News

Meg Washington: Playing with an orchestra is "like catching a wave. You have to surrender to the energy of it."

Reuniting with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for the first time since 2017, the ARIA Award-winning songwriter reflects on change, constancy, and keeping it simple. 

By Hugh Robertson, adapted with permission from author.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

The same could be said of music, especially when performed live: the listener is somewhat changed at every performance, but so too is the performer, depending on their moods and the seasons of their life. Think Glenn Gould’s two Goldberg Variations recorded 35 years apart, or Joni Mitchell’s two versions of ‘Both Sides Now’ with a similar gap between them.

Meg Washington is a firm believer that the best songs are malleable, changeable, susceptible to the passage of time just as humans are. That question is on the ARIA Award-winning singer/songwriter’s mind as she looks ahead to her upcoming performance with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at Wrest Point on 30 January, more than six years after she made her debut with the Orchestra, and considers what has changed for her in the years since.

'The question is, as an artist, do you see yourself as a brand that has to be maintained and represented,' says Meg, 'Or do you see yourself as a being, evolving, changing, and, well, being?'

'I think life is much easier as an artist if you live in the second camp. Because the idea of trying to stay the same…age can make a huge impact on how a song relates to you.'

Much has happened in Meg's life in the past few years that may have changed how she approaches the world, and her music. She has released two albums, with another on the way in 2024, written a musical, and written and produced a feature film – the latter an adaptation of Paul Kelly’s beloved song ‘How to Make Gravy’ that Washington has made alongside her husband, Nick Waterman. The couple also have a child born in late 2017, mere weeks after she performed with the Orchestra.

If nothing else, Meg is enjoying how different her songs sound when she has full lung capacity.

Meg Washington performing with the TSO.
Meg Washington performing with the TSO.

‘The last symphony orchestra show that I did, I was eight months pregnant with my son,’ she recalls with a smile. ‘So my phrases were very short and I was in a really different head space because I was just trying to breathe at all. And now I feel like I'm feeling really good in my instrument and in my body.’

‘It feels like a delicious idea to take on the task of singing with the symphony orchestra.’

Despite Meg's excitement at these concerts there is also some trepidation about the size of the musical forces waiting for her.

‘It feels like catching a wave,’ she says of performing with the Orchestra. ‘It’s a bit scary at first because it is so big,’ says Meg. ‘Once it is moving, you can’t change it. You have to surrender to the energy of it.’

Another challenge has been thinking about her music in a very different way to normal, and particularly think about it so far in advance.

'Because I have a jazz background, I'm pretty allergic to structure and routine,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I love to just call songs on the day and I love when my band just knows things. So a show like this is a real challenge for me because I had to decide a long time ago what I'm going sing in the future.’

A big part of these concerts involves adapting and arranging Meg's songs for symphony orchestra. It isn’t as simple as simply adding more instruments – it has to be done sensitively, with a deep knowledge of the families of instruments and how they work together, and a constant tension between the original material and how to make it sound good at scale. It is a delicate art, but Meg is excited about the results that have come back from her collaborators.

‘There were a few arrangers that I have come to know over the past couple of years who I was keen to work with,’ Meg explains. ‘And of course the arrangers come back with their own very unique take on everything. Some of the songs are completely transformed.’

‘There's a song called 'Cement', from my first record, that is now unrecognisable – it sounds like it is from some kind of cinematic James Bond universe. I'm actually a bit intimidated to sing it because it's taken on a sound that's completely new for me.’

(As a case in point, listen to the recording of ‘Catherine Wheel’ from those 2017 concerts, released on streaming platforms late last year. The original, from Meg's 2020 album Batflowers, is a lovelorn ballad played on piano, wistful and weary and worn-out like the relationship it depicts. The 2017 performance, arranged for orchestra by Paul Hankinson, opens with Meg accompanied by a quiet salvo from the horns before the strings begin to swell under the second verse, culminating in a grand brass crescendo. It is grander, certainly, but that just seems to make the subject matter all the more crushing.)

One of the arrangers Meg has worked with for many years is Ross Irwin, who was a member of Meg's first band, formed back in 2008, and has worked with Australian acts including The Cat Empire and The Bamboos.

‘Ross is amazing. His arrangements are so good because they're totally familiar, but full of simple changes that have a huge effect. So his arrangements are really exciting because for me, anything that injects new energy and novelty into the music is really attractive.’

‘But I love the idea of treating my repertoire like standards,’ Meg continues. ‘Being able to do them this way or that way: Latin, bossa nova, swing them or play them with a big band or with a symphony orchestra. I love the idea that if a song is written well enough, it can be robust enough to handle that much interrogation and still and still sound good and feel good.’

