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
Carey Beebe, Australia’s best known harpsichord maker and technician, has been supplying and servicing the harpsichords used by Richard Egarr of Academy of Ancient Music. Watch him discuss the 1773 Kirkman harpsichord he has restored especially for Richard Egarr.
Academy of Ancient Music & Sara Macliver are currently touring Australia for Music Viva. For more information, and to book your tickets, please visit; musicaviva.com.au/aam
Angela Hewitt took to the stage and keys in Melbourne last night, marking her first performance of nine in Musica Viva’s national 2013 International Concert Season.
Hewitt performed a delightful program of Bach selections (arr. by Wilhelm Kempf for piano), Beethoven Piano Sonata no 28 in A major, op 101 and Contrapunctus I-X of Bach’s famed “Art of Fugue”. Next stop – Perth, before returning to Melbourne to complete the “Art” with Conrapunctus XI to XIV on Saturday 28 September. For tour dates, complete program lists and more information, visit musicaviva.com.au/hewitt.
The audience at last night’s performance would have also noticed the presence of some modern technology on the stand. Hewitt performed from the score on her iPad, mounted on her instrument’s music stand, using a discrete foot-pedal for her “page-turns”. We hope she charges her battery before performances!
When first discussing the current concert tour, Jian immediately asked if Bernadette was available, and so this remarkable, unexpected partnership can flourish again, featuring a reprise of the Brahms sonatas.
Artistic Director, Carl Vine shares his insight on programming Jian Wang’s current tour with Bernadette Harvey, as part of the 2013 International Concert Season. For the full article, visit http://www.musicaviva.com.au/about-us/artistic-director/on-the-vine-june-2013.
For more information about the Jian Wang and Bernadette Harvey national tour, visit musicaviva.com.au/wang.
We heard musical musings from Lambert Orkis and viola jokes from Dene Olding. Andrew Ford compared a festival to speed dating: both throw strangers together for short periods of time to see what connections can be made. Emma Ayres encouraged one and all to try a cello. Violins were played, examined, and a few even sold at the Treasures of Cremona exhibition. Ironwood enthralled many with their discussion of historical approaches to the music of Brahms, followed by a performance on period instruments which was appreciated by all, even if opinions were divided on which approach was preferred.The musicians of the AYO’s Chamber Players program worked hard all week delivering heartfelt and inspiring performances. The rapport with their tutors was clearly evident, and it was not uncommon to see students lining up at stage door to congratulate their mentors following a performance.
If you missed this year’s Musica Viva Festival, or would like to relive it, make sure to visit Musica Viva on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for plenty of photos and commentary. Check out ABC Classic FM’s website too, where you can listen again to concerts, find out about the Festival digital radio station, and find more photos and articles.
We hope you can join us at the next Musica Viva Festival in 2015!
When we speak, Orkis has just returned from a trip to Trinidad, where he was astonished to find a former student conducting the national steel orchestra according to principals he had drummed into him during his studies.
“Read the first page. Do some research. Find out about the composer, try to find the context in which the piece was written. It will give you some insight that you don’t necessarily get from the little dots on the page.”
Orkis, who is also a founding member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle Trio, has had plenty of opportunity to play early keyboards, gaining rare insight into the speed and nature of evolution in classical and early romantic fortepianos; he has even recorded three different performances of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata using different Viennese piano designs to demonstrate the changes that were taking place at the time.
“By Mozart’s time, keyboards were changing rapidly every ten years, almost like today’s computers, and you can see the process,” explains Orkis. “They were constantly coming up with something new; there was something in the wind.”
He admits to a process of what he calls “cross-fertilisation”, in which the way he plays early keyboards informs the way he approaches earlier repertoire on today’s pianos, and vice versa.
At the same time, he says, it is neither possible nor desirable to turn back the clock.
“They lived different lives. They had different kinds of distractions. Often they were just worried about whether they’d be alive the next day – apparently the ‘bon voyage’ party originated because one in six vessels crossing the ocean wouldn’t make it.
“We live today. What’s our purpose? What are we doing?”
Does Orkis have an answer for himself?
“I’m less and less prescriptive,” he replies tranquilly. “I’ve got to get something out of it and my audiences have to get something out of it.”
