Karin Schaupp interviewed in Brisbane News
Global guitar stars Karin Schaupp and Pavel Steidl create musical connections on their Australian tour
Phil Brown, Brisbane News
Acclaimed Brisbane classical guitarist Karin Schaupp has an entourage with a difference. There are no roadies or hangers-on in this crew – just her mum, Isolde, 11-month-old baby Raphael and, looking a little bemused, the internationally-renowned Czech musician Pavel Steidl.
The day we meet, Karin and Pavel have taken a break from rehearsals for their national Musica Viva Australia tour and have made the short journey from Brisbane’s inner-north, getting a little lost on the way. After receiving directions by mobile, they circle the block and finally arrive. Karin piles out and starts hauling guitars from the family SUV, looking as naturally glamorous as she always manages to look.
Pavel Steidl looks a bit stunned. “Pavel didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he said yes to this tour,” Karin says, laughing.
Instead of a seedy motel or lonely hotel room 51-year-old Pavel is billeted with Karin’s mum. “Mum lives nearby and I arrive every morning with the children for rehearsals,” Karin explains as we settle in for our interview, leaving Isolde in the car with baby Raphael, who is asleep.
“Pavel and I are rehearsing like mad at the moment. Here, look at our fingers.” Karin, 40, presents hers and Pavel dutifully follows suit. So how does he feel being an honorary member of the family now? “It’s nice,” Pavel says. “Karin comes each morning and I can’t believe how quickly she tunes up. Then we play. With her two small children … I don’t know how she does what she does.”
“You’ve got to play when you can … when there is no-one screaming,” Karin says, checking her smartphone to make sure the baby is still asleep. The two musicians seem to have a natural affinity and both have solid international reputations.
Karin has built hers from a base on Brisbane’s northside and still has to put up with negative comments about that when she plays in the southern capitals, she says. Pavel absconded from behind the Iron Curtain as a young musician and built his reputation from Holland, but now that the Cold War is a distant memory he lives back in his native Czech Republic.
Pavel’s career took off when he won the International Guitar Competition of Radio France in 1982. Karin was born in Germany but migrated to Brisbane with her family when she was eight. She is now regarded as one of Australia’s most talented musicians, has recorded widely, performed here and overseas to great acclaim and last year she recorded and performed in a series of concerts with local singer Katie Noonan. Their collaboration was a sensation and they will tour again later this year. For now though, Pavel will be her companion on the road (their tour began in Noosa on February 17 and they will play in Brisbane on March 6) along with mum and baby Raphael. Older sister Alexa, 4, will stay home most of the time with Karin’s husband Giac, a psychologist.
The national tour was designed for Karin, who was invited by Musica Viva to collaborate with someone … anyone, in fact. “I was given this incredible opportunity,” Karin says. “They gave me carte blanche and said ‘Choose someone you would like to do a duo with’. They said ‘If you could choose anyone, who would it be?’.
“I said it had to be Pavel but I didn’t know if he would agree to do it. I think I squealed when they told me he said yes. He’s one of the greatest guitarists in the world.” I look over at Pavel, who might be on the verge of blushing. “You see, it’s better that Karin talks,” he says, obviously chuffed. The two met at the Darwin International Guitar Festival in 2001, having admired each other’s music from afar. It was a pleasant meeting and one that sowed the seeds of their future collaboration.
Now that they are working together, however, there are moments when things get lost in translation. “We have some misunderstandings and think we’re disagreeing at times but then we work out that we are actually agreeing,” Karin says. Pavel shrugs and nods, happy to be working with Karin and to be part of her roadshow.
It’s hard not to get caught up in her enthusiasm. Karin is vivacious, energetic and very down-to-earth. On the one hand she’s a suburban mum grappling with the littlies (although she does get help, she confesses), on the other she’s a worldclass performer blessed with looks and talent to burn. Mind you, when she first arrived in Brisbane she was more a little girl lost, for a while at least. The Schaupp family fell in love with Brisbane while visiting Karin’s aunt Trudy, who had moved here. After a Queensland holiday they decided to emigrate. Karin’s father, Heinrich, who died in 2005, was an ear, nose and throat specialist. He established a practice here and her mother Isolde taught guitar at the University of Queensland.
Karin went to Clayfield College where she was, initially, completely out of her depth. “I suffered from culture shock,” Karin says. “I came home from my first day at school and bawled my eyes out. The fact that I didn’t speak English didn’t help. The thing that helped me through was my music. I had been playing the guitar from the age of five and being able to express myself through music helped me to adapt to the changes.”
She did settle in, however, to the point where she was dux of the school in Grade 12. After school she studied music at the University of Queensland where she graduated with first-class honours. She then did a Master’s degree and was a recipient of a university gold medal for academic excellence. Then she began charting a career that has always delighted audiences and wowed critics.
“Karin Schaupp’s playing is so perfect, so complete, that it seems like a miracle,” wrote one reviewer in the German newspaper Badische Zeitung. One of the reasons she is so popular is that she has made music accessible. The program for the present Musica Viva tour includes classical pieces designed to introduce people to the world of classical guitar … music by Schubert, Granados and Paganini, among others.
She also records with her audience in mind and her 2010 CD Cradle Songs catered to mums and dads. She is now working on a children’s show called Ole, for the Sydney Opera House’s Babies Proms series in August this year. There have been regular collaborations with the ARIA award-winning group Saffire, Slava Grigoryan and others. Karin has also established herself as an actress in recent years. That strand of her performing career began after she approached legendary playwright David Williamson with the idea of doing a cameo in one of his plays.
“That was amazing,” Karin says. “I had taken some acting lessons and really just wanted a small role. I ended up with David writing Lotte’s Gift, a one-woman play for me based on my grandmother Lotte’s unpublished memoirs. She had an incredible voice and was offered a recording contract that would have made her a star in Germany but her husband was against it and then the war intervened so she wasn’t able to follow her dream. I have been able to have the career that she couldn’t have.” The play, Lotte’s Gift, debuted at the Noosa Longweekend, toured nationally and Karin performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. “I have done it around 160 times now,” Karin says.
Not bad for a girl who used to suffer from stage fright. In fact she wrote her Master’s thesis about that and still talks to young musicians on the subject. She hopes to write a book about it, if she ever gets the time. Time is of the essence, particularly now, on a busy tour, with two littlies in the wings. Karin suddenly looks perplexed, remembering the baby asleep in the car, watched over by her mum.
She checks her phone. “Eight missed calls,” she says. “I guess that means the baby is screaming.” She dials mum, lapses into German and ascertains all is now well. We wander out to the photographic studio and the musicians grab their guitars. Pavel still seems bemused. This is not your usual tour but he’s enjoying being part of the Karin Schaupp entourage. “It’s nice,” he says, and we think he really means it.