It is interesting to hear Meg talk about standards and the great bodies of work that term suggests, names like Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart and Harold Arlen. Back in 2017, in an interview published in the concert guide for her performances with the Sydney Symphony, Meg was adamant that those shows not be seen as a career retrospective. ‘I made a very deliberate decision because it was way too early for a ‘best of’, she said at the time.

But for these 2024 concerts, with her own songbook greatly expanded, she has taken the opposite path.

‘With this show I really wanted to present the most shining gems from across my catalogue,’ she explains. ‘I didn't want to complicate anything. Last time I did this, I had this whole album that I had arranged and it ended up like never coming out. So this time I was like just apply the KISS principle: keep it simple, stupid. I just am doing the songs that were singles and are singles, and other things that are my favourites.’

‘I think about it sort of like arranging beads on a string,’ she continues. ‘It has to be an interesting sequence of events that is unfolding and surprising, hopefully.’

*Adapted with the author’s permission from an article originally published on www.sydneysymphony.com

Meg

Don't miss Meg Washington

Reuniting with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for the first time since 2017, Meg Washington performs at Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, nipaluna / Hobart on Tuesday 30 Jan 2024.

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News

Could the TSO’s newest concerto be a “future masterpiece”?

Written by Stephanie Eslake, December 2023

In October 2023, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of a piece that was commissioned by a local music lover, composed by a Melbourne artist, and performed by an expert soloist who has long made this island her home.

Could their music be a “future masterpiece” in the making?

TSO Concertmaster Emma McGrath says the only way we’ll know is if we keep exploring and showcasing new music. And considering the standing ovation she received when she played the solo in this work – Joe Chindamo’s original Violin Concerto – it may one day become an Australian staple for her instrument.

“All orchestras need to take risks and perform new music, otherwise we will never discover the future masterpieces,” Emma says.

“Australian orchestras need to support new Australian compositions to further solidify our classical music identity, and continue to give it a future.”

This concerto commission was initiated by Parker – husband of the orchestra’s CEO Caroline Sharpen – because he “wanted to do something to support the TSO, and to help the TSO continue its fine tradition of championing Australian music”.

The architect and driving force behind the commission grew up attending orchestral concerts in Sydney. He says classical music has been with him for five decades, during which time he also became a loyal listener to the TSO through its recordings and live concert broadcasts on ABC Classic FM.

“The feeling of being able to contribute to the development of Australian music after having listened to it for so long is wonderful,” Andrew says.

Although he provided generous backing that would enable this piece of music to come to life, Andrew speaks candidly about his own role in the project. He knew that to make it work, he needed to trust the experts, “get out of the way, and enjoy seeing what emerged”.

Joe Chindamo and Emma McGrath.
Emma McGrath performing Chindamo.

That’s where the orchestra’s artistic team came in, and Andrew says TSO Director Artistic Identity Simon Rogers picked just the right talent for the commission: Australian composer-pianist Joe Chindamo OAM.

“My hope was that Joe could write a work that he was proud of, that showed off Emma’s virtuosity, and that was consistent with Joe’s canon,” Andrew says. And with this team locked in, he had no doubt the result would be “technically significant, exciting, and with sufficient appeal that it could become a cornerstone of the Australian literature”.

But while Andrew was humble enough to let the creative team get stuck into the practical side of the project, he certainly wasn’t passive throughout the process. He observed the concert preparation with Emma and conductor Otto Tausk as they analysed and played through the score, and he listened to the full orchestral rehearsals that he describes as “an absolute highlight”.

“I was made to feel incredibly welcome and part of the process. The sense of involvement was very powerful and exhausting at the same time because everyone gives their all physically and emotionally.”

Emma describes a similar experience: she felt the music was a journey through “the gamut of human emotion”.

“It is engaging throughout and has wonderful architecture,” Emma shares. “It all builds towards the end, which is astonishingly exciting. It’s like watching a movie with a great plot and wonderful actors – you couldn’t wish for anything more.” 

Emma and Joe spent plenty of time planning how the score would turn out, and she told the composer to “go for it and to not hold back”. He had familiarised himself with her unique style of playing through listening to recordings and having heard her in past performances. Emma says she hoped he would write to the strengths of her instrument, and as there were “no egos and there was no tension whatsoever”, they were able to forge a successful collaboration throughout the composition process.

“We have the same goals: to create and recreate beautiful music that makes a difference in today’s world,” Emma recalls.

It wasn’t Joe’s first time working with the TSO, either: the string section has recorded his music for an ABC Classics release, and performed his music in the Obscura series. In 2021, the TSO also premiered their commission of his Concerto for Orchestra. So it’s no surprise that as soon as he had his first meeting with Emma, Joe knew this project “would be special”.

“She is so open-minded and excited by a wide spectrum of music-making,” Joe remarks.

