by Som Howie
On 3 May 2013, I went to prison. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
My ‘crime’? Being a 2013 Sydney Symphony Fellow. We’d known for some months that our Bundanon residency would include a workshop-performance for a selection of maximum-security inmates at the South Coast Correctional Services Facility. But I knew nothing of prisons other than what I’d seen on TV shows like Oz. So I was a bit nervous.
While there were many representatives from the government and media present, it was the 30-odd, rugged, rough and intimidating looking men in green (green shoes, green pants, green shirts and green jumpers), who had me waiting outside the visitors centre with a slight feeling of trepidation. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only Fellow who felt this way.
But almost immediately upon walking into the visitors centre and standing in front of the inmates we were greeted by warm applause and welcoming smiles, and all feeling of nerves disappeared.
I was amazed at the inmates’ attentiveness and enthusiastic participation during the workshop. I was even more impressed to see how observant they were. They were totally engaged in what they were watching.
Seeing a huge, burly-looking inmate get up and conduct a Schubert waltz was definitely a highlight of the workshop. At first he stood in front of us looking like he was about to hit the bench press at the gym. But as soon as he raised his hands and began conducting – in the most general 3/4 I have ever seen – he began to sway gracefully to the pulse of the music. Seeing such gentleness in this giant reminded me of the capacity for humanity we each possess. It was both humbling and inspiring to see the inmates smile and laugh at each other as they tried their skills at playing ‘maestro’.
This feeling was echoed further when we sat down to have lunch with the inmates. I sat with an Indigenous inmate who’d been in gaol for some years. He told me he felt lucky that this facility offered inmates a variety of work and educational programs, such as the one we were presenting. He was the first of his inmates to pass a barista course, and assured me he could make a ‘mean cup of coffee’. I did not disagree. These inmates are locked in their cells for 18 hours a day, so I asked my inmate lunch buddy what he did to pass the time. I was totally, but pleasantly, surprised when he replied, “I’m writing a book in my native Indigenous language…a children’s book full of short stories.”
Leaving the prison, I had never felt more fulfilled and humbled. The inmates were so incredibly grateful for our visit and I know each one of them took something away from it. If you asked me to go back, I would easily say yes. It’s amazing how powerful the effect of a little bit of happiness can be in the cold, grim environment of a prison.
Last week, the eight Fellows, 2011 Fellow Hugh Kluger, Fellowship Artistic Director Roger Benedict, and program manager Mark Lawrenson travelled together to the Arthur Boyd Estate in Bundanon, where they would spend six days rehearsing, practicing, cooking and wombat-spotting.
Here’s a visual diary of what they got up to:
The view that the Fellows woke up to every morning. Definitely good practice inspiration!
The Fellows took advantage of the breathtaking view, as well as all the space, by practicing outside. Nicole took this photo of James practicing the Dvorak Cello Concerto.
Not a bad place to enjoy breakfast.
The Fellows spent over six hours every day rehearsing together.
And after six hours of rehearsal every day, this is what happens (spot the difference!).
… and this (*hint – Hugh is normally seen with a double bass).
Laura practicing by the lake.
The guys all suited up for their concert at the end of the week.
After rehearsing together all week with a view like this, they were all pretty sad to leave.
To view even more photos of the Fellows at Bundanon, or just to see what other antics the Fellows get up to together, make sure to have follow them on Instagram here: http://instagram.com/ssofellowship.
All of last week, the Fellows were on retreat in Bundanon – a week of rehearsing, cooking, bushwalking and workshops. First thing on their return to Sydney, they’ll be giving a lunchtime concert at one of the city’s best music venues, City Recital Hall Angel Place.
On the program is one of the great works in the chamber music repertoire: Schubert’s Octet for clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet and double bass. Beethoven’s Septet was the inspiration and the model for this music and the result is a leisurely and engaging piece in six jewel-like movements – perfect lunchtime entertainment!
Join the Fellows on Monday 6 May, from 12:30pm at the City Recital Hall. Tickets can be purchased here or at the door for $15.
For a sneak preview of the performance, take a look at this video, featuring cellist Pieter Wispelwey leading the Fellows in a masterclass on Schubert’s Octet:
The Strelitzia Ensemble
By Eleanor Betts
Cellist Eleanor Betts, a Fellowship alumna from 2012, introduces the Strelitzia Ensemble.
