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The Chamber of Musical Curiosities: Ep 7

Category: News & Views: Podcast

In episode seven of the podcast, Artistic Director Paul Kildea chats with violinist, composer, and Musica Viva FutureMaker Harry Ward.

Their wide-ranging conversation begins with a discussion of Harry's exciting new arrangement of Mahler’s Piano Quartet, which will be debuted by pianist Konstantin Shamray, the ANAM Orchestra, and concertmaster Sophie Rowell for Musica Viva’s upcoming tour.

Harry also reflects on his disrupted 2020, which was to see him study at Berlin’s prestigious Karajan Academy. Though disappointed, the disruption means he’s able to join Musica Viva on tour and perform his own arrangement. Looking forward to a time when he’s able to take up his placement in Berlin, Harry tells Paul about the city’s rich musical traditions and culture, which he hopes to bring back to Australia and apply to his own practice.

Both Harry and Paul then discuss how pleased they are to see live performance beginning to resume around the world, and how COVID has served as a reinforcement of music’s irrefutable value in our lives.


Listen to the full epsiode now.

Paul: Hi, I'm Paul Kildea, Artistic Director of Musica Viva, and welcome to the podcast. Today I'm here with Harry Ward, the violinist and Harry, we've had this really wonderful experience this afternoon of the first workshop playthrough of your arrangement of the Mahler Piano Quartet, which he wrote as a 15 year old. I wonder if you tell us a little bit about the background to the piece, but also the background to your orchestration of it for piano and for a full string orchestra?

Harry: Yeah, absolutely. I think Mahler wrote it at about the age of 15. And it's a sort of piece where you can hear very, very early sort of explorations of different types of music, but still with very much Mahler’s voice, and you can really start to hear that come through the music and I've always played this piece and just sort of felt like there's something sort of anti-climactic about it. And I remember I was talking about that sometime last year, and I thought we kind of had this back-and-forth conversation, we realized that maybe we could have this into a program with a string orchestra and the piano. And so today, yeah, we had the first sort of workshop of kind of just just extending the range, adding more depth to the music and I think it sounds beautiful. We've really enjoyed playing it.

Paul: It did sound really beautiful, and I think the word is depth. And this is terrible talking about a Titan like Mahler, but there's a certain thinness to this piece that he wrote as a 15 year old, and I remember our early conversations, which is not so much about rescuing it. But it is about trying to add a complexity, a layer of kind of Mahler’s language as it was emerging in the kind of the 10 years following the composition of this piece, but at the same time being respectful, the fact that this is a young man's piece and he was trying to achieve certain things through it. So how did you kind of go about adding that extra layer, If you like? Adding that depth?

Harry: Well with the string orchestra, we obviously have another violin section and the added bass section. And that's going to be really, really helpful to have a base drop, so to speak, in the more climactic moments. But yeah, as you say, this piece is it's beautiful as it is, and I don't mean to better it at all. It's just, uh, this is more out of respect for who I think Mahler is and for my love for this music as well.

Paul: Yes, there was a wonderful moment in the rehearsal where we're looking at the B section, the development, and you've done two really interesting things with that. You have first of all excluded it from the first repeat section so really operates as a development. And the second thing is you have stressed this idea that it really sounds suddenly as if it's a Handel concerto, or, you know, a bit of from Bach keyboard writing.

Harry: Yeah, he was probably studying that music at the time, and, you know, he probably added that section in to show one of his composition teachers that he's been exploring this music and he can adopt that style and it suddenly

Paul: And it's only just come to me now. It makes me think of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto, which is piano and strings, but the same thing where he suddenly puts in Hanon exercises into the writing for the piano part, and he just does this whole section of Hanan and then puts this really great orchestration behind it. When I was watching you in rehearsal, I asked the question, how self-conscious do you think Mahler was at this moment in trying to sort of emulate these great pieces from the past, which, as you say, a teacher would have been saying, you've got to learn how to write the way that past masters did if you want to develop your own voice.

