William Newbery: A man with many talents

17 June 2024

You may have seen William (Will) Newbery seated in TSO's viola section or out the front of the orchestra saying the Acknowledgement of Country. In 2024, you may have also seen Will as host of our 6pm Series, helping bring our audiences closer to the orchestra. Here's what Will has to say about the series as well as what else he's currently focusing on.

Mark Bain

Tell us Will, what’s it like stepping out from behind the viola and taking centre stage as the host for the 6pm Series?

My answer to what it’s like to host the 6pm series may be totally different depending on what time of the day you ask me! I was pleased and honoured when I was approached with the idea but also a little daunted by the responsibility. Obviously, the main part of the evening is the musical performance and, like a page turner for a pianist, I can either help that go smoothly or create a couple of awkward bumps along the way. It’s great to be able to make a contribution to this series that hopefully gives it some individuality from our other brilliant concerts.

When I arrive for a performance, it feels very different to when I’m just playing the viola. It’s been a long term since I’ve felt nervous about performing with the orchestra but I’m now very well reacquainted with the feeling. I try to avoid the usual chat and banter with colleagues before the concert so that I can keep the information I want to give to the audience clear in my head. I’m sure my comrades in the viola section notice a marked difference in my behavior on a 6pm Series concert night now. I always feel a little jittery before speaking in public. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t. But when I’m standing in front of the audience with my genuinely supportive colleagues behind me, the nerves melt away with the focus I try to bring to my speaking. Most of the time.

What is it that you love about the 6pm Series and what do you think sets it apart from some of our other concert offerings (apart from an exceptional host of course)?

I’ve always believed that being really serious about your work doesn’t preclude approaching it with a light heart and a smile. I think that’s a central part of the ‘spirit’ of the 6pm Series. In this series we really want to show people the fun, approachable and directly communicative side of music for symphony orchestras. That doesn’t mean we make any compromises on the quality of the music we play – far from it! Our outstanding artistic management team program the concerts to show that so many of the great works for orchestra don’t require any background experience or a track record of ‘orchestra enthusiasm’. A first-time listener can take away just as much from the experience as a life long devotee. It's especially for the first-time listeners that we want to give the 6pm Series a relaxed and welcoming vibe and that’s what my main motivation as the host is.

Our final 6pm Concert in 2024 is on Thursday 1st August featuring pianist Stefan Cassomenos.  Is there something special our audiences should know or look out for in this concert?

Stefan has long been an outstanding champion of new music which I’m sure will give him the ability to see and feel Shostakovich’s concerto with fresh eyes and ears. There’s no other composer quite like Shostakovich. A genius who, his whole life, navigating his way within the Soviet Russian Regime, stayed true to his art. Even when he had to disguise the actual meanings in his music. Without ever meaning to, Shostakovich became the face of Soviet artistic achievement. I’m not sure any musician ever lived a braver artistic life or walked a more fraught path. I’m not particularly familiar with Kurt Weill’s music but I know the esteem in which it is held and I’m looking forward to my own journey with it.

You are a man of many skills, some of our readers might not be aware that you’ve been studying conducting.  Would you like to give us a bit of an update on what’s been happening with your training and how you’re involved with the Australian Conducting Academy?

Actually, I think I’m a man who finally understands why people talk about having a mid-life crisis! I’m lucky enough to be completely comfortable and happy in my life (for now, at least) and I have nearly three decades of experience to draw on in my career as a viola player. These last few years I’ve started to miss the challenge and exhilaration of developing new skills and finding new experiences in life. That’s what led me to explore both hosting the 6pm Series and learning more about conducting orchestras.

The TSO generously supported my undertaking a degree in conducting last year through the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be offered a place in the TSO’s Conductor Launchpad program.

Conductor Launchpad is a gateway for the TSO’s Australian Conducting Academy. It provides the almost unique experience for a conductor early in their development to rehearse a professional orchestra and discover how all of the nuances of movement that a conductor makes elicit a direct response from professional players. That, in turn, is a revelation of why it’s so important for them to be highly aware of all their movements. I have an entirely new respect for conductors!

There are several ensembles in Hobart that offer the chance to rehearse and conduct concerts. I’m very grateful to the Secret Orchestral Society and the Derwent Symphony Orchestra for the opportunity to learn as much from them as they (hopefully) do from me. There is no teacher like a video camera that will unflinchingly tell you how it is after the fact!

I’m in the lucky position to know several brilliant professional conductors who are extremely supportive and generous with their advice and tuition. Ben Northey, Johannes Fritzsch and Eivind Aadland have all been good enough to help me on my way and each of them is an inspiration in the art of conducting.

Ultimately, what strikes me is the thing that unites playing, speaking about or conducting music and that’s sharing a love of it with other people. That doesn’t change for me across all three of my pursuits – communicating the things I find in the music and being open to what other performers and listeners do. It’s a chance for us all to rejoice in the genius of our brothers and sisters, touch a part of that genius and let it enrich our lives.

In all your work with the orchestra this year, has there been a highlight so far, whether it be 6pm related or something else entirely?

So far, the highlights for me have been Yeol Eum Son’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto and playing Beethoven’s Eroica. I thought Yeol’s playing was absolutely electrifying and I love being reminded (every single time) of the power and genius of any of Beethoven’s symphonies.

Thank you to Will, and we wish him all the best with his conductor training and hosting your next 6pm concert. Don't forget to purchase your tickets for the Stephen Cassomenos concert to see Will in action.

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