We’re giving away a FREE double pass to their upcoming concert to one lucky reader! Just scroll to the bottom of this post to find out how to make it yours.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the SSO Fellowship program is performing chamber music with your fellow Fellows. We’re thrown together as a group at the beginning of the program, and it can be an interesting, and often challenging, experience to play some of the most intimate music there is with people you’ve never met before.
It’s almost like a social experiment in a way: there’s the risk of tension, that the group won’t gel, but there’s also the possibility that it will work out perfectly. And that can lead to a group of musicians – who might not have even lived in the same city before – really hitting it off and wanting to play together more.
Luckily for us, the 2012 Fellows fell into the second category. So in March we regrouped as the Strelitzia Ensemble for the first of a five-concert subscription series based in Sydney and Newcastle. The ‘Strelitzia’ name was first adopted for a piano trio in 2008, comprising Fellowship alumni Eleanor Betts (Cello, 2012) and Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich (Violin, 2006, 2007). It has now expanded to include a whole host of other alumni: Lucy Warren (Violin, 2012), Tara Houghton (Viola, 2011), Rachel Cashmore (Oboe, 2012), Rowena Watts (Clarinet, 2011, 2012), Melissa Woodroffe (Bassoon, 2011, 2012) and Sharn McIver (Horn, 2012).
We had a lot of fun planning our programs for 2013, choosing pieces that play to our talents, as well as works we’ve been itching to play together. For our May program, we’ve put together a wonderful collection of music to celebrate Mother’s Day: ‘Mothers & Sons’. We begin with a favourite piece that we worked on together as Fellows last year: Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, written shortly after the death of the composer’s mother and featuring a haunting and mournful slow movement. Both Poulenc and Schumann were introduced to music by their mothers and we’ll be showcasing two of their finest chamber works: Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano, and Schumann’s Piano Quartet, Op. 47. We’ve also asked Newcastle composer and pianist Andrew Chubb to write a new piece especially for the ensemble, and we know the audience will also love Fritz Kriesler’s beautiful arrangement of the traditional Londonderry Air.
Mothers & Sons
Friday 3 May, 7pm | Adamstown Uniting Church, Newcastle
Saturday 4 May, 2pm | The Independent Theatre, North Sydney
You can find us on Facebook under Strelitzia, or join our mailing list.
We’re giving away a FREE double pass to the Strelitzia Ensemble’s Sydney performance on 4 May. To win, all you have to do is answer the following question in the comments section below:
What’s your mother’s favourite piece of music?
James strikes a pose with Pieter Wispelwey.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for the amazing opportunity to ask international soloist Pieter Wispelwey anything you like! He’ll be personally responding to reader questions, written in the comments section below, all of this week.
Earlier in the week, the Fellows where lucky enough to have a masterclass with internationally-renowned cellist Pieter Wispelwey, where they worked on the Schubert Octet. Afterwards, cellist James had a coffee with Pieter to discuss Bach, baroque cello and how to manage the hectic performance schedule of a soloist.
James: Anner Bylsma – who plays both modern and baroque cello – was one of your teachers. How did he change your approach towards baroque playing?
Pieter: Well, he was not my baroque cello teacher – I’ve never had a baroque cello teacher. I have no idea how to play a baroque cello except for what I taught myself. And it was basically just spending hundreds and hundreds of hours on a specific baroque cello, and finding out what works and what didn’t work. I had one teacher before Bylsma who prepared me for his school and his methods, and she taught me from childhood until 17 and made me play gut strings on a modern cello. That forced me to be extremely aware of bowing technique issues, as on gut strings you’re penalised when you don’t do it right and on steel strings there is a certain tolerance because you still get a half decent sound even if you bow not straight or you’re not close to the bridge or whatever. With gut strings you need to develop a sophisticated bowing technique.
James: You’ve just recorded the Bach cello suites for the third time…
Pieter: Yes, the third recording is out now, again on the baroque cello. The first one I did when I was 26 or so, and the second one when I was about 34. This time, I did it at an even lower pitch than the usual “baroque pitch”, because apparently in Bach’s time, when he was working at the German court, the pitch they played was a French pitch which was lower than 415 and a lot closer to 392 or 400. So I did the recording at 392 and in concerts now I go down to 400 because my cello prefers that…I think!
