And so another great Musica Viva year ends
Musica Viva has done it again: it has produced another year of splendiferous, inspiring concerts. Mr Gums and I have been subscribing to Musica Viva (or its predecessor here in Canberra, the Canberra Chamber Music Society*) for nearly four decades – albeit with a gap in the middle for child-rearing and overseas posting. We love it, which of course is not surprising given we subscribe year after year!
I don’t know how Musica Viva runs in other cities, but we have a vibrant community here, fostered by an enthusiastic committee (and no, I’m not a member) and a small but creative office led by Michael Sollis (he of the Griffyn Ensemble). All of this is underpinned by the intelligent programming of Australian composer and Musica Viva artistic director Carl Vine.
Before I talk a little about the concerts I want to say something about timing. Canberra’s concerts have commenced at 7pm for over a decade now. I loved it when I was working. Of course, it may have helped that the concert hall was across the road from my workplace, though it wasn’t for Mr Gums. He’d drive over to me, we’d have a light meal on the ANU campus, go to the concert and be home by around 9.30pm. Perfect for a work night. Now we are retired, we are perfectly happy to do the European thing – eat our main meal in the middle of the day, then have a light snack before the concert, and perhaps a dessert afterwards. Works well for us.
Now to the concert experience. Over his years as office manager, Michael Sollis (who only turned 30 this year!) has worked hard to add value to the Musica Viva experience. We have pre- and post-concert events, and interval performances. To give you an example, this year’s pre-conference events have included a courtyard performance by local early music specialist Ian Blake before Renaissance group Tafelmusik, a tour of the Canberra School of Music’s historical piano collection before piano soloist Paul Lewis, a pop-up choir before a cappella group I Fagiolini, and even a wine tasting by Musica Viva’s local wine sponsor, Eden Road Wines. That of course could go before any concert!
During Interval, we can hear a performance on the School of Music’s café floor by young music students, usually mirroring the main act. So, for example, our last concert was the Eggner Trio, and the interval recital was by a young student trio. We enjoy checking out the next generation, and hopefully they enjoy performing for an appreciative audience.
The post-concert event is usually a Q&A with the performers or a CD signing. For the final concert of the year, Sollis and the committee tried something different. The Q&A was held in one of Canberra’s oldest brewpubs, the Wig & Pen, which is located in the School of Music’s ground floor. An inspired idea. At least Eggner Trio, comprising three brothers aged from their late 20s to mid 30s, seemed to think it was! And I think we audience members who joined in found it a fun, relaxed end to our Musica Viva year.
I don’t know what you think about all this, whether it would appeal to you, but I love the commitment to engaging and inspiring the community that lies behind all this.
So, you are probably wondering, who (or what) did we actually hear in 2015. In Canberra, we get 6 of the year’s 7 touring performers. Our numbers don’t, apparently, quite support receiving all 7 yet. A goal for the future! This year, we had:
- Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra from Canada which presented a staged/choreographed multimedia show called House of Dreams, in which the musicians took us through the art, architecture and music of Europe through works by Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell, Telemann, Bach and Marais. It was an exciting show though perhaps not quite as coherent as their Galileo Project which we saw a few years ago.
- Goldner String Quartet, from Australia and comprising two married couples, played Ligetti, Beethoven and a new crowd-funded piece by Australian composer Paul Stanhope. Lovely music – and I can never say no to Beethoven who, if I were forced to choose, would be my favourite composer.
- Cellist Steven Isserlis with pianist Connie Shih. We always love Steven Isserlis (with his wild curly hair) – but Shih more than held her own in what was a Gallic-inspired program.
- I Fagiolini is an English a cappella group which specialises in “Renaissance and 20th-century vocal repertoire”. They were impressive and very entertaining, particularly in their staging of Janequin’s “La Chasse” which they performed from memory. It’s “a nightmare to memorise” says their leader Robert Hollingworth. They also performed a new work by Australian composer Andrew Schultz titled “Le Molière imaginaire; Or, Keep Your Enemas Closer”. You had to be there really. (I hope you didn’t think chamber music is all toffee-nosed seriousness!) Their concert ended on a more respectfully serious note, though, with another 20th-century piece, Adrian Williams’ “Hymn to Awe”.
- Paul Lewis is an English solo pianist. In the spirit of gender equality, I’m going to talk about male appearance. I do like a male musician with curly hair, so I’m automatically partial to Steven Isserlis and Paul Lewis! Luckily they are excellent musicians too. Lewis, as I recollect, played his whole program – all Beethoven and Brahms – from memory, something we discussed with him at the post-concert Q&A.
- Eggner Trio, comprising three young brothers from Austria, closed out the 2015 season with a beautiful program featuring Robert Schumann, Australian composer Dulcie Holland (her trio composed in 1944 but not performed until 1991!), and Dvorak.
Musica Viva’s four core values are “quality, diversity, challenge and joy”. We certainly had all that 2015. A huge thanks to all the paid staff, volunteers and performers who made it happen.
* The Canberra Chamber Music Society was founded in 1956 and for more than two decades presented chamber concerts in Canberra, in association with Musica Viva Australia which was established in 1945.