Harry: Yeah, absolutely. And you can definitely hear Mahler’s own voice throughout this piece. It's been such an interesting exercise for me to be able to to digest this music and really get to know and really get to know what ended up becoming this incredible composer that we've all loved and been influenced by. And it's just been a real honor to explore this music, and it's been so nice to have this first workshop today to hear it come to life.

Paul: And there was a great amount of respect in the room, obviously, to Mahler. But most of your family was playing which was another extra and rather beautiful element to the story. But these are all kind of chamber and orchestral players who have played so much Mahler.

Harry: Yeah, exactly. So much of today's workshop was just speaking about how we can hear different parts of maybe the Ninth Symphony of the fifth or the Fourth Symphony in this little section of the piece or that we'd be hearing just later Mahler works. Already as a 15 year old, you can you can hear the greatness of this composer and just how intensely emotionally aware he was. He must have had so much depth emotionally, just to write this kind of music as a 15 year old was just astonishing.

Paul: Yeah. And then, of course, it disappears without trace for 70 years or so, and it's discovered in Mahler’s papers that Alma Mahler had kept, um, in the 1950s, and, I think, or even perhaps even later, Alma Mahler's sanctions a performance. And then, of course, it gets published. And, uh, but no one has done what you've done with it, which is to kind of almost to amplify Mahler’s youthful voice and kind of look forward to where he was definitely going with it.

Harry: Yeah, that's a great way to put it. It's just how this arrangement should be seen. It's just, um, an expression for my admiration and love for Mahler’s music. And absolutely it is amplification. And I can't wait to hear it in a few week’s time at ANAM with Kon. It is going to be unreal.

 

Paul: Well, yeah, because then suddenly we had five string players here today. Suddenly it will be this full orchestra. And that just gives even more layers and sophistication to it.

Harry: Well, I've added throughout the arrangement quite a few sections that will be just the solo original parts. And then as the piece grows, you just added more and more instruments, and you're just afforded so many variations of colour and texture. A string orchestra really affords that, and with the original piano part as well. I really can't wait to see how it is, you know, knowing an institution like ANAM and where I kind of hope that everybody in those rehearsals feels like they can put something forward and they can go. Let's try this. Let's try and make that happen or something. You know that It's just very inclusive, you know. And, uh, yeah, I really can't wait.

Paul: Yeah, me, too. We've partnered it with a piece by Schnittke, this concerto that he wrote in 1979 for piano and String Orchestra. So it's kind of lovely as well, because there are about 16 bars that Mahler wrote of a second movement, which he never completed, and that's part of the reason why it disappears from trace until many years later. And then Schnittke writes, this kind of mad, um, completion of it. But the Schnittke itself, this concert is uncompromising. It's amazingly strong, post Stalinist, if you like very, very strong, uncompromising modernist music. But there is a sort of a brittle beauty to it as well, and it just seems I like the fact that Schnittke admired Mahler to the extent that he made this completion, and that we can put them together. But also to hear this level of only for the second time in Australia of this particular piece, this level of gritty modernism. And that seems to me kind of a really wonderful thing that, you know, ANAM can undertake that Kon as a proud Russian just says, yeah, you know, of course I want to play it. So it's kind of it's kind of a lovely program. You said something to me a moment ago, which is about Kaya Saariaho and a piece that she's arranged for violin and for cello. And you talked about it in terms of something that emerged from, you know, 2020 and COVID. And, uh, I don't like getting mawkish about this, but you're got a pretty exciting adventure this year, and it keeps shifting. The goalposts keep shifting. So perhaps talk a little bit about that. Talk about the Saariaho because you said something lovely that young musicians, as we were talking about ANAM young musicians kind of really loved this woman and the music that she writes So there are a few things for you to chew on.