“From the outset, I was made to feel so comfortable about creating a concerto for her that the piece almost wrote itself.”

To inspire “outside-the-square thinking”, he asked Emma if there was a concerto she’d love to play – but hasn’t yet been written. This gave him a feel for the types of music she’d be passionate about, which he combined with his own voice as a composer to ensure the music would sound “authentic, honest, and fresh”.

But when asked to break down the music, Joe is hesitant to describe the building blocks. Instead, he takes pride in the way the smallest musical elements are combined to share a story that in the concert precis he described as both a “nod to the great tradition to its adherence to time-honoured conventions” and a work that “reflects the pulse of our own time – that is alive to and speaks of the spirit of the day”.

Otto Tausk conducting.
Emma McGrath performing a violin solo.

He feels that spirit was captured by the performer who “embodies all the great qualities that I look for in a contemporary musician”.

“Emma is a classical virtuoso with all the sensibilities and skills that entails, plus a cool sense of rhythm one expects from a top-tier jazz musician coupled with the wild-child attitude of a rock ‘n’ roll maverick,” Joe praises.

“She is the perfect modern violinist, and it was a joy to write for her. This sense of modernity and ability to embrace new music with a great degree of natural ease is also a quality I love about TSO,” he says.

“When can we please do this again? I can’t wait!”

Commissions come in all shapes and sizes. If you are interested in helping create more Australian stories through music, please contact philanthropy@tso.com.au

Emma McGrath

Coming up in 2024

Emma McGrath steps into the spotlight as soloist in the third and final violin concerto by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Dedicated to Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate – one of the most lauded of violinists – the Third Violin Concerto will dazzle and delight.

Saturday 12 Oct 2024 7:30pm,
Federation Concert Hall, nipaluna / Hobart

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News

5 things to know about Meg Washington

Yes, she’s a phenomenal singer/songwriter, evocative performer and ARIA award winner, but there’s so much more to Meg Washington. Meg’s music will be given the full symphonic treatment when she unites with the Tasmanian, Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestra's in 2024.

Learn more about Meg ahead of her Hobart appearance on January 30. 

1. In 2022 Meg released Hot Fuss, a covers album reimagining the 2004 album of the same name by American rock band The Killers.

The surprising release was borne from,  in Meg’s word’s, a “piano practice turned into covering the entire [Killers’] debut record.”

The result is a pared-back rendition of the high-energy originals, mostly Washington’s voice and piano. You can listen below, our pick is Mr Brightside.

2. This isn’t Meg’s first orchestra rodeo.

She performed with the TSO back in 2017, playing favourites from albums I believe You Liar, There There and Insomnia to a full house. Washington has also performed with state orchestras like Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. Don’t miss out on this electrifying collaboration again!

"The orchestra is an amazing organism, able to create textures and dynamics and feelings that are totally unique.”

Quote by Meg Washington for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Image features Meg performing with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 2017.

3. She has a stutter that disappears when she sings.

Washington developed her speech impediment in childhood. In her 2014 TED Talk at the University of Sydney, she said “singing is the only way I feel fluent”.

You can watch it here:

4. She's the voice of Calypso in Bluey.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of smash-hit Aussie kid’s show Bluey you may have heard Meg’s voice. In 2018, Washington lent her voice to Calypso, the Australian Shepherd who is Bluey’s primary school teacher.  Her melodic voice appears in episodes throughout the 3 seasons. You can watch them here.

5. She can draw!

The lyric video for her 2020 single Dark Parts features hand drawn illustrations by Washington.

Don’t miss the multi-talented, genre-defying Meg Washington with the TSO!

30 January at Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, nipaluna / Hobart.

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Season 2024

Looking for more?

Homegrown heroes, The Wolfe Brothers, are making their way back to Launceston in April! 

Along with four number one ARIA Country albums, 18 number one singles and six Golden Guitars, Australia’s most awarded country rock duo in history will add another highlight in 2024: a not-to-be missed concert with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

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News

TSO in the North!

8 – 10 Feb, Launceston and George Town

TSO will saturate Launceston and George Town in a flurry of musical activity this February!

Whether you're looking for a traditional concert experience, an event for the family or workshops for high school instrumental students, there's something for everyone. Don't miss out – find out more and book your tickets below.

Emma McGrath

Strings of the TSO

Classical brilliance meets contemporary dynamism.

Honey, we shrunk the orchestra! Join the TSO Strings for a night under the leadership of our Concertmaster, Emma McGrath. Orchestral favourites sit alongside classical makeovers for a high-energy program that delivers the quintessential concert experience.

Saturday 10 Feb, 7pm at Scotch Oakburn College, Launceston

Tickets just $42

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Family Favourites

Family Favourites

A musical adventure awaits the whole family!

