Poetry Meets Music: Counterpoint

Counterpoint Sqaure

This exploration of the space between poetry and music, marshalled by the Red Room Company and Musica Viva,  has been kept as free and open-ended as possible, with just one boundary: it must result in a public showing and a printed publication.

We have taken a fresh look at ways in which music can reflect upon, respond to and benefit from, poetic collaboration. In chamber music, musicians take responsibility for their own contribution while responding intimately and immediately to those around them. Here the paradigm is transformed into a tableau of live and recorded music, and live and recorded words. Composers are architects of sound, so it was Melody Eötvös’ task to draw together the work of the individual poets and create a synthesis through the performance of master percussionist, Claire Edwardes.

Although composers are popularly considered to work alone in ivory towers, composition is more commonly a collaborative process. Performers and composers take ideas and inspiration from each other, as well as the occasional very practical pieces of advice. Claire Edwardes’ impressive performance flair, combined with her remarkable preparedness to step into the unknown, was a vital part of this exercise. Counterpoint was a leap of faith for all the artists, and I thank them for their courage and willingness to look beyond the natural fences of their own artform to see what strange invention might lie on the other side, waiting to be discovered.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

Poetry Meets Music: Counterpoint, Sunday November 2 at 2pm, Giant Dwarf Theatre (199 Cleveland Street, Redfern, 2016). For more information on Counterpoint, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/counterpoint

On The Vine – November 2014 – Ray Chen with Timothy Young

MVA ICS 2014 Ray Chen

The first time I heard Ray Chen play violin live was at the Huntington Estate Music Festival in 2010, where he brought the house down more than once, including an impossibly assured performance of Ysaÿe’s fiendishly difficult Sonata for Two Violins alongside Dene Olding. He also treated us to a stellar version of Bach’s Chaconne (from Partita no 2), Chausson’s “Concert” (accompanied by piano quintet) and Schubert’s luscious Rondo for Violin and Strings with the Chamber Orchestra of the Australian National Academy of Music. He played quite a lot of other music as well, but I now find it hard to believe that he was able to present so much incredible repertoire in just four days!

Since then Ray has become a true global phenomenon, having given major performances alongside the great artists of the world in concert halls at every corner of it. It is a great thrill to have him undertaking his first Australian concert tour with Musica Viva this month, culminating in his long anticipated return to the Huntington Festival, once again in the company of the ANAM Chamber Orchestra.

I endorse Bartók’s proposition that competitions are better suited to horses than artists, but it might have taken the world a lot longer to discover Ray Chen’s prodigious talent if he hadn’t won both the Yehudi Menuhin (2008) and Queen Elisabeth (2009) Competitions by the age of 20. The first of these musical races also put him in touch with one particular jury member, the incredible violin virtuoso, and Ray’s childhood idol, Maxim Vengerov. Although Ray would certainly have risen to prominence sooner or later, Vengerov’s support and mentorship helped ensure that this happened a lot sooner than later.

The program for Ray’s November concert tour closes with archetypal pyrotechnics in a set of showpieces by Sarasate, including the iconic Zigeunerweisen. These grow from a decidedly serious ground, however, being preceded by Bach’s incredible E major Partita for unaccompanied violin. The first half of the program helps display other sides of Ray’s musical personality, moving from the classical elegance of Mozart’s A major Sonata (K305 ) to Prokofiev’s alternately beautiful, haunting and sparkling second Violin Sonata.

Ray’s first commercial CD was recorded in Australia, accompanied by outstanding Melbourne pianist Timothy Young. In a town that seems to have an inexhaustible supply of excellent pianists, Timothy stands out for the breadth of his expertise and his impressive combination of virtuosity and sensitivity. This concert tour unites the two for the first time since that recording.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

For more information on Ray Chen with Timothy Young, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/chen

Shostakovich’s String Quartet no 8


One of the first works ever discussed in one of my first ever university music lectures was Shostakovich’s String Quartet no 8. It had never occurred to me before then that someone could have a musical signature. (I don’t want to go into German note names here, so for the uninitiated I’ll just say that this particular system of naming notes allows Shostakovich to create a musical motif which spells out his initials.) Though the meaning is sometimes debated, the work is dedicated to the “victims of fascism and war,” and already there in that lecture theatre the emotion and power of this work grabbed me.

