On The Vine – March 2015

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Welcome to Musica Viva Festival 2015, a concentrated explosion of music performance, learning, exploration and enjoyment that overtakes the Sydney Conservatorium of Music the week after Easter. Chamber music is a most incredible human endeavour, and its full spectrum being compressed into a few short days is an essential encounter for both the aficionado and the novice.

Our collaboration with the Australian Youth Orchestra and its remarkable Chamber Players Program once again brings exceptional young Australian musicians into the spotlight and under the microscope. Directed this year by renowned German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, the Chamber Players spend a week learning from international masters imported to perform in the festival, and display their achievements in a series of concerts spread through the festival. Alumni of past AYO Programs, the Orava Quartet, perform for the first time in this year’s main concert events.

The Sydney Con provides the perfect location for this tightly packed series of events, and the Con’s staff contributes a special Showcase Concert on Saturday afternoon directed by Associate Professor of Music Dr John Lynch.

Internationally acclaimed cellist Mischa Maisky heads the register of wonderful musicians performing in the festival. It is a great thrill to welcome back some of the greatest artists who have appeared recently for Musica Viva – Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madžar, Armenian clarinettist Narek Arutyunian, the Doric String Quartet from the UK and the Pavel Haas Quartet from the Czech Republic. Brilliant young Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova, winner of the 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 2007 Michael Hill International Violin Competition, makes her Australian concert debut. Outstanding Brisbane guitarist Karin Schaupp and accomplished Melbourne pianist Daniel de Borah round out the masterful cast of the main festival concerts, alongside their Sydney colleagues Kees Boersma, Umberto Clerici and Timothy Constable.

The 2015 festival features not only great masterworks of the classical canon, but also the world premiere of two works by Australian composers. Lachlan Skipworth’s first Piano Trio, and Natalie Williams’ Saudade octet will be performed for the very first time by some of the world’s finest musicians. Chamber music is not only alive and well; it is thriving and evolving before your very eyes at the Musica Viva Festival.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

The 2015 Musica Viva Festival takes place April 9-12 at the Conservatorium of Music, Sydney. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit: www.musicavivafestival.com.au

On The Vine – January 2015


Welcome to Musica Viva’s 70th birthday!

Three years ago the outstanding Canadian chamber orchestra, Tafelmusik, performed The Galileo Project around Australia for Musica Viva. It was not widely known then that, just before arriving here, the orchestra had premiered its brand new multimedia project, House of Dreams. These two shows are such remarkable achievements in musical stagecraft that we wasted no time in ensuring that the new production would be back in Australia to help us launch our special birthday year.

Instead of looking outward to the stars like its predecessor, House of Dreams looks inward to the junction of Baroque music and art, by visiting historic homes where compositions by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Marais are heard against a backdrop of paintings by their visual art contemporaries, Vermeer, Canaletto and Watteau. This magical journey through five historic European houses is illustrated by glorious images of the paintings and their locations, and narrated by Canadian actor Blair Williams. Like Galileo before it, House of Dreams was devised by the group’s double-bass player Alison Mackay, and delves into the philosophy, society and sensibility that gave life to the music of the time.

Tafelmusik was formed 36 years ago, and for 33 of those years has been directed by violinist and leader Jeanne Lamon. In 2014 Jeanne stepped down as Music Director, but still continues as Chief Artistic Advisor, and will perform with the orchestra on this tour. As Jeanne says, “It is quite likely…that this will be my last tour with Tafelmusik to Australia. I hope it won’t be, because it’s just about my favourite place on earth!”

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

Tafelmusik’s ‘House of Dreams’ will tour Australia 19 February – 14 March 2015. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/tafelmusik

An Interview with Tafelmusik


Philippe’s home was a cultivated place. The west wing of the Palais Royale held his art collection, the best in Europe of its kind. The east wing held the theatre of the Paris Opera.   The Duc D’Orleans had his own box, and could slip directly from his living quarters into the opera.  For his wedding anniversary, Marin Marais wrote the opera “Alcyone”, based on a tale from Ovid’s “Metamorphosis”.

At around the same time, the Duke published a three-volume set of etchings in a limited edition.  It was the 18th-century version of a coffee-table book, enabling the well-heeled to page through facsimiles of the west wing paintings – many of which were also based on Ovid’s stories.

Fast forward three centuries. Some of the Duke’s books have made their way to the rare books room of the Royal Ontario Museum, where double-bass player Alison Mackay can page through them.

“The Palais Royale has really changed since then,” says Mackay. “Inside, it is nothing like it was in the 17th century. But technology allows us to take pictures of the rooms that the music would have been performed in, and acquire the rights to the images of the paintings from museums, and put the paintings and the music back into the rooms together.”

This is the essence of “House of Dreams”, Toronto-based chamber orchestra Tafelmusik’s new multi-media performance. Five countries, five homes, five historic art collections, five places where music was once performed, and five selections of pieces which could once have been played there.  Through the ensemble’s dramatic alchemy of photographs, videos, projection, lighting, choreography and programming, audiences around the world can travel through time and space to experience a truly baroque marriage of music and image.