Harry: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was studying at ANAM only last year, and there are so many of us who just absolutely love her music, and I'll be fortunate enough to play that duet with my brother in the coming weeks. But yeah, as you say, Yeah, these goalposts keep changing. And for me, 2021 was to see me in Berlin at the Karajan Academy in early February. But of course I'm here with you in Zetland in the Musica Viva Studio and because of COVID I will be headed off a lot later. But that is also meant that I can now be here and finally join this tour and play my own arrangement with ANAM, which is something I can't wait to do. But yeah, I guess it's one of these things that was one door closes, another one opens, and it's just been so fortunate that I can now join this tour while I wait to go to Berlin in late August.

Paul: And it's interesting. I had a drink with Nick Deutsche the other day. He's now got an association as well with the Karajan Academy and he was talking about how you know, thrilled they are that you're coming. And it's kind of seems, really you know, I have this big thing about Musica Viva, you know that we need to step onto the world stage. Not simply, you know, be this amazing organization that we are in in Australia. And it kind of made me think how small that world stage can be if at drinks last week, Nick Deutsche can say, well, the Germans are really excited that Harry is coming over.

Harry: Well, I'm so incredibly honoured, and thank you to ANAM and the Karajan Academy for making that opportunity happen. And thank you, Nick as well. They've all been so accommodating during this time with, you know, the classical music world is a small one, but with covid, Germany feels so far away at the moment. And just overseas travel is something that is now, you know, you really are kind of embarking on a journey compared to pre-COVID times. But yeah, hopefully, by the time I get over there, it's going to be a little bit more like normality, and in fact, just last week I think the Berliner Philharmonie did a gig for 1000 people and each audience member actually had to be tested before they went in. All of the players in the orchestra. But it was an incredible moment to be able to see them play music for people again, as did Musica Viva just on their first tour this year.

Paul: Yeah, we had. We had this beautiful tour with Diana Doherty and the Streeton Trio. She's just a fantastic musician, and she spoke very emotionally. Um, you know, I heard it first in Adelaide early in the tour, and Diana spoke about the piece by Lachlan Skipworth, this lovely oboe quartet that he's written for her. But by the time she got to Melbourne about a week later, she talked about the experience and the privilege and the honour of being back in the concert hall and the role of audiences and which is often overlooked. I often remember at these moments what Benjamin Britten said, that he talked always about the Holy Triangle, which linked composer, performer and audience. And he used to say, you know, you forget that one end of the triangle, that one point of the triangle at your peril. But it really felt like there was a great privilege to be there and also down in Adelaide at the festival, you know, just people jumping onto this music and just so happy to be back in the concert hall. 

Harry: It's just such a relief, more than anything else for me just to have seen Diana in that first tour and all the concerts that are starting to happen again, it's just, you know, that third part of the triangl. We were so acutely aware of how much it was missing over this last year. I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to join this tour with Musica Viva and now sort of experience that again and express this music for people again, not just in your bedroom or in your lounge room, or in front of a camera, that just music is about expression. It's about communication, and it has to live in that way.

Paul: It's funny, isn't it? I mean, we all we all have to work out what our approach to digital performance was during the last six months, particularly. But it is really nice to have that visceral reminder of the relationship that makes the music vibrate. It can't live in a vacuum. And if that's one good thing that we can take out of the year, that is the good thing. How does it affect you? Almost just practically in terms of playing for audiences versus throwing a camera on you?

Harry: Well, you know, a great example is just just then when we were workshop in the Mahler, we had it was just us rehearsing it and we were just chipping away at it and trying to work it out. And then Paul came in for the last place through, and there was just an immediate change in the energy. Everybody started feeding off each other. Everybody wanted to express this music and how beautiful this music is to an audience member. And that that I mean, that is what it's all about. That's absolutely the essence of why we do this of why there is any kind of art form It is, and in such difficult times now we're still not out of COVID, really, we're still in the thick of it and there's so many different kinds of issues coming to light during this time as well. And I think music is just something that we just we need more than ever. The arts is something we need more than ever and I bloody hope the Australian government realize that sometime soon, but it's something that you know, we just can't live with that and it's why I do it. It's why everybody does. That's why Musica Viva exists. That's why you're listening to this podcast right now. It's about community and are coming together. It's about listening to each other and expressing that and expressing what life is all about. And yeah, it's so nice to be able to get a taste for that again. It's sucha relief.