Delight in classics and well-known tunes in this short concert filled with joy and excitement. Featuring the Can Can, William Tell Overture, and a few surprises to get you grooving!

GEORGE TOWN

Thursday 8 Feb, 6pm
George Town Memorial Hall

Tickets $10

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LAUNCESTON

Friday 9 Feb, 6pm
Scotch Oakburn College

Tickets $10

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School Concerts

Like Instrument Workshops (Years 6 - 12)

Instrumental students in Years 6 – 12 can join Like Instrument Workshops led by the players of the TSO.

Grouped by instrument, students will work on sound production, technique and ensemble skills. Not to mention have a lot of fun!

Saturday 10 Feb, 10am - 12pm
Scotch Oakburn College, Launceston

Free, registration essential

REGISTER FOR FREE

Email Kim Waldock, Director Artistic Development at waldockk@tso with your name, instrument and approximate grade.

School Concerts

School Concerts

School children will uncover the power of music in Listen and Dance – a concert of music to move to – featuring our Mini TSO ensemble made up of one of each orchestral instrument.

Free for participating schools.

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Season 2024

Looking for more?

Homegrown heroes, The Wolfe Brothers, are making their way back to Launceston in April! 

Along with four number one ARIA Country albums, 18 number one singles and six Golden Guitars, Australia’s most awarded country rock duo in history will add another highlight in 2024: a not-to-be missed concert with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

See Concert

News

Experience Meg Washington in concert with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

14 November 2023

Image

Leading Australian artist Meg Washington will reveal yet another facet of her genre defying talents when her music is given the full symphonic treatment in five exceptional concerts. Commencing in early 2024, the tour will unite Meg with the Tasmanian, Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, under conductor Vanessa Scammell.   

Nominated for 10 ARIAS and winner of three, Meg Washington is renowned for her electrifying and soulful live performances, where the full power and virtuosity of her voice are in force.  

The orchestral tour will feature Meg performing reimagined orchestral arrangements of works from her extensive catalogue, including Lazarus Drug, How to Tame Lions, Skeleton Key and Catherine Wheel, a live symphonic recording that is being released today. Meg will also premiere new music from her upcoming fifth studio album, due for release in 2024.   

Recorded live at the Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, this cut of Catherine Wheel is arranged by Paul Hankinson and conducted by MSO Principal Conductor in Residence, Benjamin Northey.  

In 2020, Meg delivered her critically acclaimed and Aria award-winning fourth LP, Batflowers, which was also shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize. It attracted rave reviews, with Junkee Magazine espousing: It is a breathless album… a magnum opus, torn from somewhere very precious and important.”  Under her own label, Batflower Records, in 2022 Meg released a piano-led interpretation of The Killers’ album ‘Hot Fuss’, and a taste of her own new sound with the sublime single, Eastcoaster. 

In addition to her musical career, Meg has been working deeply in the film and TV industry. Liberated by her 2014 TEDx talk in which she revealed a lifelong stutter, in 2018 Meg began her voice-acting role as the schoolteacher 'Calypso' in the smash-hit Bluey. More recently, Meg wrote all the songs for the upcoming musical feature film, The Deb - produced and directed by Rebel Wilson.  

With her partner, Nick Waterman, Meg is also the co-writer and producer of a feature film adaptation of Paul Kelly’s classic song How to Make Gravy.  Their company, Speech and Drama Pictures, is co-producing the film alongside Academy-award nominated producer Schuyler Weiss (Elvis), and Warners International TV Productions for Binge. The film is currently shooting on the Gold Coast, Queensland. 

Meg’s fan base will delight in this new iteration of the much-loved artist’s works, while newcomers will fall in love with the unearthly voice and powerful musicality of Meg Washington.  

Find out more about Meg Washington's performance with the TSO, and take an in-depth look at the awe-inspiring 2024 Season.

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Meg Washington with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Tuesday 30 Jan 2024, 7.30pm 
Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, Hobart / nipaluna

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News

Welcome to Season 2024

23 October 2023

Tasmania’s orchestra unveils spectacular 2024 concert season 

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has unveiled its awe-inspiring 2024 concert season, designed to bring joy and captivate audiences through exquisite and diverse experiences. 

Chief Executive Officer Caroline Sharpen said regardless of what the orchestra performed or where they played, she hoped every performance would be a special, emotion-filled adventure. 

“Whether it’s our full orchestra featuring an international virtuoso, intimate chamber music at Woolmers, an Obscura performance at the Odeon, or a Live Sessions pub-style gig in a theatre in Queenstown, experiencing the TSO live is joyous,” Ms Sharpen said.  

Minister for the Arts, Madeleine Ogilvie MP, enthusiastically endorsed the orchestra’s 2024 season, celebrating the infusion of creativity and culture into the Tasmanian community.  

