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Carl Vine on The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge

Trinity College Cambridge is an extraordinary institution, the alumni of which constitute a potted history of European civilisation. Science features high on the list with names like Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Lord Rayleigh and Charles Babbage, and since 1900 no fewer than 32 members of the college have received Nobel Prizes. But it’s hard to overlook other graduates like Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, Rajiv Gandhi, Wittgenstein, John Dryden, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, A.A. Milne and Vladimir Nabokov, to name just a few. It is fair to say that places at Trinity are keenly sought by the brightest students in the world.

From this heady mist of history and achievement emerges an extraordinary choir led by one of the great choral directors of our time, Stephen Layton, who chooses choristers on the basis of their passion and intelligence as much as for the qualities of their voice. The result is striking, marked by an overwhelming sense of musical intelligence that can almost be touched, with all of the requisite sensitivity and finesse to complete the picture.

This sensational group tours Australia for Musica Viva in July and August. In the spirit of capturing everything imaginable in the realm of choral music, Stephen has chosen for the tour a program spanning four centuries, from the immaculate marvels of Tallis and Byrd through to the modern Europeans, Rautavaara and Ešenvalds, we are granted an elite journey through the director’s musical universe. One path leads to “Wings of the Wind” composed by the college’s own organ scholar, Owain Park, who is rapidly emerging as a significant force in modern choral music.

The highest path on our expedition leads to the newest music on the program – the world premiere of a new work by Australian composer Joe Twist, “Hymn of Ancient Lands”, commissioned by Mary Pollard and family expressly for this concert tour.

Carl Vine AO
Artistic Director

Touring Australia 17 July – 4 August. Book your tickets here: musicaviva.com.au/trinity

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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

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

Tim Matthies Remembers Peter Sculthorpe

composer Peter SculthorpeI can’t recall the first time I met Peter, nor the first time I heard his music. In thinking about him over the past few weeks, they both seem to have always been a part of my life. The beauty of his mellifluous voice, his warm presence, the emotive power of his visceral music have all come together as I reflect on the joy he has brought to my life.

An early memory is singing his 1988 carol The Birthday of thy King in the Sydney University Musical Society’s Carolfest in the university’s majestic Neo-Gothic Great Hall. The combination of the memorable text after Henry Vaughan and the vibrant music with its wonderful alto solo line was a powerful indication of what contemporary music could do. Similarly hearing his 1990 his eleventh quartet, Jabiru Dreaming performed by the group he wrote it for, the Kronos Quartet, that year was a very powerful music experience.

Some of my most memorable listening experiences in the past few years have been hearing works by Peter, including those that I have played a small part in helping to bring to life.

When Peter was Musica Viva’s Featured Composer in 2005, he decided to adapt his 1999 String Quartet no 15 to feature William Barton alongside the Goldner String Quartet. After much discussion with the musicians and a lot of re-workings the performances proved a great hit.


Two other memorable performances involved the Goldner’s. Their performance of the String Quartet no 6 (the first Australian work Musica Viva commissioned in 1965) at Ken Tribe’s 90th birthday concert was a reminder of how striking a compositional voice Peter had. Equally, their performance of his String Quartet no 17, commissioned by Ken as his gift to Australian music, at the 2007 Huntington Estate Music Festival was a very moving occasion for everyone in the hall.

Most of all, Peter’s String Quartet no 16 has a very special place in my heart and is the work I’m most proud to have worked on with him. It was commissioned for Musica Viva by Julian Burnside, QC to be performed by the Tokyo String Quartet in November 2005; the group reprising it on their June 2013 farewell tour, and the last time Peter took at a bow at a Musica Viva concert. The work was inspired by From Nothing to Zero, a book of extracts from letters written by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres which Julian had written the preface and chapter introductions for. Peter’s response to its heart-rending testimony of the inhumane treatment of refugees, including children, was some of his finest music and the work stands as a powerful reminder of the power of art to help tell important stories. The response to the work was palpable and the Tokyo’s cellist Clive Greensmith commented at the time that It’s always a special feeling to work with a composer but to play Peter’s piece all over Australia with him in the audience for almost every performance was very special indeed.” Peter himself said that “the work is, I feel, among my very best.“

From the time I began to work in the artistic area at Musica Viva, a particular pleasure was calling Peter. It felt a huge honour to be given his private studio number rather than having to call. Best of all, though, was receiving either a hand-written note – what a distinctive and wonderful hand Peter had – or beautifully composed email. Looking through my folders in writing this, I came across many such emails however this is my favourite. It’s a wonderful combination showing Peter’s pride in his achievements and his love of people and a good party!

Dear Tim:

Yes, the Christmas party was just great.  I must confess, though, that I didn’t feel too good the following morning!

Thanks so much for the SMH article.  I’m really pleased to have a copy of this.  Meantime, have you seen this month’s ‘Limelight’?  String Quartet No.16 rates two questions in The Big Quiz.

Happy happy Christmas to you and to Chris.

Best wishes and love,

Peter

Tim Matthies
Director of Business Development, Concerts

Tomas Drevikovsky Discusses Imogen Cooper’s Repertoire

Chamber music lover and Musica Viva volunteer, Tomas Drevikovsky, discusses the repertoire English pianist, Imogen Cooper, will perform on her upcoming Australian tour. Most of the repertoire focuses on the extrodinary musical and emotional kinship between Clara and Robert Schumann and their friend and protégé Johannes Brahms – and in particular on Clara, another ground-breaking female pianist.

SCHUMANN Novellette in D major, op 21 no 2
SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze op 6
BRAHMS Theme and Variations in D minor (arr. from String Sextet op 18)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata no 21 in B flat major, D960

For more information on Imogen Cooper, and to book your tickets to see this repertoire performed live in concert, please visit; www.musicaviva.com.au/cooper