James: Do you think your interpretation of the Bach suites has changed over the three recordings?
Pieter: Yes, your relationship with pieces develops over time. It’s not that your interpretation gets better, it just changes. Maybe privately you think you’re solving more little technical problems that will always be there and you come up with alternative solutions. It’s getting the balance of spices like we did in the octet [for the masterclass]: which herbs do you want to put in, the garlic, the pepper, the salt. But that changes over time. If you take a prelude or a courante and you used to give that a friendly character, you can insert a bit of naughtiness there, or other elements of character.
James: What motivates you to play and record so much unconventional cello repertoire, such as the Schumann violin sonata?
Pieter: Well, I’ve already done all the Beethoven sonatas twice, all the Brahms sonatas twice, the Dvorák twice, the Rococo Variations twice, Bach three times, Britten three times… and I will continue with that repertoire. But the number of great cello works is slightly limited and there are some works I find so beautiful that I can’t keep my fingers off!
James: On this Australian tour you’re performing many different works in close succession: the Lutoslawski concerto, Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto, Shostakovich, a new John Adams, Elgar and all the Bach suites. How do you keep everything at concert standard?
Pieter: Well, I just have to practise hard! A piece like the Lutoslawski, I do know it quite well, but having it memorised, including the orchestral score so you know what’s happening around you, that’s a lot of work. And the Prokofiev is a monstrous piece; a big, big piece. The Shostakovich first concerto is a piece you do on a regular basis, so that’s more under the fingers so to speak. I just practise! Head down!
Warming up for the masterclass.
James: What do you think about ‘old-school’ string playing?
Pieter: There are many different schools of cello playing. The thing is, once you start performing you should forget about anything that has to do with ‘school’. You have to be free. In the violin world there are quite a few young soloists now in their 30s, especially in Europe, who really are inventive and develop a personal voice and style, and style approach. Which is not so much revolutionary, but which means that art is in movement. That maybe is happening a bit less in cello. But we have this massive, massive figure of Rostropovich and the majority of cellists aspired to…not to copy him, but they did end up copying him, or his style approach, so that there was only one way of playing Prokofiev or Shostakovich. But for instance if you really dig deep into the Britten cello suites you will inevitably end up with a personal approach, which has nothing to do with Rostropovich but has to do with your relationship with the composer. The role of the teacher or professor should always be to send the students out into the open with the ambition to be independent and to break away from what they have been taught.
And now, over to the reader! Do YOU have a question for Pieter Wispelwey? If so, now is your opportunity to have it answered by the man himself.
Just write your question in the comments section below, as Pieter will be personally responding to a selection of reader questions posted on this blog over the next week.
Last Friday the Fellows were performing at the Manning Entertainment Centre in Taree, a town on the coast north of Sydney. So, accompanied by artistic director Roger Benedict, program manager Mark Lawrenson, a boot filled with instruments and – essential! – Kelly’s homemade brownies, they all piled into a minibus for the four-hour road trip. As Rebecca said afterwards, “We pulled out of Circular Quay feeling rather like a big, happy, composite family!”
The Fellows performed music by JS Bach, Devienne, Mozart and Mendelssohn to an enthusiastic and welcoming audience of over 170 Taree locals.
Here’s a look at what the Fellows got up to during their time in Taree:
All piled in for the road trip
Som and Brendan use the road trip as an opportunity to catch up on sleep.
Rehearsing onstage at the Manning Entertainment Centre.
The Fellows take a bow.
Post-concert celebratory dinner in Taree.
Raspberry sorbet tongues!
Two of Cirque de la Symphonie’s Aerial performers.
This week, the Sydney Symphony will join forces with the internationally-acclaimed Cirque de la Symphonie to present a performance that promises to leave audiences members utterly mesmerised.
The performances will feature awe-inspiring displays from aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, strong men and dancers, choreographed to the Sydney Symphony’s live performance of classical masterpieces including Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and music from Bizet’s Carmen.
Six of the Fellows, Rebecca Gill, Nicole Greentree, Laura van Rijn, Brendan Parravicini, Som Howie and Jack Schiller, will be performing with the Sydney Symphony for the three shows, which will be held on Thursday 18 April at 7pm, and Saturday 20 April at 2pm and 7pm at the Sydney Opera House.
Laura and Brendan with performers from Cirque de la Symphonie.
