Australian-born violinist Dale Barltrop, Concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, returns home to direct orchestral and chamber concerts for the Australian National Academy of Music. Dale recently took time to answer a few questions for us.
Ferny Grove State High School, in the outer north western suburbs of Brisbane, has actually produced quite a number of professional musicians over the years including Matthew Rigby, violinist and ANAM alumnus. I feel very lucky to have grown up in a school district that was very active in the arts… and it still is. Ferny Grove has recently won awards in Queensland for their innovative approach to music education. Name me another state school in Australia that has a sizeable boys choir! I definitely cut my teeth as an orchestra leader in school there… we even had an unconducted chamber string ensemble that I had the opportunity to lead, which gave me my first taste of directing. It was a great environment to be a musician – the music department became my community and my haven!
You took a huge leap of courage moving to the University of Maryland to pursue tertiary studies there, rather than at home. When you got there, you helped form the campus’ first chamber orchestra. What sort of repertoire were you most keen to work on at that stage?
I remember being pretty bummed about the fact that there was no chamber orchestra at my university. As much as I loved symphonic repertoire, it was the chamber orchestra medium that really excited me. Along with my close friend, we were able to motivate a wonderful group of students to give of their time freely to create something that was really special. Our very first program was Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, Copland’s Appalachian Spring (original version for 13 instruments) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 (the “little” G minor).
After Maryland, you undertook a Master’s Degree at the Cleveland Institute under the supervision of William Preucil. You were able to observe him in his role as Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. What habits or practices have you picked up from him?
My year in Cleveland was galvanizing in many respects, but particularly so in exposing me to one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Some of the concerts I attended were, to this day, the most memorable orchestral performances I’ve ever experienced. William Preucil’s leadership was a revelation to me. Never before had I observed a concertmaster who was able to single-handedly bring an orchestra to life the way he did. His presence, body language, communication skills and timing (to mention nothing of violinistic ability) were so effective that it was clearly a different orchestra when he was absent. Although I’d like to think that I’ve now developed (and continue to develop) my own individual style, Preucil has been my single biggest influence in the world of orchestral leadership. The essence of his style, above all else, is his ability to connect with the musicians of his orchestra, in the same way one would expect the first violinist of a string quartet to do. Not surprisingly, Preucil was the first violinist of the legendary Cleveland Quartet for many years prior to his appointment to the orchestra (check out their Beethoven cycle).
You will be playing mostly French works here at ANAM, and I notice your own repertoire also includes Ravel’s Sonata. Do you think French music requires a particular approach, or even a particular sound?
When I was a student, one of the comments I heard repeatedly from my teachers was that my sound was too “French”! At the time, I didn’t see what was so bad about that, but eventually I came to realize that too much of a good thing isn’t really a good thing any more. French music is intoxicating and full of colour, texture and imagery. It should also be wildly contrasting, sometimes from moment to moment, and so it is important to cultivate a wide palette of tonal varieties that can bring the music to life. The finest gradations of bow speed and vibrato can make a world of difference in this musical language.
One of the works you will direct for ANAM is Dutilleux’s Mystère de l’instant. What particular challenges does it present?
Dutilleux is one of the great modernist French composers, and although his output is relatively small, the quality of his music is exceptionally high. This is an incredible work: a series of 10 short movements or meditations on the art of musical creation. It does present some significant challenges in terms of its rhythmic complexity and utterly extreme sound worlds that will require intense control, concentration and above all, a high level of communication and trust among the performers. It will, I’m sure, be a richly rewarding undertaking for all of us.
Dale Barltop Directs
Thu 5 April, 7pm
Debussy Prèlude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin
Dutilleux Mystère de l’instant
Bizet Sympohony in C
Dale Barltrop violin/director
$50 Full $35 Sen $25 Conc
This performance is part of the Director’s Choice Concert Package
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