Chamber Music & Me Episode Two is now available to watch online! This episode features the multi-talented Alice Chance.
Chamber Music & Me is a new weekly web series offering insight into how people discover chamber music, why it resonates with them, and how they share their passion with the people they love
I first met up with the Sitkovetsky Trio early on Wednesday morning in Sydney. Their maiden appearance in Australia, the first concert of their national concert tour for Musica Viva, was in Newcastle the following night. Violinist Sasha (Alexander Sitkovetsky) had only landed in Australia the previous evening, but they weren’t going to waste any time getting stuck into the tour repertoire, and particularly into my new piano trio, The Village, that nobody in the world had ever played before then.
As with most of the artists appearing for Musica Viva, jetlag is an inevitable feature of the start of every tour, with a variety of home remedies and “travellers’ tips” (most of which don’t work) being tried out in the process. Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich had landed two days earlier, so was nearing the worst of that unstable phase where metabolism tries to rotate night into day. Pianist Qian (pron. “Chen”) Wu seemed as bright as a daisy, while Sasha philosophised that, as the father of a new baby daughter, he had forgotten what sleep felt like, so didn’t miss it. He appears to have been correct.
I was to leave them alone to rehearse for four hours before they would let me hear my new trio. It turns out that they continued working through until 9pm that night, with Leonard taking advantage of the quiet solitude to practice on his own until after 10pm. These musicians are serious!
I returned at 1pm and we spent 90 minutes thrashing out all the mistakes in the score and the individual printed parts, and correcting some of the simple misunderstandings that inevitably accompany first readings of new music. At this stage it was hard to tell exactly how well the composition would flow, or whether any of the experiments in material, texture and architecture that I had tried for the first time in this work, would actually work in real performance. I left them alone to continue acclimatising and working through their demanding tour program.
I didn’t see them again until the following afternoon, before their debut concert. I had just delivered a seminar on my still non-existent piano trio to keen and attentive students from the Newcastle Conservatorium, the wonderful auditorium of which was the venue for the evening’s performance. The Sitkovetskys arrived at 4:30pm, ready for their last two hours of preparation.
They played through my composition almost without flaw, and with a sense of organic flow and development that I hadn’t dared hope for. When they played it for real, to a paying audience a few hours later, it had become a living piece of music that, it seems, had really touched the players and could connect with listeners who had no idea what they were about to hear. This was a stunning experience that every composer hopes for, and should live to experience.
At the end of a rapturously received concert, the group came back on stage for one of our trademark “Meet The Artists” sessions, for which about 50 audience members remained, armed with a bevy of fascinating questions. But the players’ evening still wasn’t over, being then whisked away to one of the post-concert suppers that have become legendary, and unique to, the highly dedicated Committee of Musica Viva Newcastle.
Committee members had piled tables high with great food, and we were swamped with excellent wines from Huntington Estate, while a dark chocolate birthday cake materialised from nowhere to celebrate Leonard’s birthday the following day. (The trio themselves had forgotten all about this, but our canny Operations team triple check EVERYTHING when they secure work visas).
We all got back to the hotel, overlooking picturesque Newcastle Beach, a little before midnight. I had to remind myself that two of the trio had, at that point, only been in Australia for not much more than 48 hours, and had spent at least 16 of those in deep rehearsal. Someone suggested that they meet early the next morning for a quick dip in the surf. I went to bed, confident that, as they flew to Melbourne the next day to continue the rest of the tour, youthful energy and innate brilliance would make this a completely memorable sequence of appearances in Viva’s 2014 concert calendar.
For more information on the Sitkovetsky Trio, and to book your tickets, please visit musicaviva.com.au/sitkovetsky, or call 1800 688 482.
This week is an exciting one at Musica Viva. It’s the first time many of us will get to hear the Sitkovetsky Trio live after enjoying their recording so much. And it’s also the first time we – and anyone, including the composer – will hear Carl Vine’s new piano trio “The Village” as the performances of the work by the Trio are its premiere ones.
How does anyone approach hearing a new work for the first time? Sometimes we’re helped by having heard other works by the composer. I’m lucky in that regard with Carl’s music, having heard in concert or on recording all of his symphonies and concertos, many of his ballet works, a lot of his piano music and all the works for chamber ensemble he allows to be performed. Some of those works have hit a very emotional spot for me, especially the Third and Fourth String Quartets and the Anne Landa Preludes for piano. What’s exciting me about this week’s premiere is that it’s the first time Carl has written a piano trio, one of my favourite groupings of instruments and one that combines three of the instruments Carl writes best for – violin, cello and piano.
Carl’s music is often described as being accessible, richly coloured and rhythmically driven. He also writes great melodies, especially in his slow movements (listen to the Third String Quartet or his recent Violin Concerto). I’ve always felt that the piano trio combination would be a great one for Carl to write for as it would allow him to use the piano to create a wonderful palette over which the two string instruments could create textures and colours.
Now that he’s done it I’m really looking forward to hearing how he has approached the three instruments. I’m also looking forward to hearing it four times, to really get to know it. I know that I’m lucky to have the job I do that allows me to get to know a new piece so well, but I hope that through the radio and web many others get the chance to listen to some of Carl’s other works before ABC Classic FM broadcast the piece on Saturday 22 March (with it then being available on the station’s website for another month).
I’ll let you know my response to the work after I’ve heard it a couple of times!
Director of Business Development, Concerts
For more information on the Sitkovetsky Trio and their tour for Musica Viva, visit musicaviva.com.au/sitkovetsky, or call 1800 688 482.
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!