Conductor Guy Noble had a few words of advice for these Fellows, saying “The program is incredibly musically demanding. Thousands of notes fly past as quickly as the circus performers over our heads, and the musicians will have to work hard to maintain concentration with all the visual stimuli happening around us. I think the Fellows will definitely find it one of the most entertaining (and unusual!) concerts they’ve experienced.”
We would like to offer you a double-pass for 7pm Saturday 20 April to see this astounding performance, and watch the Fellows in action. All you have to do is scroll to the comments section and tell us:
Which Fellow do you think is the most likely to run off and join the circus, and why?
Last week, some of the Fellows had a masterclass with early music conductor Reinhard Goebel, where they worked on Bach’s B minor suite for flute and strings. After the masterclass, flute Fellow Laura van Rijn sat down with Reinhard to find out exactly what inspired his long-spanning, successful career as a pioneer of baroque music and performance.
Post-Masterclass: The Fellows with Reinhard Goebel (Laura is on the far left).
Laura: What inspired you to set up the early music ensemble Musica Antiqua Cologne?
Reinhard: The inspiration certainly came from the radio. In the ’60s there were two really important German ensembles based in Cologne: Cappella Coloniensis and the Collegium Aureum, and I wanted so badly to do this music as well. So I dug into it. And also the person that led these orchestras, Franzjosef Maier, was my first violin teacher when I was at the conservatory. Then I went into musicology and become a pupil of Marie Leonhardt. So that was the beginning. And I was totally not interested in any violin solo career or any orchestra playing. I was an ensemble player…and I stayed for 35 years.
Laura: What did the ensemble mean to you?
Reinhard: It was a family for me. In the beginning it was a circle of friends and musicians striving for better performances of 18th-century music. Then it became a career ensemble for the next generation [laughs]…but it was a family for me over the 35 years. And we did a lot of different things, a lot of research and out-diggings of different music in that 35 years.
Laura: The ensemble is really known for its pioneering work and finding new musical gems. How did you find those pieces?
Reinhard: That was my upbringing, and the method of musicology I learnt. I learnt the method of asking certain things from books… asking for certain enlightenments and to look for new material. I was always interested in different repertoire: when I was in school and my fellow schoolmates were discussing Brahms and Beethoven sonatas, I thought, “What the hell, I don’t care about Brahms sonatas…I want to play Biber!” So I was always looking for new repertoire, things that were not touched, things that were not ruled by “This is how you should play it. This is how others play it, please play it the same way.” That was part of the ’60s in Germany certainly. The decades after the war when things were kept silent, that was broken in the late ’60s, and I was a part of that. I was striving for individuality.
Reinhard conducting the Fellows.
Laura: What has been the biggest change in early music performance practice during your career?
Reinhard: There is not one biggest change; there are so many big changes! First, the size of ensembles has shrunk by a good measure, so that nobody performs any Bach overtures with 16 first violins for instance [laughs]. The second is that the tempos are better suited to the works. Third, is that the vibrato is limited. Everything has changed so much for the better. You cannot imagine. If you listened to the Berlin Philharmonic with Karajan in the ’60s, performing B minor Suites and Brandenburg concertos…in your worst dreams you cannot imagine how it was in those times! Everything has changed. It is a fortunate change, the music has become freed from all these 19th-century overlays.
Laura: What advice would you give to a performer or a student who is struggling with baroque music and wants to play it ‘historically correctly’?
Reinhard: Read. Read, read, read. Get in touch with historical books, with the original readings. And have a catalogue of questions to put to the work that you are reading. You must be aware that nothing that you have read in your first year is still the truth in the second year. The picture changes all over, and is still in motion in a 60-year-old man like me.
Demonstrating through dance!
Laura: Who’s been the biggest inspiration for you as a performer, or in your life?
Reinhard: It changed over the time of my life. Certainly my teachers were very important to me. But in opposite to most of the players around my age, I never gave any importance to this: being a pupil of Franzjosef Maier or Marie Leonhardt… I was Reinhard Goebel. Full stop! And at least till 25, I never mentioned to anybody who my teachers were. But they gave me a lot of inspiration.
But after the musicology training, the inspiration comes from the composer, from Bach, Telemann, Handel, Biber and Monteverdi. The music amazes me more than contemporary performers, and what I want is that my students never mention me as a teacher but be on their own, be strong individuals. Which can be difficult for a strong teacher!
