Artists in iso: Francesca Hiew, Australian String Quartet

The Australian String Quartet's second violinist says she's never enjoyed practicing more.

Francesca Hiew, second violin with the Australian String Quartet, began to learn her instrument aged four, at the Stoliarsky School of Music in Brisbane. At the age of nine she travelled as a soloist and orchestral member to the USA and went on to complete a Bachelor of Music at the Queensland Conservatorium before continuing her studies at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). At both institutions Hiew won every chamber music competition available twice, all with different ensembles.

In 2012 she completed an ANAM Fellowship focussing on chamber music for various string ensembles. The same year she co-founded the Auric Quartet – who have since been selected as finalists for the Asia-Pacific Chamber Music Competition and Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition.

Hiew has performed as a soloist with the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and as part of a solo quartet with Orchestra Victoria in the Australian Ballet’s production of Brett Dean’s Fire Music. After winning a full-time position in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2014, Hiew joined the Australian String Quartet in 2016.   

How has COVID-19 affected your arts practice – your day-to-day rehearsing and performing?

Daily life before this was never regular, in fact, I have cancelled about a dozen flights in this time I’ve now spent at home. So, I’m thankful to be home really and have the time to stop and recalibrate.

My childhood teacher will rejoice in hearing that I’ve never enjoyed practicing more! I’ve really relished practicing for the sake of furthering myself, rather than preparing for a concert, and that’s a very different challenge. I know a lot of my peers have really struggled with this very thing but it’s strangely been a nice time of discovery for me. Also, I’m a bit obsessive with experimenting with the set up on my violin so that’s been changing every couple of days – and giving me minor temporary neck injuries…

Were you personally impacted by cancellations / loss of income?

Well, like most (all?) arts organisations, we’ve had to completely restructure our year. We’ve cancelled or postponed a lot of concerts and collaborations we were very much looking forward to.

That said, it’s made us have to look at our organisation from a different angle and explore what else we can contribute to the world without physically touring and performing, which is pretty crazy because it is a monumental part of what we do. Fortunately, we have a lot of creative thinkers behind the scenes at ASQ and in many ways it’s been exciting to think outside the box and dream.

What about real-life changes – your home situation, wellness, frustrations? What are you doing differently / how are you personally coping?

I think it’s important to try to see the silver linings when things aren’t going your way. During these times, I’m extremely thankful that I’m still employed for one thing so I’m trying to use the time to invest in myself in being a stronger asset for the ASQ.

‘Work’ has definitely changed a bit. I’ve been trying to make myself useful to our amazing management team and turning my hand to a bit of admin work. I’ve never felt more thankful for everything they do!

Besides that, I’m quite good at keeping myself busy and despite all the travel I normally do, I actually love being at home and everything associated with a sense of home. I’m truthfully pretty bummy so wearing trackies, big jumpers and ugg boots every day has been absolute heaven! Not having to decide what to wear each day has been so liberating. It sounds silly, but so does the idea of ever wearing high heels again…

Have you found opportunities in the crisis – perhaps new collaborations, commissions, projects that have specifically arisen out of COVID-19?

ASQ has just launched a new project called ASQ Encore that will see us commissioning up to 10 Australian composers to write encores for us to record and perform towards the end of the year. We wanted to support as many artists as possible during what is probably a dry patch for most people. It’s already had a lot of support and I’m very excited about what great music we’ll get out of it!

Besides that, we have a bunch of new Australian Anthology works that we are releasing, along with in-depth interviews with the composers that we have been doing via Zoom. We also have a few recordings in post-production at the moment and now that everyone has the time, we’ve been reviewing these for future release. We’re also working on something pretty exciting that I can’t talk about yet – so watch this space!

What have you become obsessed with during lockdown?

Cooking and baking all sorts of things – bread, bagels, English muffins, pies… I’ve always been into cooking but this has definitely taken things to the next level.

Besides that, I’m past halfway knitting my very first jumper so I’m pretty chuffed I’ve finally advanced beyond scarves. So to answer your question, yes, I’m a total iso stereotype!

What is the first thing you want to do post-Covid?

Visit my parents in Brisbane and play chamber music with friends. Now more than ever, I’m so appreciative of what I get to do for a living. Before, it was easy to feel like my contribution to the world was very limited but seeing how people have turned to the arts in times like these has truly been life-affirming. It’s what makes us human and I’m glad to be a very small part of it.


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Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts