You don’t have to be a classical music nerd to get the violin. It’s an instrument that crosses boundaries and a recent visit by Brisbane’s own globetrotting superstar Ray Chen proved just how much buzz a violin player can generate. Particularly one who has legions of followers online as Chen does.
I happened to be in the foyer at the Concert Hall at QPAC after his recent performance with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and witnessed him being mobbed by adoring fans. He’s a classical music rock star and frankly we have a few stellar violin players including QSO concert master Natsuko Yoshimoto who is amazing.
Courtenay Cleary who plays with Southern Cross Soloists among others, is also incredible and she once played for the late Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. Then there is burgeoning prodigy 11-year-old Alessandro Martinese who plays with Queensland Youth Orchestras.
Artistic director of Camerata, Queensland’s own chamber orchestra, Brendan Joyce, is no slouch either but he’s happy to share the spotlight with another rising star, Catherina Lee, who is coming home for two Viva Violin concerts with Camerata in Toowoomba on August 4 and Brisbane August 5.
The concerts will feature classic works including Rossini’s famous Barber of Seville Overture and works by Mendelssohn including his violin concerto which will also feature Catherina Lee, described as one of the most gifted violinists to come out of Australia in recent decades.
Brendan Joyce says it is “both exciting and heart-warming to have Catherina Lee join us as our guest soloist”.
“These days there are so many brilliant players with superb virtuosity, but you’d rarely hear a musician with this level of sensitivity and subtlety,” Joyce says.
“She’s a most elegant and refined violinist and musician, so much so that she has come to the attention of lauded Classical music aristocrats like the conductor Marin Alsop and the cellist Stephen Isserlis with whom she has lately played in chamber music concerts. And she has been personally mentored by the great violinist, Janine Jansen.
“Elizabeth Morgan, the founder of Camerata, recognised Catherina’s ability here in Queensland and nurtured her for many years before guiding her towards studies in Vienna.”
The 26-year-old is now based in Vienna and has appeared with a number of European orchestras and ensembles and recently made her debut at the city’s famous Konzerthaus.
All of this is possible because this young musician from the Gold Coast (who attended Trinity Lutheran College) spent her childhood practising rather than going to the beach.
“My mum was quite strict when I was growing up so I wasn’t allowed to go to the beach with my friends,” Lee recalls.
“I spent most of my time outside of school going to violin lessons and at home but I imagine my childhood on the Gold Coast to have been a far more relaxed one than being a young musician in Europe.
“I am really excited about coming home.”
She will catch up with family and have as much of a holiday as she could ever expect to have and she may even get to the beach, finally.
She will be playing exclusively with Camerata so music lovers will only have those two opportunities to hear her play.
She recalls her debut with Camerata fondly and says the orchestra’s founder Elizabeth Morgan was a big influence.
“While I had my lessons with Elizabeth, I attended Camerata concerts and had the chance to play with them as a soloist and in the orchestra,” she says. “I feel very lucky to play with them again.”
Brendan Joyce says Camerata likes to include special guests and soloists who have local origins. He has created a program of music to showcase Lee’s talents that is not just for classical music tragic.
“For die-hards this is a lock, stock, and barrel program with three absolute beauties but if you don’t know classical music at all, this is a pretty good way in to that wonderful world,” he says.
“Most people have heard the Barber of Seville Overture of Rossini – it has been popularised not least of all because of its use in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon series, as well as the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny classic episode, The Rabbit of Seville. It also featured in the 1993 film Mrs Doubtfire.”
He says Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto is “one of the most remarkable in the genre”.
So, it should suit Catherina Lee perfectly. And as usual Camerata will welcome audience members to join them in the foyer after the show to meet the musicians and have a chat. So, Ray Chen may not be the only violinist mobbed by fans at QPAC this month.
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