"The Government is thrilled to invest in Tasmania's orchestra and deliver a glorious musical experience to enrich the lives of children, families, and individuals around the state," Minister Ogilvie said. 

Ms Sharpen said the range of musical experiences had expanded this year, together with the TSO’s presence around Tasmania.  

“The 2024 season includes unique events like a concert of video game music and high-energy performances with home-grown superstars The Wolfe Brothers, who will join the full orchestra in Hobart and Launceston.” 

Tom and Nick Wolfe will play songs from their extensive 10-year catalogue with the TSO, as well as brand-new releases. 

Nick Wolfe said he was stoked to be playing with Tassie’s orchestra. 

“We’re thrilled to be sharing the stage with the TSO in 2024,” Mr Wolfe said. 

“They’re not your typical backing band; we’re super-excited by the prospect of joining forces with the TSO to celebrate home-grown music-making in Tassie. 

Ms Sharpen said this season, there’s something for the most seasoned music-lover, the whole family and anyone wanting to try something new.  

“Our Animal Kingdom Family Concert is sure to thrill, a chance to dress up in animal costumes and enjoy a wild world premiere by a Tasmanian composer,” she said.  

“We’re also excited our unique chamber music experiences will be held at Woolmers Estate in Longford again, with six exquisite concerts throughout the year. 

“Scat singer Olivia Chindamo’s TSO debut and a solo piece from our Principal Cello Jonathan Békés will be highlights of the popular 6pm Series, featuring four concerts catering to the demand for early-evening, short-format performances.  

“The TSO’s ever-popular Obscura series is also returning with three concerts, and TSO Live Sessions – laid-back performances in craft breweries, sheds and other non-traditional venues – performs around the state. 

“Our signature Federation Concert Hall series with the orchestra in full flight playing all the greats and the future classics, with world-renowned musicians and conductors, including our outstanding Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Eivind Aadland. 

“We’re delighted to welcome back artists who have forged a relationship with us over the years, including pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, chorus director Simon Halsey, and violinist Karen Gomyo and for the first time violinist Clara-Jumi Kang, South Korean conductor Shiyeon Shung and the exquisite blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii. 

“Eivind Aadland has ensured Australian/Tasmanian composers will also be prominent throughout the 2024 season, and we’re looking forward to performing new works by Jabra Latham and Maria Grenfell.” 

Find out more about subscriptions, and take an in-depth look at the awe-inspiring 2024 Season.

Season 2024

Season 2024

As Tasmania's orchestra, we are delighted to invite you to our 2024 program.

When you look through the season concerts, each one brimming with artistry and energy, you'll see one thing lies at the heart of all Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra concerts: joy.

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NEWS

Q & A with Benjamin Beilman

He’s back! Benjamin Beilman – who dazzled us with his virtuosic performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 2019 – returns to the TSO as soloist in the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius. A performer at the top of his game, Benjamin Beilman has performed in recent years with the Chicago Symphony, London Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony and BBC Scottish Symphony. We asked Benjamin a few questions about the special violin he’ll be playing.

TSO: Yours is a very valuable and special instrument. Can you tell us a few things about it?

Benjamin Beilman, Photo by Sophie Zhai

Benjamin Beilman: This violin, made by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesù' in Cremona in 1740, is certifiably one of the 5 or 6 most storied violins in the world. Its moniker "Ysaÿe" comes from the early 20th century Belgian virtuoso and composer, Eugène Ysaÿe, who played the instrument in the latter half of his career. Ysaÿe was so devoted to this violin that, when it was restored by a luthier in 1928, he asked for a handwritten label to be placed inside the violin. It reads "Ce del Jesus fut le fidèle compagnone de ma vie" (this violin was the faithful companion of my life.) When Ysaÿe died in 1931, he was granted a state funeral by Belgium. In the procession, this violin was carried on a red velvet pillow in front of his casket. Thankfully, they didn't bury it with him!

In addition to Ysaÿe, the French conductor and violinist Charles Munch, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, and Sergey Khachatryan have all performed on this violin. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have the use of this instrument on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation of Japan since July 2022.

TSO: Does it have its own seat when you fly?

BB: I have a nearly indestructible carbon fiber and metal mesh violin case, so I don't need a separate seat for the violin when I fly. Just a very careful eye on the overhead bin.

Handwritten label from the inside of the "Ysaÿe", added in 1928.

TSO: And what about the bow, is it noteworthy too?

BB: I am proud to say that I own several of my own bows, the most prized is one made by François Xavier Tourte in France circa 1815. It was once used by the Croatian violinist Zlatko Balakovic and has been my primary bow for the last 5 years. Audiences (and many players!) often think the violin is what gives each performer their distinct sound, but really, it's the bow.

