Musica Viva is a globally significant champion of chamber music, touring Australian and international artists to audiences and schools across the nation and reaching about 360,000 concert goers annually.
Even so, artistic director Paul Kildea is ambitious for the organisation’s future as a cultural leader.
While wishing to honour the traditional tastes of long-term patrons, Kildea plans to attract diverse and younger audiences through revitalising the genre and putting a fresh spin on performance conventions.
In designing the 2024 season, Kildea says he’s looked at chamber music sideways and through a kaleidoscopic lens. There’s a desire to tap into the senses, to include indigenous perspective, to emphasise multi-faceted performance and satisfy traditional and non-traditional expectations.
Of the 26 artists involved, including Queensland’s Ensemble Q, most of the artists are curious, experimental players who can brilliantly fulfil the status quo yet are not wedded to rigid performance practices and the conceit of high and low art.
Some of the performances are confronting, such as the collaboration between superstar violinist Pekka Kuusisto and award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Kahane. The classically trained duo bring improvisation into the mix and challenge ideas about what chamber music means today.
On the other hand, The Esme Quartet and The Choir of King’s College Cambridge presentations are straightforward, except that European fare is twinned with Aussie content.
Long Lost Loves (and Grey Suede Gloves), the first tour in February, is inspired by American Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom, whose witty and poignant songs defy categorisation as either serious or popular music. Australian mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley, a principal with Opera Australia, will perform Bolcom’s quasi-cabaret-cum-art songs in a storytelling event devised by Kildea and Ian Dickson.
Esme Quartet, a young South Korean ensemble, is appearing for the first time in Australia with a menu of Mendelssohn’s Second String Quartet and Aussie composer Jack Frerer’s exuberant Spiral Sequences, with its thrilling rhythm and jagged reiteration of manic riffs.
At this festive time of year, the UK’s Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, is as Christmassy as mistletoe and plum puddings and its Festival of Nine Carols is broadcast every Christmas Eve.
Yet, this quintessentially British institution will premier an ambitious creation by Damian Barbeler, an Australian multimedia artist. Commissioned by Richard Wilkins, Barbeler’s epic is inspired by the words of Canberra-based poet and visual artist Judith Nangala Crispin.
Solo piano doesn’t fit into the chamber music mould but traditions carry their own momentum and for many years concert pianists have entertained Musica Viva audiences, including Piers Lane, Paul Lewis, Joyce Yang, Angela Hewitt and, in 2022, Aura Go, who performed Chopin’s Preludes in a semi-staged production adapted from Kildea’s book, Chopin’s Piano.
Kirill Gerstein is a virtuosic, jazz-turned classical pianist who can squeeze the heart from the classical canon’s most remote and finger-taxing works. In June, Gerstein presents favourites by Liszt, Godowksy and Chopin, as well as the first airing of Liza Lim’s Transcendental Etude.
Ensemble Q, the brainchild of Queenslanders Trish and Paul Dean, is an executive force of like-minded instrumentalists including oboist Huw Jones, flautist Virginia Taylor and Peter Luff on French horn.
Fulfilling Kildea’s vision for inclusion of the old and the new, popular European classics by Brahms and Ligeti are counterpointed by Dean and William Barton’s new works. An ear-pleaser destined to intrigue will be when Barton’s imaginative didgeridoo productions are interwoven with the voices of Western-European instruments.
Kildea has dubbed violinist Lina Tur Bonet the Kate Bush of Baroque music. By all accounts, she’s a superb player, a breath of fresh air in what can be a rule-bound, serious-minded world. Leading a team of period-instrument troubadours known as Musica Alchemica, Bonet will navigate a fun, whistle-stop excursion through gems by Baroque greats Corelli, Biber and Telemann.
Brave and adventurous and appealing, elements in Musica Viva’s 2024 program might spark controversy, but there’s no doubting the quality of the extraordinary musicians Kildea has engaged to deliver it.
Long Lost Loves play Brisbane Powerhouse, February, 22, 7pm; Esme Quartet play Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, May 13, 7pm; and The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, play QPAC, July 25, 7pm.
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