate Bush tracks pass by, separated only by the intermittent converse from singer Alice. These brief talks give background detail to the upcoming song or simply highlight the significance of the song prior, until steadily, the night’s performance serenely comes to a calming end, leaving the musicians to stand one last time to massive applause. 

Solem Quartet + Alice Zawadzki were at The White Hotel, Salford on 27 March as part of Through the Noise 2024. 

Reece Donlan
Written by
Reece Donlan

Reece is a freelance journalist based in Manchester.

View all articles
Leave a reply

Reece Donlan Written by Reece Donlan