TSO: You have to negotiate all kinds of technical challenges in the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Does having a violin of that calibre help and, if so, how?

BB: The Sibelius violin concerto is, at its core, about struggle. Sibelius wrote this concerto after abandoning his personal ambitions to become a virtuoso soloist; I find it highly significant that this concerto is his only work in the genre- almost as if this had to be his first and last word on the subject. The technical demands still haunt violinists today, which is probably exactly what Sibelius wanted.

A violin of this calibre is certainly helpful in terms of projection and color pallete. For instance, the opening of the second movement is one enormously long phrase that has to deepen and develop over 3 minutes. This violin produces a voluptuous but brilliant tone, so it's certainly a relief knowing I won't have to struggle to sustain this line. Sadly, there's no escaping the pyrotechnical demands of the outer movements. However, it's comforting to know that some of my favorite historical violinists have shed blood, sweat, and tears on the same fingerboard.

NEWS

This emotionally powerful Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra program confronts the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20

Paul Dean’s resonant first symphony is a “passionate plea from our planet to humans to act now”.

By Stephanie Eslake

Australia, you’ve done well over the past few years. You’ve lived through a pandemic. You’ve continued to support live music, even when the odds were so greatly stacked against you.

You’ve faced and overcome so many challenges that you might not think to look back on the event that came before – the Black Summer of 2019-20 when you experienced a bushfire season that ripped through more than 10 million hectares of our wilderness and communities.

Perhaps like composer Paul Dean, you made it through this environmental crisis with the help of music. After all, what better medium can unite us and reflect our collective experiences?

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra will open its powerful concert Fire & Water with the second movement of Paul’s Symphony No. 1 Black Summer. The composer calls his work “a passionate plea from our planet to humans to act now”.

Paul is based in Brisbane and while he didn’t lose his own property that summer, like most Australians he was deeply affected.

“Our dearest friend and best man at our wedding was severely burnt trying to rescue his dog, and spent an agonising month in hospital and suffers pain to this day,” Paul shares. He adds that many of his other friends were “extremely lucky” to avoid catastrophic outcomes.

Paul spent the long months of Black Summer constantly checking the radio and TV for updates, and now remembers the entire experience as “a massive nightmare”.

As confronting as it may feel, it's important not to downplay the value of Paul’s experience – or the music that emerged from it. The second movement of his symphony will be performed in nipaluna/Hobart in 2023, a year that’s expected to be hot and dry. It serves as a timely reminder of what we’ve lost, but also of the way our memories may spark positive action in the future.

To Paul, a marker of the performance’s success is bringing “thoughts to mind about how as individuals we might be able to create change, even in a small way”.

“I hope that the symphony brings the thought of bushfires back to people’s imagination and thoughts – and jolts the complacency that is so easy to fall into since we haven’t really had fires anywhere near that magnitude since 2020.”

Composing the feeling of Black Summer

Not only is Paul an Australian composer; he’s also a clarinettist with his foot in the doors of chamber music (as co-artistic director of Ensemble Q and founder of Southern Cross Soloists), orchestras (performing as soloist and principal player), festivals (as artistic director of Four Winds Festival), and education (as former artistic director of the Australian National Academy of Music).

The second movement of his Black Summer symphony features 10 minutes of music that Paul says he’s proud of. His writing involved “a particularly special composition process” that made use of his own instrumental section, as well as brass and strings, in a symbolic way.

When thinking about the music he would create and message he wanted to share, Paul conjured the fantastical idea of a climate conference with just three in attendance: land, air, and sea.

“The air is represented by the wind section, the land by the brass, and the sea by the strings,” Paul explains.

“The three have their say on the diabolic situation we find ourselves in, and then combine as a single entity to produce a passionate statement to humankind.”

The statement is delivered at a climactic moment of his music, and you will be left in its wake with the tune of the piccolo: “The song of the last bird alive, singing its last song.”

An emotional journey for Tasmanian audiences

This piece will open the TSO program under the baton of Alexander Briger. Alexander conducted the symphony in 2021 when it was commissioned and first performed by the Australian World Orchestra.

“I know Alex Briger brought this movement to life during its premiere, and I am very excited about hearing him conducting it again,” Paul shares.

Paul – who will also perform as a solo clarinettist at Fire & Water – returns to the TSO as a regular, having played with the island’s musicians for the past three decades (“I adore being in Hobart,” he adds).

The TSO program will continue with another Australian work, Time is a River by Graeme Koehne. You can hear it recorded by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra before you head along to the live performance.

Paul describes the piece as “16 minutes of utter joy and peace…the perfect vehicle for quiet reflection for the audience after my symphony’s slow movement”.

“Music is about the thoughts, imagination, and reflection that a listener brings to the experience – and I really believe they will love the reflective calmness of Graeme's beautiful piece.”