A couple of years later I was given the opportunity to perform this work, in its chamber orchestra arrangement by Rudolf Barshai. The director of this ensemble pushed me to work harder than I’d ever worked before; the rehearsal process, in which our director demanded the highest technical standard and emotional commitment, was one of the most rewarding yet draining musical experiences of my young life.

It was through performing Shostakovich that I realised how rewarding playing inner voices can be. In my opinion Shostakovich is one of those composers who writes really great second violin parts – technically challenging, harmonically interesting, with little moments here and there to come to the fore. When I was later given the opportunity to perform this same work as a member of the first violins, I missed the gritty, grounded feeling and harmonic richness of the second violin part. (I once heard an excellent orchestral violinist, who’d been asked to play first violin in a quartet, describe herself as a career second violinist. Finally, I could relate to that sentiment.)

The Borodin Quartet is known for having worked with Shostakovich on all of his quartets. The Quartet still possesses scores with notes from those early rehearsals with the composer, and as members have changed, the old wisdom has been passed down. Though the Quartet admits their interpretations do not remain stagnant, how fascinating to get a little glimpse into how the composer may have envisaged one of my favourite works of chamber music.

Daina Kains
Operations Coordinator

On the Vine – October 2014 – 2015 International Concert Season

I was recently asked to try to describe our 2015 International Concert Season to someone who knew little or nothing about Musica Viva. Here is my attempt:

Musica Viva’s founder, Richard Goldner, an inventor and viola player, fled Austria for Australia in 1939 in the wake of Hitler’s invasion of Vienna. Distressed to discover chamber music was non-existent in Sydney, he formed a performing ensemble in honour of his teacher who had perished in a Nazi concentration camp. The first concert was presented in Sydney on 8th December 1945.

Over the years Musica Viva evolved into a concert presenter, focussed on importing the world’s finest chamber musicians. It is now the world’s largest entrepreneur of chamber music.

Our 2015 season starts with a great jolt of invention with the Canadian period chamber orchestra Tafelmusik, and their new staged multimedia extravaganza, House of Dreams. As a special birthday treat we’ve saved up our most popular performers of the past decade: Steven Isserlis and Paul Lewis from Britain, the Modigliani Quartet from France, and the Eggner Trio from Austria. Sydney’s own Goldner Quartet has a special national concert tour to mark its own anniversary of 20 years. Just one group appears for us for the very first time – the brilliant UK vocal ensemble I Fagiolini.

The season comprises seven ensembles that tour the whole country, presenting two concerts each in Sydney and Melbourne. It is constructed around the chamber music pillars of two string quartets plus one piano trio. To those I add a recitalist (or two as is the case in 2015), a larger or outside-the-square event (Tafelmusik) and some sort of vocal component (I Fagiolini). Each tour must contain repertoire of the highest quality representing contrasting musical styles or periods, and they are spaced throughout the year to maximise contrast.

No special education or experience is needed to enjoy chamber music. Some of our most dedicated patrons are folk who have discovered it by accident, and been captivated by the extraordinary beauty of witnessing at first hand the intimate musical interaction of virtuosi playing the music that they most adore. Nothing is needed but good ears and an open mind.

Beethoven was often employed by the aristocracy, but his music became famous through outdoor “promenade” concerts for the general public. There is nothing innately highbrow about classical music – it is simply fine music best enjoyed while giving it your undivided attention.