In terms of his time at Musica Viva’s 2013 Festival, that means enjoying the work with his colleagues and communicating something to the public.
“When you’re doing chamber music, there’s a lot going on,” he says. “I see it as an intimate conversation with several partners. The more people involved, the more complex the conversation becomes. There is always a certain seat-of-the-pants freshness to chamber music in a Festival context; I’m looking forward to meeting new people and playing with them!”
© Shirley Apthorp 2012
The first tour, back in 1984, was one of his first with the great Russian cellist, who went on to establish a post for him in Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra as principal keyboard-player.
“At the time, he was the greatest living cellist,” Orkis remembers. “Going to Australia with him was just wonderful; it was a great relationship. We toured for 11 years.”
Orkis’s decision to accept Musica Viva’s invitation to participate in their 2013 Festival is something of a blind leap; he has not played before with any of the other performers, and though he has made repertoire suggestions of his own, he is also willing to risk whatever comes his way at the event.
“I’ve had experience in the past of playing at Festivals like this,” he says. “Not recently. But I am flexible and can catch on quickly. My distinguished colleague Menahem Pressler once said that the difference between playing chamber music as part of an established ensemble and playing as part of a festival is ‘like the difference between marriage and a one-night stand.’ It’s fun! You see how it turns out.”
High on the list of probable repertoire is Brahms’ first piano quartet.
“You must think of it,” says Orkis, “as a piece about a man who has decided to commit suicide with a gun. At the moment of doing it, he finds he can’t. At the time that was considered a double tragedy.
“It’s a great piece – almost Beethoven-like – from darkness to light, with a gypsy Rondo at the end that’s like a grim desire to grab life by its throat and just live for all it’s worth.
“All of Brahms’ piano quartets got their start while Brahms was living at the Schumanns’ place, when Schumann was in hospital and Clara was in great distress. We will never know exactly what their relationship was, but we do know that he was in love with her.”
Understanding context, says Orkis, is both essential and sadly underrated. As a teacher at Temple University in Philadelphia and in masterclasses, Orkis is often frustrated by students who have learned the notes but not the background of the pieces they bring to him.
“I play a simple little game with my students. I ask them, ‘What’s the title of the piece? Don’t look at the music. What’s the metre? What key is it in? If it’s a vocal work, what do the words mean? Can you tell me something about the composer?’ They’re quite surprised, and often they don’t know.”
© Shirley Apthorp 2012
Beethoven rings from the rafters
Elizabeth Silsbury, Adelaide Advertiser
8 November 2012
As played by musical soulmates Anthony Marwood (violin) and Aleksandar Madzar (piano), Beethoven’s mighty Kreutzer sonata alone was worth the admission cost.
No complaints though regarding the other items; Martian Snow, Gordon Kerry’s fantasy about a wintry red planet, Debussy in sombre mood for Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor and one of the last utterances of the world’s greatest song maker, Fantasie in C major by Schubert.
Beethoven was at his most creative and most disciplined with his most famous violin sonata. Marwood’s full-blooded 1736 Carlo Bergonzi violin, robust and warm when low, became ever sweeter as it went higher. Under the masterful fingers and wrists of Madzar, the Steinway purred, roared, lamented and rejoiced. They are linked as if by radar, their unanimity eerily intuitive.
Rafter ringing as their big moments were, even more impressive were the many little ones illuminated by barely perceptible changes in tempo or lightening of mood.
A bond beyond music
Philip O’brien, Canberra Times
November 3, 2012
So, what does make an effective musical partnership? British violinist Anthony Marwood and Serbian-born pianist Aleksandar Madzar have been friends for so long now that their understanding is intuitive.
On reflection, Marwood says, they’re rather like a good doubles combination in tennis. There’s the individual physicality, focus and self discipline, he says.
“But in the pressure of performance there’s also the need to read each other’s actions. There’s an element of unpredictability [in performance] and so the way each of us responds is instinctive.”
Described as one of the most celebrated of contemporary musical partnerships, Marwood and Mazdar are touring Australia for Musica Viva and will perform in Canberra on Thursday.
They first met at the International Mus-icians Seminar Prussia Cove, on the Cornwall coast, in the early 1990s.