Musica Viva would like to say thanks for the support an ongoing partnership of Wesfarmers Arts. Wesfarmers Arts understand the vital contribution that the arts make to the communities in which we live and work. Bringing people and art together.

Paul: A government and a country that does have the high art and culture that you were just talking about threaded into the way it thinks and its understanding of what is vital for a liberal democracy for it to thrive is, of course, Germany and with towns with their, you know, their small opera houses and their small orchestras and then bigger towns with, of course, the hugely funded opera houses and scenes. So I just wonder what you think that you're going to get out of these two years in Germany working, of course, with amazing teachers or one of which one of whom you can talk about it in a moment. But the more peripheral things, if you like that, you can't experience in Australia and perhaps talk about it in the context of previous studies that you have undertaken outside of Australia.

Harry: Yeah, I think I mean, this is going to be an incredibly unique opportunity to be exposed to one of the great, great ensembles of the last 100, 200 years. They are just It's a tradition. The Berlin Philharmonic. There's such an incredibly special thing whenever you go to see them play and to be able to be fortunate enough to be studying with their concert Master Noah Bendix-Balgley is something that I am. I'm so incredibly honored. But yeah, Berlin as a city. It's one of those incredible melting pots. It's one of those places where there's just so many different kinds of artists there, and I hope that those two years, although they'll be very much focused on my time with the Karajan Academy, I hope to be spread thin by all that Berlin has to offer. And I've got so many friends there who were playing all sorts of music jazz, funk, blues, rock and roll, experimental classical music, experimental improvisation as well and just just want to be able to in a city that has all of that to offer. But then also working with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is just I mean, it's a dream come true for me, and I really as I as I said, I hope to be spread thin by all that it has to offer.

Paul: It'll be really interesting to see. Uh, I mean, I lived in Berlin but lived there first before the kind of amazing expansion that took place from around 2005, and when it was still really, really cheap. And so the melting pot that you describe was partly built around the notion and knowledge that people could afford to live there. People could afford to experiment. People could afford to say, I don't actually have to take this gig. I can experiment in this regard. So I mean, I know that that still exists and is still there, but I will be interested to see how much it's changed. And I ask this or pose this in the context of you once saying to me that you think that your career will be almost the melting pot that you've just described the desire to do as you say, the extreme, wonderful, high level classical music making, as represented by the Berlin Phil but at the same time a collaboration with this person or this genre?

Harry: Yeah absolutely. Different kinds of artists, photographers and visual artists. And there's just so many there. But you're right, the secret has been discovered. Everybody sort of knows about that with Berlin, and that's to some advantage, and but also I perhaps not quite as underground as it used to be, but it's still something so special, and I want to be a sponge. I want to absorb it all. I want to take it all in and I envisage my career very much to be based in Australia, so to bring all of that back with me, all of that knowledge, back and experience, it'll be, it's something that I I'm so incredibly honored to have that opportunity.

Paul: Tell me why you envisage your career here in Australia? What is the quality here?

Harry: I think there’s something really unique about the Australian music scene. It's something that is still trying to define itself. It's sort of working through trying to be like Europe or trying to be like America and also then trying to hold onto itself. And I'd love to be a part of defining, well, helping to define an Australian voice that is separate from all of that, that is, it is such an amazing place, Australia and it's taken us so long to realize that. And I think that people are beginning to understand that we have an incredibly unique opportunity here to build on what is, I think, one of the most sort of unique music scenes around.

Paul: What are some of the aspects of it, and I'm thinking it's partly because and you have obviously familial experience with this, with at least one brother playing in one of the big orchestras. But in Berlin, if you play in the Berlin Phil, that can be it. You can do that and you can do some teaching as well. But that's it. It's a little different, so in Australia. But I think it's more than just the kind of practical limitations and opportunities that Australia has. It's also something to do with the spirit or the psyche almost of the way Australian musicians are wired.