Musica Viva has a national education program that reaches more than 270,000 students each year, plus hundreds of outreach events including Masterclasses for young musicians and training events, concerts in regional centres, festivals and other presentations. This is all part of Musica Viva’s broader philanthropic purpose as a not-for-profit organisation – we do whatever we can to improve the quality and appreciation of music in Australia. The idea is simple enough: music makes the world a better place.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

For more information on Musica Viva’s 2015 International Concert Season, the Musica Viva Festival, and the 70th Anniversary, please visit;www.musicaviva.com.au/2015

What I’m looking forward to in Musica Viva’s 2015 season

Maxim VengerovWhat am I looking forward to in Musica Viva’s 2015 season? In these kinds of articles one is generally discouraged from saying “everything,” which makes my life difficult, as I’m genuinely looking forward to all that next year has to offer.

If I am to choose some highlights, then I cannot help but start with our 70th anniversary gala program featuring violinist Maxim Vengerov. To me the program reads like a roll-call of violinists’ favourite works, but here’s the catch – I’ve heard very few of these works performed live at the highest level. Bach and Kreisler are staples of the student violinist repertoire, and such glorious fun to play, so how much more exciting to hear them performed by a real live professional!

In our International Concert Season Tafelmusik promises a special start to the year, with their beautifully programmed and presented House of Dreams. Having heard them on two previous occasions I also can’t wait to welcome back the Eggner Trio, who always look so joyful on stage, and are impeccably charming off it. Speaking of charm, I distinctly remember the Modigliani Quartet’s stylish and elegant performance of the Debussy Quartet on their last tour, so it will be interesting to see what they bring to Westlake’s String Quartet no 2 on this tour. And we can’t go past string quartets without mentioning the Goldner Quartet, whose playing I have long admired, celebrating their 20th anniversary next year, performing a new work by Paul Stanhope no less!

In the Musica Viva Festival the obvious drawcard for many will be cellist Mischa Maisky; and I’m certainly looking forward to hearing him perform some of the Bach Cello Suites. But I’m also eager to hear Alexandar Madžar again, having delighted in his playing, and his company, at the 2012 Huntington Estate Music Festival. And there are plenty of performers I’m looking forward to hearing for the first time, including Bella Hristova, Nicolas Altstaedt, and the Doric String Quartet.

These are just some of the things I’m looking forward to, but no doubt there will be many new discoveries along the way. I think we can safely say 2015 will be a happy birthday for Musica Viva.

Daina Kains
Operations Coordinator

Subscription packages for Musica Viva’s 2015 International Concert Season and Musica Viva Festival are on sale now. Subscribe today at; www.musicaviva.com.au/2015

 

An Interview with the Borodin Quartet

MVA ICS 2014 Borodin SQBeethoven and Shostakovich form the core repertoire for the Borodin Quartet’s Australian tour.

“We absolutely love these two composers, deeply and constantly,” says violist Igor Naidin.  “They are geniuses. You can play them all your life, and you’ll always find something new, something interesting, something unreachable. You can never play them too often.”

The group has recorded complete cycles of both composers’ string quartets – Beethoven in 2000, and Shostakovich in earlier incarnations of the 69-year-old Borodin Quartet’s line-up.

Though fourteen years have passed since the quartet recorded Beethoven, says Igor, the passage of time has not significantly changed the way the players view the music.

“Of course each of us, every time, approaches the masterpieces in a different way. As time passes we become different, and more wise, I hope. But as long as the generation of the quartet is the same, there will be no major different approach in the way we perform this or that Beethoven quartet. Of course the membership changes, but each newcomer is first trained in the reading of the pieces by previous and current members of the group.”

Naidin and his colleagues do not wait with baited breath for new academic discoveries which might shed light on Beethoven’s music.

“Of course we have his letters, and some information from those who first performed this quartet. But overall we feel that it’s a matter of the way we read the piece.  I’m not talking about interpretation, in any official sense. It’s more about perusal, about the way that when you read a book, you have an impression.”

Paradoxically, the Borodin Quartet is a little too young to have actually premiered Shostakovich’s string quartets – that honour generally went to the Beethoven Quartet – but the group’s members did know and play for the composer.