This interview got me thinking: How much influence do you think your teachers had on your playing style and sound? What kind of teacher did you have, a nurturing teacher that encouraged finding your own way or a more regimented one? If you don’t have a teacher now, how have you found trying to make it alone in the music business without them? – Laura
by Nicole Greentree
Nicole rehearsing with the Sydney Symphony.
My first time was with Tina Arena. It was gentle, stress-free, everything I could’ve hoped for… A nice way to ease into playing with the Sydney Symphony.
Before this year, I’d never really played with a professional orchestra – except when I was in the Australian Youth Orchestra and we joined forces with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. So when I got into the Fellowship program I was very excited at the thought of playing with the Sydney Symphony. But that was immediately followed by anxiety at the thought of playing with the big guns – the prospect was very daunting.
Throughout January, in the lead-up to the Fellowship, I had dreams nightmares about being asked to play a scary Mahler symphony with difficult exposed viola moments. So when I heard my first SSO gig was going to be playing with Tina Arena I was relieved.
But I wasn’t really counting the Tina Arena concerts as my first time with the Sydney Symphony because it wasn’t a classical program, and that’s what orchestras excel at. My classical SSO debut was in the Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto program held in March. I was unbelievably excited because this piece is a huge favourite mine. Also on the program: Dvorak’s Othello Overture, Tchaikovsky’s rare symphonic poem Fatum,and Respighi’s Roman Festivals.
Nicole, Brendan and James with Tina Arena.
Before the rehearsals began, I was fairly worried about fitting in and blending with the section, but it turned out to be easier than I’d expected. I think this was because my desk partners and the people near me in the section were so supportive and Roger Benedict is such a clear leader. I genuinely felt like a part of the section! Funnily enough, I wasn’t nervous at all, even though I’m usually a very nervous person. Playing with the Sydney Symphony has been like no other orchestral experience I’ve had. I feel at home here and I can’t wait for every other opportunity I get to play with the orchestra.
For more info on Nicole, check out her bio here.
Following Kelly and Laura’s stories about how they began learning their instruments, we’ve asked Rebecca, Som and James how they began their musical careers…
Rebecca Gill, violin
“My first memory of hearing the violin was probably my mum playing classical recordings, especially the Mendelssohn violin concerto, while cooking. Maybe this is why my two great passions seem to have become music and food!
“Both my elder sisters started playing the violin and I wanted the same thing. We joined the Suzuki method for its strong emphasis on orchestral and group playing, as that really attracted us as a family. Dad even jumped on board and learned the first few books with us! We’ve actually recently unearthed some rather hilarious family videos of ‘Busy-Busy-Stop-Stop’.
“For my family it was seen as a great social and educational opportunity and for me it just happened to blossom into an obsession, a passion and a career.”
Som Howie, clarinet
“When I was 11 or 12, my dad [pianist David Howie] was working with Mark Walton, who was the head of the Woodwind Department at the Sydney Con. Mark was very interested in Outreach music programs that provide music training in rural NSW, and had decided to put together a ‘teach-yourself-clarinet’ video for students in country towns without music teachers. Mark needed a guinea pig student in the video, so I said ‘yes’ without really knowing what I had agreed to. I think we filmed around four lessons, but I loved it after the very first one!
“I continued to learn with Mark after that, and would always go along to his rehearsals with Dad, so I spent a lot of time listening to them play together. I remember being so inspired by the energy of their performances, as well as they skill and musicality they showed. Mark would also invite me along to play small beginner pieces in his concerts, so I was used to (and loved!) performing right from the very beginning.”
James sang-oh Yoo, cello
“My mother is a composer and pianist who used to run a music academy specialising in piano tuition. I would spend a lot of time there as a child, and this led to me having my first music lessons on the piano. But when I was nine years old I was given a full-size cello by a family friend. I started playing on an adult cello from the very beginning, but I wasn’t very dedicated to it at all!
“This all changed when we moved to Sydney. I was 11 years old and started learning cello from Thomas Tsai. He completely changed my view; he gave me these really difficult, technical pieces to play and I loved the challenge. I would spend hours practising so I could work out how to play them. Thomas was definitely the first teacher who inspired me to become a professional cellist.”
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