Harry: Yeah, I think so, yeah. I mean, I've been lucky to grow up in a family that I have that I've got such amazing brothers who are just all of them are amazing musicians in their own right, and the one that you mentioned in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, his career is he spends a lot of time working with them, but he obviously he does so many different things. He writes his own music. He he improvises a lot, he plays a lot of jazz, and he's sort of he's just in so many different scenes within Sydney, and there's just so much there. There's so much there that people don't really know about. And I think it's That's something I look up to and something that we kind of do together, and that's something of spreading ourselves thin through being one week will be sort of improvising together. Just last week were playing with a folk band, just the two of us and working on some improvised music for an upcoming concert. And I just think that's, you know, that's what it's really all about. I mean, obviously, I spend a great deal of time playing classical music, and I love that, and that's something I really want to make a huge part of my career. But I don't like this idea that classical music is going to be sort of in its own little bubble, and then every other genre hangs out there. That’s often how it is. Classical music seems to be just a little bit separate, particularly in this country, and I think that to be a part of popping that bubble, that's definitely a goal of mine. I think classical music would benefit so much from it being understood that it is one of many genres, and I think that's the way forward for the Australian classical music scene.

Paul: I completely agree and think that we have to, of course, respect the canon and respect the conventional surrounding the performances of the canon. But at the same time just sort of go hang on. There are whole audiences that we don't touch with the way that we present music. And then, of course, when you do actually expose them to you know, they're amazed at this, you know, completely wonderful art form that has kind of been done ring fenced from them for because of the families that have come from or the demography that they represent. So it is a really worthwhile thing. And it makes me think as well, uh, you talk about your your family with such respect, and there is something joyful about watching you make music with your siblings or something. I don't know. Not a lot of people would get to have that experience. I know I didn't. I'm incredibly close with my sisters, but none of them is a musician, so yeah, I just think also. It gave you the possibility in the example of how to have a career, a varied career, but have it in Australia as opposed to when I was going through university, where it was always you had to leave and you had to kind of think the opportunities would be elsewhere.

Harry: I think that's an important aspect of it as well. But we do suffer from the tall poppy syndrome here in Australia and it's no different in the classical music scene here and it's, I think we need to realize there is so much going on here. There's so much to see in this country and there's so much that we need to pay respect to, and I think that's really and there's so much we need to listen to here in this country. I think that's really going to be the way forward. But as you said, yeah, I've been very lucky to have a family of musicians Mum and Dad played in sixties garage rock and roll bands throughout the eighties and still do today and you know, I've got a brother in jazz and then there's my other brother playing cello and the oldest playing double bass. I think what you saw today was just kind of the way we grew up.

Paul: It was very beautiful to watch. And and I love the moment when they when they left and they just said, uh, we wish we could come and play it on tour. Yeah, but, you know, I sent them out the door. That can't. (laughs)

Harry: You don't wnat them on tour, trust me (laughs).

Paul: I had the great privilege of watching you up close for a year now because of the music of the FutureMakers scheme. And it just strikes me that, you know, And that's the reason I invited you to join. It is because I actually thought there was just this amazing overlap between the values of the scheme and your values that you've just articulated about where music is going, who I want to work with and why. And that's been really beautiful to watch and and we'll pick up hopefully where we left off when you when you come back here with a completely different bag of experiences by your side. But I watched you in, particularly with interest when we had a lovely conversation with Judith Crispin, who's our artist in residence this year. And we're slowly working exactly as you say working on a project with her. How do you just work with this great artist and Howard? And what do you come up? What project do you come up with? But I do remember we were kind of slightly tiptoeing as she herself does around her indigenous heritage because she didn't find out until she was 30 that she had indigenous familial links. And then you finally said, you know how How do we reach out? How do we build these projects? So how do we listen and then also cooperate with indigenous artists? And she just said, you ask, you know, if you want to If you want to build a bridge, you ask and and I just think that sometimes we just haven't asked.

