How fitting that ASQ should have begun its new Australian tour, Utopias, beneath the giant skeleton of a blue whale and row-upon-row of empty bookshelves, in Hackett Hall, part of WA Museum’s Perth CBD complex whose Noongar name, Boola Bardip, means “many stories”.

Fitting, because the music so eloquently spoke to the venue – and vice versa.

Australian String Quartet, Utopias. Photo supplied

English composer Thomas Adès’ 1994 string quartet Arcadiana, a kind of seven views of paradise, evokes, in the composer’s words, “various vanished or vanishing ‘idylls’, many of them ‘aquatic’.

Inhabited by so many ghostly musical  and extra-musical references and fragments held together by a panoply of novel structures, extended string techniques and rhetorical gestures that are at once oneiric and sublime, Arcadiana also felt like an extemporised riff on the sad history of the bones above.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s fierce String Quartet No.9 in E-flat major Op. 117, from 1964, is as critical of, while longing for, a utopia which, like Arcadia, remains aspirational and unattainable.

Listening to this extraordinary music and knowing the circumstances under which Shostakovich wrote for all of his adult life under an oppressive regime, one could not...