Graeme composed Time is a River in 2010, and the work – which also highlights the clarinet – pays respects to his mother who passed away.

Paul opens up about his personal connection to the piece: “Graeme's piece also always reminds me of my mum who I lost a few years ago. Written in dedication to his mother after her passing, the incredible warmth that pervades his piece is mesmerising.”

Robert Schumann’s 1850 Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Rhenish will close the TSO concert with the spirit of “water” behind the program’s name. It’s a major-feel work that will ultimately send you away with feelings of peace and optimism as it transports you to another beautiful environment, the Rhine in Europe.

Book now to experience the powerful music of Fire & Water performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra this August 3 in the Federation Concert Hall.

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Why our new Director Artistic Development Kim Waldock thinks music education is a lifelong process

By Stephanie Eslake

Australia’s music industry is an ecosystem. TSO Director, Artistic Development Kim Waldock would even use the term “food chain” to describe the way artists are positioned in their classical music careers.

But this doesn’t make it a grizzly competition. Instead, Kim believes, it’s about providing everyone with the resources to evolve through their own creativity – from kindergarteners tapping at a tambourine right through to fully fledged orchestral musicians, and “the Simone Youngs” of the world.

Kim likes to think of the music industry as “one big continuum”, and believes “there are very few people who think that they haven't got something still to learn”.

Kim is a former classroom music teacher who this year commenced her TSO leadership role. With more than 20 years of experience in the education system – and positions with the Royal Opera House and Sydney Symphony Orchestra – Kim believes in “feeding people what they need as they grow”.

“That's what good teaching is.”

Music education is for everyone

“Listening to music does good things to your brain,” Kim says. “But it does good things to your heart as well.”

Kim is now working on TSO projects that connect the state’s orchestra with people of all ages. Initiatives like Mini TSO, Community Rehearsals, and the upcoming Deadline to Showtime can help listeners understand how classical music works – and inspire joy in the process.

“There are three things that make me excited about Deadline to Showtime. One is that it’s a world premiere. To be the organisation delivering a world premiere of anything is a privilege,” Kim says.

This action-packed production is the brainchild of creative thinker and former TSO Learning and Engagement Executive Jenny Compton (also behind the Violin Stories, Recorder Lift Off, and UKE BOX projects).

It features award-winning Tasmanian actor Jane Longhurst, and that’s Kim’s second point of interest – “the fact that it’s been created by Tasmanians”.

“It’s a chance for Tasmanians to really show what they can do as a creative team.”

The third exciting element, Kim reckons, is conductor Carlo Antonioli. Not only will Carlo lead TSO instrumentalists through this music – he’ll act and change his costume, too. Deadline to Showtime is not a typical listening experience; it combines action with music, story with sound.

Kim sets the scene: “We’re on holidays – and suddenly, the assistant to the orchestra gets a phone call saying, ‘Hang on, you’ve been offered a place in the festival of the world! And the orchestra is required tonight if you’d like to do it!’.”

So begins the story of Deadline to Showtime, and what happens next is a grand tale in which the orchestra comes back from holidays – starting with just a few instruments, growing to a larger group of strings and winds, and eventually uniting the entire collection of players.

But it’s not just the orchestra that will return to the Federation Concert Hall for this fictional festival. You’ll be able to join in when you attend, too – because the concert features a piece of music you can learn in advance, then play when you arrive. It’s called Power Up by Australian composer Holly Harrison. (It’s a novelty I’ve tested out in the past – and don’t worry, the piece is plenty of fun, and the only instrument you’ll need to bring along is yourself!)

“It’s a body percussion piece…a series of repeated patterns that you play using different parts of your body to make slightly different sounds,” Kim explains. You can learn it online before you come, and play along with a recording of the TSO to help build your confidence and get you in the mood for the performance. (It’s also a great opportunity for young concertgoers to develop their spatial awareness, reaction speeds, and hand-eye coordination!)

“When you learn music, it's great because it helps you think more clearly and in a more structured way,” Kim says, also noting the value of teamwork in music.

“But I think that's all secondary to the fact that music is an aesthetic experience that's really gratifying…and people often feel good after experiencing a performance.”

When music lovers come full circle

Some people feel so good after a TSO performance, they want to get involved again. And through events like Deadline to Showtime, the orchestra nurtures these people every step of the way.

Professional conductor Carlo Antonioli is returning to the orchestra after he participated in the 2015-16 Symphony Services International Conductor Development Program, which saw him work with the TSO along with other major orchestras across the country. He also took part in the Australian Conducting Academy 2018 Summer School, an educational program presented by the TSO in partnership with the University of Tasmania.

