Musica Viva Festival – Q&A with Carl Vine, Artistic Director

Carl Vine

Carl Vine

So you are given the job of curating a chamber music festival. Four days, seven concerts, 22 artists – where do you start and how on earth do you choose what to include?
The festival is predicated on the relationship with the Australian Youth Orchestra’s Chamber Players Program and so needs a number of very high profile international artists to satisfy that need with the chamber players. For the sake of the festival concerts we need top level performers but we also need at least two string quartets, possibly a piano trio and then a mixture of other instrumentalists so that’s what you need to fill up seven concerts with music.

Then we look at who we can get – who are the most interesting and wonderful soloists that we can find – and Lambert Orkis came onto the radar and for an older generation, really established and wonderful chamber musician, you really can’t do much better. So we asked him what he would like to play and he gave us a list and that started to form the repertoire for the whole festival.

At the same time, we were looking for a director for the Chamber Players Program and that involved collaborating with the Australian Youth Orchestra because it is their program. We finished up with Pieter Wispelwey who is a fantastic soloist but also a great educator and communicator.

How will this festival differ in character to the 2011 festival?
It’s the players which really differentiate the festival. We present French Horn very rarely and Hector is a great horn player who doesn’t come to Australia very often. His involvement allows us to do the horn quintets and the Brahms horn trio which is a classic which we haven’t done for ages and, in fact, Hector last did it on tour for Musica Viva fourteen years ago.

Some of these artists will never have performed together before. How important is it that collaborators know each other before playing together?
It depends on the repertoire. With string quartet repertoire for instance it is vital that people have played it before, a lot. The works are so intricate and we have such high expectations of the performance. For things like piano quartets and mixed ensemble work, there isn’t such a fixed notion of how they need to go. The larger the ensemble, the more atypical the ensemble, the less important it is. But the vital thing always then is how good the individuals are at working in a team. That is the mark of great chamber players and it is the mark of your Lambert Orkis’ and your Pieter Wispelweys, that they can be thrown into any number of situations and work with others. And it’s the mark of the young Ben Beilman.

There are many rising stars on the international classical music scene- what is it about young Benjamin Beilman that makes him stand out?
Ben Beilman came to us through a group called Young Concert Artists in New York which is associated with the Lincoln Centre’s chamber series. We actually found Ben as one of their performers and looked at a number of his YouTube clips. These clips were made when he was nineteen and he just came across as a wonderful violinist. Then I was in London briefly last year and I went to see Ben playing at Wigmore Hall and he was every bit as wonderful as I expected, in fact he was more wonderful than I expected. Chatting to him afterwards, he was just such an unassuming and humble fellow, just great to meet.

And a little about you: You played trumpet until you fell out of a tree and took up piano and later the organ. Do you still play?
I stopped playing organ because I lost access to the organ when I left school. You can buy an electric one but it’s not the same. I stopped playing piano professionally in 1989 and I don’t really play anymore. I play a bit as I compose, I have to make sure it fits under the fingers, but otherwise I don’t play.

Do you miss it?
No. I thought I would, but I don’t. It’s very hard, and it’s very hard to keep it up. The reason I gave it up was because I would have a period of intense playing and then intense writing and then I would go back to intense playing again. I would discover that I was getting tension headaches and an actual hump in my shoulders from tension. I thought I just shouldn’t keep doing this.

How did you make the move from playing to composing?
I didn’t. It was at the age of ten when I took up the piano that I discovered what two musical lines were and that really excited me. I realised how composition worked. So I decided about the age of ten or twelve that I would be a pianist-composer. I played trumpet from the age of four and a half so I could read music before I could read English. It was always completely natural.

You can play, compose, conduct, debate and have some understanding of physics – what are you terrible at that you wish you were good at?
It would be useful if I was a better cook. I am an adequate cook. It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t have the fixation on the detail to do good dishes.

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About Musica Viva Australia

Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

One response to “Musica Viva Festival – Q&A with Carl Vine, Artistic Director”

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