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‘Music to me is a building block’: Meet ASO viola player Anna Hansen


Long-time ASO member Anna Hansen describes the orchestra as like one big family. Now, in the time of COVID-19, she is trying to stay ‘playing fit’ by practising in the living room at home while surrounded by her usually very active real family.

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Anna Hansen knew she’d make a career in music when she brought home a violin after her very first lesson. She clearly remembers telling her parents, I am going to be a violinist when I grow up”, and slept with her violin under her bed that night.

I was only a little bit off,” she laughs. “You still hold the viola the same way, and most principles apply!

Hansen, who grew up in the NSW small town of Jamberoo and studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has been a member of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for 26 years.

She is also a busy mother of three girls who all play competitive sport. Before the rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 came into effect, she was going from one training session to the next. Now, she says she has much too much free time for her liking.

If you weren’t a professional musician you’d be…

A web designer, or something geeky like that. I used to be right up with all the latest technology. I have fallen a long way behind now but enjoy managing the social media and web pages of my daughter’s swim club.

How did you choose the viola?

I heard my slightly older friend playing violin at her local Suzuki concert and pestered my parents for two years until they gave in and let me learn. I started learning viola to help my strength for violin and very quickly fell in love with it and transitioned over.

Is there anything special about your actual instrument?

I bought my viola from composer and violist Brett Dean, who bought it from Wolfram Christ of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. I feel very fortunate to have such a beautiful instrument, and just hope some of their incredible skills have ingrained themselves into the wood!

Finish this sentence: Music to me is…

a building block. Without music, the world would be a very different place. Imagine a ballet with no music, or a film with no soundtrack.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose and why?

Cello, without doubt. I love the sound, and some of my favourite pieces of music are cello concertos.

Which solo or moment in the viola orchestral repertoire is your favourite?

The Bartok Viola Concerto.

What has been your most memorable performance with the ASO?

Our recent performance in Shanghai. It was an amazing concert hall, and every single musician rose to the occasion and gave their absolute best.

Your first orchestral concert memory?

Watching the Wollongong Symphony Orchestra play. I was mesmerised!

COVID-19 has put a hold on ASO concerts. What do you miss the most about not being able to perform?

The orchestra is really like one big family. I feel very cut off without contact with my colleagues making music together. It is one thing to prepare and practise at home but performing makes all that work make sense. It is very hard to find motivation without that opportunity.

You still have to remain playing fit for when concerts resume. How do you manage this?

I am trying to practise for a few hours a day to keep in shape. Some days will be more, some less. We have a biggish family, and we are all trying to work at home, so this takes some adjustment. I like to practise in the study, which has great lighting, but this has been taken over by my husband as his work-from-home office, so I am practising in the front living room, which is presenting a few challenges!

I have been playing some studies, scales, and finding a few duets to play with myself. Thank goodness for modern technology. We are planning a viola trio with some colleagues. We will see if it works. Watch this space!

What is the thing you most crave while living in isolation?

Contact with others. Sitting down with friends and having a coffee. Chatting to the parents of the kids my children play sport with while they train. Not being able to provide the opportunities for my children to play their sports, when they have trained so hard for events that now can’t occur, is just devastating.

Anna Hansen on holiday in Canada with her family in January this year.

Who has influenced you most as a musician?

My piano teacher, Nan Price. She opened my mind up to so much, and often accompanied me when playing violin/viola, and even though she didn’t teach those instruments, she managed to teach me so much about making music in general.

When you’re not performing or practising, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In non-COVID-19 times, I don’t have much free time. I have three kids, who all play competitive sport. One swims seven or eight times a week (hello early mornings!), one is a gymnast who trains 15 hours a week, and one does a bit of everything. Right now, I have much too much free time for my liking. I am filling it by long dog walks, cooking decent family meals, and finally catching up on TV shows that we haven’t watched for months.

When you’re not listening to classical music, what do you listen to?

I listen to podcasts. I like having a break from music every now and then.

Name three pieces of music you love, and why.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto: I will never forget the first time I heard Jacqueline du Pre playing it – unfortunately, not live.

Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony: it’s so amazing to play, and to listen to.

Mahler’s 5th Symphony: the first really “difficult” piece I played in youth orchestra. I didn’t like it at all at first, but the more I play it, the more I love it.

Do you come from a musical family?

My grandfather played organ for his church choir, and had the most amazing knowledge of music. Even when he was suffering Alzheimer’s near the end of his life, you could put a CD on, start halfway through a movement of any of his large collection, and he could tell you what piece and movement it was. My mother played piano, and my brother played cello; he even did a music degree before ending up in banking.

What piece of music never fails to move you?

Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

If you could ask one composer one question, what would it be?

I would ask Mozart what he thought of today’s music.

With COVID-19 forcing a halt to all live performance, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is sharing a series of interviews that give an insight into the role and lives of its team.


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