“It’s a very un-Baroque thing to do,” admits Mackay. “We’ve memorised the entire programme, and to do that we had to rehearse for weeks.  Musicians in the baroque sometimes didn’t rehearse at all.”

For the Bach family’s Leipzig concerts in the neighbouring Bose house, much of the music would have been sight-read.  The living-room of Handel’s house in London was the venue for the first read-through of his opera “Alcina”, a mere five days before the premiere.

“We’re not trying to be authentic in every aspect of what we do,” Mackay says. “We’re trying to be authentic in the sense of bringing the music to life in a way that was true to the composer’s musical intentions. I think authenticity is just a tool for getting at the heart of the music. It’s not an end in itself. We don’t resist change. We embrace the new, but only as it serves our goal of communicating this wonderful music in the most honest way we can to the largest number of people possible.”

The “House of Dreams” project is the second time Tafelmusik has made the unlikely leap from conventional concert to a fully-choreographed, dramatised performance.  The first, their “Galileo Project”, saw them reach for the stars with a memorised account of music linked to baroque astronomy.

“We thought it would be almost impossible to memorise all that music,” Mackay recalls.  “Then, having done it, we discovered that there were a lot of wonderful benefits – that we enjoyed it, that we had better contact with each other and the audience, that we could move around.

“We now see music stands as an enormous physical barrier.  Without the music, we can simply look at each other and be wherever we need to be for each piece.  It gives us so many more options.  And because we have memorised the music, we know it much better than we usually would.”

Tafelmusik has performed its Galileo programme more than sixty times around the world – far more often than any other programme the ensemble had assembled before then.

It also took them Down Under for the first time ever.

“I think it was our favourite tour EVER,” says the ensemble’s musical director, Jeanne Lamon.  “We loved everything about it.  All we’ve been able to think about since then was how to get invited back.”

The task of putting together “House of Dreams” took members of Tafelmusik and their associates on a new series of journeys, both virtual and physical.

“I don’t think these projects could have happened without the internet,” says Mackay.  “The internet makes it possible to very quickly find the world authority on any topic, and to get in touch with them.”

In the case of the Handel house collection, only discovered when an auction catalogue came to light in the mid-1980s, this meant finding the man who had written the leading journal article on the topic and asking for his help.  In Delft, the house which was once home to 20 of Vermeer’s paintings, as well as to a collection of instruments, is now a pancake restaurant.

“Yes,” admits Mackay. “We did eat pancakes there.”

More significantly, she and the ensemble have been able to develop solid relationships with the managing bodies of each of the five houses, some of which are now museums. Some are to become partners for future projects.

“I think the most important thing in our minds is always to play great music, especially when we are memorising it. It has to stand up to the fact that we will live with it for hundreds of hours.”

Both memorised programmes, says Lamon, have brought huge rewards for the effort.

“The challenge has made us grow enormously, and breathed new life into Tafelmusik.”

Interview by Shirley Apthorp

Tafelmusik’s ‘House of Dreams’ will tour Australia 19 February – 14 March 2015. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/tafelmusik

On The Vine – December 2014

TafelmusikEven before Ray Chen’s national concert tour with Timothy Young had ended, the Musica Viva Operations and Artistic teams headed off to Mudgee to ramp up the 2014 Huntington Estate Music Festival that was, I have to confess, bigger and better than ever. It began with a rejuvenated festival Prelude on the weekend before the festival proper, featuring the Amaryllis and Goldner Quartets, amazing coloratura soprano Emma Matthews, brilliant pianists Joyce Yang and Bernadette Harvey, and a fantastic new find in New Zealand harpist Ingrid Bauer.

The Chamber Orchestra of the Australian National Academy of Music, directed by Howard Penny, joined us on Wednesday for the start of the full festival, along with Ray and Timothy plus a throng of other marvellous musicians to perform 730 minutes of music to more than 500 patrons over 8 action-packed concerts. This year’s program included an unusually high proportion of new repertoire, including world premiere performances of string quartets by Australian composers Philip Jameson and Paul Stanhope. Paul’s new third quartet can be heard again in April and May when the Goldner Quartet tour our capital cities to celebrate their 20th anniversary as one of Australia’s premier chamber groups.

While the rest of the country winds down for the Christmas break, Musica Viva is becoming increasingly busy planning the start of its 2015 International Concert Season. Our first focus is on the Canadian baroque chamber orchestra Tafelmusik, touring its incredible House of Dreams program around Australia in February and March.

This stunning exploration of music, art and drama was created by the group’s bass-player, Alison Mackay, who was also responsible for The Galileo Project presented for us by the orchestra back in 2012. The new show steps into the world of Bach and Vivaldi by examining in detail five historic European houses, and the works of art hung on their walls. Accompanied by images from London, Paris, Delft, Leipzig and Venice, House of Dreams takes the audience on an enchanted vision of the past accompanied by breathtaking music, words and images.

If you don’t subscribe to the full Musica Viva concert season, make sure that you don’t miss this singular opportunity to witness at first hand one of the great concert experiences of the decade.

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

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


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