Musical Musings – Sitkovetsky Trio
The award-winning Sitkovetsky Trio is conquering the globe with its unusual blend of dazzling virtuosity and heartfelt, thoughtful artistry. Their delight in playing together reaches out across the footlights to touch audiences in music by Smetana, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and a new work by Carl Vine.
We sat down with Qian, Sasha, and Leonard to discuss their upcoming our for Musica Viva Australia.
Tell us how this tour came about.
Qian: because we have colleagues who have been on Musica Viva tour’s previously, we heard about how great this is, and we were just very thrilled when our manager got us this possibility. As a trio it’s our first tour.
How do the three of you divide your time between your solo work and your ensemble work.
Q: We all live in London, so we are not like other chamber groups or quartets that just say, oh, for these two months we are going to play and rehearse. It’s harder for us to say exactly how much time we spend specifically just for the trio, because we also are all very good friends since we were 12, 13 years old from school.
It sounds as if you have a sense of family together.
Q: Well, yeah, we’ve known each other for 16 years now.
What made you decide to become a trio?
Q: It was funny. It was 6 years ago. There was a completely different project that brought us together. We were chosen to do something, but the project didn’t work out, that was the first time the three of us had played together in this combination the audience reaction was always very good, so then we thought, well, maybe we should stick together and actually give it a go seriously. And that’s how it all started.
Qian, tell me about the other two players.
Q: Of course they both are wonderful. I think for me both Sasha and Leonard are extremely talented musical players. They are both always looking for colours and warmth. They’re all great, in every way, but if I had to pick it’s probably the passion, the warmth and the colour in their playing.
Can you tell me from your point of view what made you decide to invest in becoming a trio?
Sasha: It wasn’t really something that we had planned in advance. But there was this kind of circumstance, and it brought us together to play something, and we just honestly really enjoyed it and then we started looking for more concerts and more things to do, and then we entered a competition in Germany that was our kind of first big thing, and we did very well in that, we got first prize there, and things just went from there, and here we are, six years later.
How do you pick your repertoire?
S: Together. We always talk about things together, very often one of us will come and say, listen, I heard this piece, I really love it – can we learn it? Any decision we make, we always make together. That is, I think, the right way, and we are very democratic in that way.
What does it give you as a player to be involved in a project where music is a means for social development?
Leonard: I don’t see it primarily as a means for social development. I see it as a moment in time where music is breaking into new parts of the world, and new parts of society. It’s more about allowing people who have such a love and desire for music to experience that and to live that. Because we spent a lot of time in the so-called developed world going to schools and playing to kids before concerts especially to get young people to appreciate music. And then you come to a place where there’s no money and there’s no classical background and there are no music schools and there are no orchestras and there’s no cultural subsidy.
Tell me about the repertoire choices.
S: We did want to have at least one work with us that we are releasing on our first disc. It will hopefully be out in time for the tour. In this case it’s the Smetana – on the disc it’s Smetana, Dvorak and also a small piece by Suk, but the Dvorak had been played there recently. It so happens that the Smetana was one of the first pieces that we played, and it’s one that’s not played very much. And we discovered it through playing it together and felt that it suits us and we enjoy playing it; it’s one that we agree on very much, so it’s easy for us The Smetana and then also the Dvorak which became one of our main pieces in the last 2 years.
Q: And we also have this Carl Vine piece, which is celebrating his 60th birthday, so that’ll be quite interesting to learn.
Is that the first piece that has been written for you?
S: Well we had a small piece written for us some years ago, but this will be the first by a really important composer and important organization – this is our first big commission.
Have you encountered Carl Vine’s music before?
Q: I know some of his piano works, because they are very popular, and a lot of pianists play them, so I’ve heard a lot of piano solo works.
S: I knew of Vine more as a piano composer, but when they asked us when we would accept a commission – of course we would, but then I got more interested in listening to more of his things, like his piano concerto, and some orchestral pieces, and got to know his music a little better.
And then you’ve got the Archduke and Tchaikovsky.
Q: Yes. The Tchiakovsky also has a lot to do for the strings – different variations – requires different instruments – but it’s a huge piece, yes. I think we felt Tchaikovsky is a piece where it can also show individually the craftsmanship and as a musician and an instrumentalists
S: I think both pieces are very well-known. They are both very different, but they are both the absolute peak of the repertoire. I honestly cannot imagine two better pieces of music, for very different reasons
I wanted to ask all three of you about the fact that as a trio it’s unusual to have all three members having begun their careers so young. There was a strong piece by Mitsuku Ushida in the papers recently complaining about young people being pushed too hard, too soon, and I wanted to ask all three of you if you see that as an asset, if there were challenges involved?
L: Sasha was only eight when he joined (Yehudi Menhuin School), and I was 11 and Quian was nearly 12. Everything about our life was devoted to music, and we did start performing at a very early age I don’t think either of us were pushed into a sort of a performance career where prematurely maybe you’re asked to play big concerts and you’re forced to reduce your repertoire to a very limited number of concertos because you’re young, but you need to be out there all the time
Q: For me it was so different because I had never been outside of China, you can imagine how different China was back then. Yes, it’s very difficult .Surely one of my dear teachers, Irena Seilsach, who unfortunately passed away while I was still studying there — I think I gained a lot from her. And then of course the whole western musical education was introduced to me in a western way, rather than in China where you are told what it might be like I’m very grateful that I came quite at a young age and to be exposed to Western musical culture.
S: It was the only school that I ever went to. I left Russia when I was seven, I stayed at the Menhuin School from the age of 8 to 16, and then at 16 I left and went straight to the Royal Academy of Music. So I don’t know what other schools are like. I don’t know what a day school is like; I don’t know what a non-musical school is like. It was mostly string quartets at the Menhuin School. I think that if you want to be a good musician, you cannot box yourself into any single discipline.
The Sitkovetsky Trio tour Australia for Musica Viva in March and April. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/sitkovetsky