Harry: Yeah, that's it. We haven't been asking for hundreds of years now. Yeah, I think one of the things that she kept coming back to was ask but listen and really, really, really openly listen to what they have to say and what they are expressing, and that is really the way forward because they haven't been listened to their unheard for too many years now. And it was just such an honour. It was such an amazing experience to be able to speak with her. I was so touched and so grateful that you guys were able to make that happen. And it was, Yeah, I remember writing to you afterwards, almost in tears just and how much she had to share and had to offer on that on that subject. She's so profound and so amazing. Thanks so much for making that happen.

Paul: She's consistently profound.

Harry: It's so simple. Just ask and listen, and we still aren't doing that enough today.

Paul: And in the listening, you learn. 

Harry: Exactly.

Paul: she's been really fantastic on on talking about how you turn this incredibly specialist art form, which in her case, was studying composition first with Larry Stitski and then with Karlheinz Stockhausen. Um and you know how you translate that almost into other art forms. And then how you do that also, by respecting, you know, she talks a lot about how it's impossible for indigenous Australians to segregate culture from their everyday life and the way that they think and and the way they operate. And it's amazing that we live often in a very segregated culture, and that's the great lesson that we can learn. 

Harry: And we still have so much to learn.

Paul: Apart from, I remember Richard Tognetti saying that, you know, he had to lock himself up for a couple of years and and just kind of, you know, thrash out a few things technically when he was young. How do you reconcile that? The things that you want to achieve technically with what you spoke about before about just being a sponge in Berlin and recognizing that there are things that you may want to learn in that way. But there are so many things that you want to learn just in terms of experientially and how that's going to change your practice for the rest of your life?

Harry: Yeah, I think I mean, you don't want to just be so spread thin that you forget about what you've learnt. I mean, I have a great deal of respect and love for the canon classical music. I mean, that is practice every day. And but what we often don't understand with classical music is that these techniques in this respect and this amount of time that we spend with this music that doesn't then just mean that you can't go and absorb other kinds of music. I mean, it's but it goes the other way that you can't just go and say, well, now because I can play violin, I can play anything on the violin. It comes back to listening and just I don't need to be someone who plays absolutely everything. It's just about listening and becoming a better person, but also a better musician and more well rounded musician by going to these concerts, going to these other gigs, going to these different art exhibitions, I mean, so much of the time you see, a lot of classical musicians are studying classical music. They go to all these classical gigs, and that's great. I love that. But just down the road after that classical gigs, there's probably an unreal jazz gig at the local pub that you just didn't know about. And it's those experiences. It's about listening, and it's not to assume that I'm going to be able to go and play all this sort of music. But it's just I just think it's so important that we do not have this segregation between the genres like this, and this should be constantly overlapping. And that's what's so great about a place like Berlin is that it's just all happening. It's all happening at once, and it's just so enriching. I mean, that's what being a musician is all about. This so many different ways to express a particular emotion. There's so many different cultures that have expressed it for many, many years that you could be influenced by in. After some time, you might be able to find yourself that you can get up and improvise and play a jazz gig. After some time, you might find that you might start writing some of your own music just by having these experiences. But as I said, this is all comes out of a deep love for music and canon of classical music and the traditions of it as well.

Paul: We're going to miss you in the years that you're gone. But I'm just thrilled that the timing somehow the gods of COVID finally smiled on us and you can be on this tour and playing this exquisite music, the Tchaikovsky that you're really beautiful arrangement of the Mahler. The Kerem, this wonderful piece where you haven't talked about. But anyway, people need to hear this beautiful arrangement that Kerem’s done for you on violin and strings and the Schnittke. But the promise I'd love you to make is that while you're away that either you or I can email or pick up the phone to each other and say, Hey, I've got this idea. 

Harry: Yeah, absolutely. There'll be plenty of those, Paul.

Paul: Harry Ward, delight as ever to talk to you and hear a little bit from your brain and what goesd on insdie it. And thanks also, as we know better than ever, thanks to our listeners who who make us want to get up there and do that.

Harry: Thank you.