Composer Holly Harrison returns after her involvement in the TSO’s educational programs. In 2018-19, she participated in the Australian Composers’ School, and in 2020 was named ACS Composer in Residence (through which she wrote Power Up, which Kim notes is “getting a bit of traction around the world”).

Carlo and Holly’s achievements are examples of the TSO’s contribution to the “food chain” of the classical music industry. Kim is happy to help foster this culture of creativity.

“Knowing the TSO's track record in artist development, for composers and conductors in particular – and knowing the strategy that CEO Caroline Sharpen has formed with the board – really got me enthusiastic about the possibilities,” Kim says of joining the team.

Because of the size of the island’s orchestra, Kim thinks it’s well placed to start “changing the industry, or think about sustainability from an artist development level”.

Of course, not everybody who attends concerts like Deadline to Showtime will want to become a conductor or composer in their professional lives, as Carlo and Holly did. And that’s okay, too. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is for a child to come along to the concert and feel like “letting go and dancing”, or for their parents to “relive that experience of being a child, listening to music for the first time”.

“That's going to be quite a special thing for this concert.”

Experience the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra as they present Deadline to Showtime in the Federation Concert Hall, 6pm June 16. Book your tickets online.

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Hear the sense of adventure in Henning Kraggerud’s polar-themed composition

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra present a rare co-commission in Polar Opposites.

By Stephanie Eslake, TSO News April 2023

“The story of Romantarctica starts with a white landscape,” Henning Kraggerud reveals.

“Surprisingly romantic feelings are evoked in the sparse environment. You meet yourself in a new way – your innermost feelings cannot hide from you as easily as in a metropole."

Henning’s composition paints a picture of the northernmost and southernmost parts of the world. Informed by the curiosity and adventure of mankind, his music evokes the vision of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and British competitor Robert Scott, as they each attempted to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Roald succeeded: in 1911, his team raised the Norwegian flag in the sub-zero air. He then travelled up to Hobart to break the news.

“We are invited to look at their innermost secrets and the wildest dreams in their hearts,” Henning says of Romantarctica, which projects the spirits of these early polar pioneers. The Norwegian composer-violinist was also inspired by Fridtjof Nansen, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who from 1893-1896 travelled farther north than anyone in the world had ever been.

“In this piece, we find ourselves present simultaneously both in the north and in the south, and in different times of the past and future.” Each region, Henning believes, conjures “an aura of mystery and magic, which inspires heroism and thinking”.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s concert Polar Opposites unites musicians from both sides of the world; from orchestras as far north and south as you can hear. Henning, who is artistic director of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, will conduct and perform violin. His co-soloist is Andrew Seymour, the TSO’s principal clarinet.

Henning has previously travelled the 16,000km journey to play with the TSO, and he observes similarities between these cool-climate regions.

“From the fresh air to the ice-cold ocean waters, the people are remarkably warm and open, both in the very south and the very north.”

Romantarctica is a co-commission between Henning’s local Arctic Philharmonic and the TSO. Polar Opposites marks its Tasmanian premiere, and the world premiere of another sort: it’s the first time this music will be presented with clarinet as one of the solo instruments.

Romantarctica is composed with highly flexible scoring from the start. There is one higher and one lower solo instrument,” Henning says. That’s why you may never hear this work performed in the same way again, as “anyone who learns one of the solo parts can perform it in multiple settings – even with pianist, string quintet, chamber orchestra, sinfonietta, or varying sizes of symphonic orchestra”.

Equally rare is the type of clarinet audiences will hear rising above the orchestra: Andrew’s recently acquired basset clarinet. As the woodwind expert explains: “This extends the range of my regular clarinet down by four semitones.”

“Henning asked for this in his music, and I was happy to be able to get this new instrument – so I'm looking forward to giving its debut performance here!”

While the music captures the excitement of treading new territory, it also honours the more sombre events that took place in these early days of polar exploration. Though Robert Scott reached the South Pole just weeks after Roald, he never made it back, perishing with his team in extreme weather conditions. Henning composed a recurring funeral theme to mark the sacrifice. He includes further musical devices such as vibrato, to hint at the freezing pioneers’ emotionally demanding journey and their trembling bodies; and “crackling noises” to portray the threatening glaciers surrounding them.

The result of Henning’s musicality, according to Andrew, is “unashamedly romantic”.

“With the subtitle 'Heroes from the past and hopes for the future', it conjures images of the polar regions and the great voyages of the explorers seeking to discover unknown places.”

Watch: Henning Kraggerud performs the world premiere of Romantarctica in a chamber version.

Book now to hear the Tasmanian premiere of Romantarctica featuring Henning Kraggerud (conductor and violin) and Andrew Seymour (clarinet). Polar Opposites takes place at 7.30pm May 12 in the Federation Concert Hall, nipaluna/Hobart.

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