“He was a man of great humour and sarcasm; he was able to be joyful and funny. He didn’t dedicate anything to us, but I think nobody has played his music more in the world than the Borodin Quartet.

“His Quartet No. 11 is overall a very unusual piece, not very well-known, but very special.  It is very difficult and complicated, with seven movements non-stop. Also it’s rather gloomy, because it’s one of his latest works, and there’s really no joy.”

The 2014 tour will be the first time that the Borodins have performed Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet since 2006.

“It’s definitely one of his most famous quartets,” says Naidin.  “It’s not only in memory of the victims of Fascism, but is also in a way Shostakovich’s own memorial. He was not an old man when he wrote it, but in letters of the time he said that it was a piece in which he mourned for himself, because of his situation. It will definitely be the highlight of that programme.”

Borodin SQ

A further highlight, Naidin says, will be Tchaikovsky’s second string quartet.

“There is some similarity between Shostakovich’s 8th and Tchaikovsky’s second string quartet. I could compare them in terms of power and emotion.

“Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 2 is something like Beethoven’s fifth symphony. It’s very powerful, and clearly understandable for a wide range of listeners.  While his first string quartet is very pastoral in mood, and his third is rather mournful and funereal, No. 2 is a combination of everything.  It’s an absolute fairy-tale. It’s very emotional, full of variety, and very sophisticated at the same time – it’s totally contemporary music.

“And actually, it’s not that easy to perform. After you have played it, you are completely emotionally exhausted. It’s not a piece you can play every day. You can’t live through those emotions on a daily basis.

“We just hope that the audience in Australia will experience a profound impact when they hear this piece.”

Like Tchaikovsky, Schubert had more than his share of antagonistic critics during his lifetime. The violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, leader of the Razumovsky Quartet, told Schubert that his “Death and the Maiden” quartet was worthless, and that he would be better off confining himself to Lieder.

“Schuppanzigh told him, ‘You know, this is no good!’ – despite that fact that he was a close friend,” says Naidin, “despite the fact that the piece is fantastically famous these days.”

The Borodin Quartet’s first violinist, Ruben Aharonian, says Naidin, is a great Lieder enthusiast and record collector; he brings his passion to the way the players view Schubert’s quartet, which has at its core his own famous setting of Matthias Claudius’ famous poem.

“Particularly in the second movement, it goes without saying that we have the singing nature of the melodic line in mind.  The piece has inspired many people, and it requires total control when performing.  We enjoy it immensely!”

Interview by Shirley Apthorp

The Borodin Quartet tour Australia 22 September – 14 October. For more information on the Borodin Quartet, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/borodin

On the Vine – September 2014 – Borodin Quartet

Borodin SQThe Borodin Quartet was founded in the same year as Musica Viva, 1945, and shares the same ideals of preserving the finest musical tradition while constantly renewing itself. Although its first cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, lasted only a few weeks, the principle of longevity was clearly established by his successor, Valentin Berlinsky, who remained the group’s cellist for the next 62 years. The current cellist, Vladimir Balshin, was Valentin’s star pupil.

The group’s members obviously have great affinity for their fellow Russian composers, and music by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky figures prominently in the tour program. The group famously collaborated with Shostakovich on each of his quartets, but never finished up giving a premiere performance or receiving a dedication from the great composer. The Eighth Quartet is particularly poignant for the players, as it not only honours the victims of Fascism, but is also the composer’s reflection on his own situation under oppressive rule. The Eleventh Quartet, not nearly as well known, is set in seven continuous movements – a complex work exploring the absence of joy.

Tchaikovsky’s Second Quartet is a powerful, wide-ranging and immediately appealing work that provides a fine conclusion to the first program. The second program closes with Schubert’s famous quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ – one of the monumental mainstays of the chamber music canon.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

The Borodin Quartet tour Australia 22 September – 14 October. For more information on the Borodin Quartet, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/borodin

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