“There was an intense, instantaneous musical rapport,” Marwood recalls. “Sometimes you feel that another person brings out something in yourself that you didn’t know was there. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, we found we shared a musical connection of the soul.”
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Marwood’s versatility as a soloist, chamber musician, and ensemble director has seen him perform with orchestras in Britain, Europe, the United States and Asia.
Madzar grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, when it was part of the former Yugoslavia. He later studied piano in Moscow, Strasbourg and Brussels before embarking on an international career as a soloist. He holds academic positions in Brussels, where he now lives, and Bern.
“He has a purity of style, a truthfulness in his playing,” Marwood says. “It’s brilliance without display for the sake of it. There’s no extraneous or wasted effort. He’s not an ostentatious performer.”
Their compatibility extends beyond music. “We have a way of looking at life from a similar angle, a shared sense of humour. We enjoy each other’s company and our approach to music is a part of that.”
When the opportunities arose for them to perform together, it was a logical progression of this understanding, he says. That’s still the case. Without the need for a strict schedule of collaboration, they perform together several times each year. This tour is their first as a partnership in Australia although Marwood has visited many times as a soloist and for work with the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne.
The repertoire for their concerts has been the result of discussions between themselves and with Musica Viva’s artistic director, Carl Vine. “Gordon Kerry’s Martian Snow was suggested to us because he is Musica Viva’s featured composer for 2012,” Marwood says, “but other works were our suggestion. We wanted masterpieces where our two instruments are on equal terms but feature in different ways. We were not interested in just violin showpieces with piano accompaniment.”
So the Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 9 in A minor (Kreutzer) is warrior-like in parts, he says, an almost titanic struggle between the two instruments. Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor, his last completed work, is brief but adventurous while Schubert’s Fantasie in C major is the work that they perform together most often.
“It’s the most deeply exotic sound world that only Schubert can create for these two instruments. If anything the writing is even more virtuoso and difficult than in the Beethoven violin sonata. Schubert creates a dazzling, effervescent effect but with an incredible warmth and expressive intent behind it all.”
The pair will criss-cross Australia to perform nine concerts in 17 days. It’s an exacting schedule but Marwood says that their strong friendship overrides the inevitable stresses that arise in touring.
“One of the things about making music is that we find ourselves, with our audience, in another world. It’s an extraordinary place to be, a magical sphere. And that’s always our intention in any performance.”
After many years of performing with his ensemble Florestan Trio, Marwood now spends months of the year as a soloist. As such, he looks forward to his regular engagements with Madzar.
“We know each other so well,” he says. “It keeps me really grounded. There’s a danger [as a freelance performer] that you can lose touch with reality. Our friendship and collaborations prevent that.”
In fact, there’s no better evidence of the strength their musical partnership than in the Schubert Fantasie in C minor which is one of the highlights of their national tour.
“Apart from being the piece that we do most often, it’s become one that we love deeply and feel very similarly about. It’s such an exercise in trust, such a musical tightrope that you both have to be synchronised – musically and personally – for it to come off.”
Layers merge to perfection
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
November 7, 2012
Unfortunately a greater power than I could contradict thwarted my intent to meet Musica Viva’s office-friendly starting hour of 7pm and provide more detail on this movement, along with Martian Snow by Gordon Kerry, whose String Quintet made a universally positive impression at Musica Viva’s last concert.
In the second movement of the Kreutzer, Beethoven arguably made the mistake he avoided in the Waldstein Sonata – written the following year – of over-extending the central movement. But Marwood and Madzar drew the listener into this expansive set of variations with a ravishing sound and cogent, expressive elasticity.
The finale is sometimes criticised for failing to match the expectations of the first movement. Here, the players balanced by attacking it with energy so that its skipping rhythm sounded unbridled rather than light.
Marwood’s violin playing combines richness and clarity, precision and swirling movement. At the piano, Madzar is discreet, with a clear conception of the colour and texture he aims to conjure.
In Debussy’s Violin Sonata, they conveyed the work’s essence with sophisticated musicality, capturing brief and exquisite expressive ideas only for a moment, never dwelling or striving to bind them.
They concluded with Schubert’s Fantasie in C major, D 934, which in their hands became one of those endless Schubertian harmonic journeys in which the passage of time yields to the endless, gentle flow of inspiration.