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Photo: Pia Johnson

ANAM student and pianist, Gladys Chua, was recently invited to perform at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville this year. Here is part three of her adventures!

My role as Winterschool accompanist was a fairly late addition to the mix of the Festival, all things considered in festival timelines (which I imagine to start a good year or several in advance). Some students come to the Winterschool as soloists, and obviously bring repertoire that sometimes needs a piano. Thus, my role was very immediate and full of surprises! It was lovely to meet a new bunch of students who were keen to learn; some of them were people who I had mutual friends with, so that was very lovely! My job here was to play for their classes with the artists, and also on one occasion, to play for the public masterclass. This was a great way to learn some repertoire very quickly and to also sit in on some fascinating lessons (that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so). The thing that struck me about the artists giving lessons was the different ways they approached things – some were more technique-specific, some talked about specific details of the music, some made broad comments about using eg. the left hand (string player), some talked about the solo line’s relation to the piano part. But the thing that was overwhelmingly constant and fascinating was their musicality and love of music, they ability to convey concepts to students and their generosity of time and energy. David Harding, one of the violists at the Festival, remarked on the enthusiasm of the students to learn and that for him, he would rather give many lessons for free to those who are enthusiastic and hungry to learn, than to those who pay and have no interest whatsoever.

One of the other things I did was page-turn for many of the pianists in many of the concerts, providing I was not otherwise busy with rehearsals of my own. Many people don’t enjoy this job at all, and I can understand why – so much pressure to make sure it’s right, and if you screw up the pianist might screw up! There are many intricacies (or not!) of page-turning. Helpful hints include making sure you don’t have an overwhelming scent (or odour..!), not wearing a jacket or item of clothing that may get in the way, making sure not to eat garlic or onion prior to page-turning gig, making sure you don’t get in the way if the pianist has low notes, using the left hand (usually) so that your arm doesn’t get in the way of the pianist reading the notes, whether you wait for the nod or anticipate, and standing up early enough to not make the pianist feel stressed. Easy….! This proves to be an interesting and invaluable job – I sat on stage almost every night with a most interesting seat. One gets to see the pianists’ hands close up, gets to read the music (especially cool for listening to works that are new to me!) and to feel the energy between the players on stage. I’ve recently been developing a theory that one gets to know others very well when we play music with them, because it’s such a personal thing to do and it – rehearsing and playing – reveals a lot about one’s personality and working style, very quickly. One gets some sort of sense of the pianist’s style when sitting at such close proximity! And each of the pianists I turned for was different and equally fascinating. They each had their different preferences and at some times, required me to do slightly different things (turn late, turn early, don’t turn back, turn back, wait….). The funny thing is that the audience noticed, “Oh, you are doing a great job with the page-turning, I don’t know how you get it right all the time!” and other things like that. It was fantastic to meet the pianists of AFCM 2012 and to be able to observe them so closely. Even more wonderful was having Kathy Stott come to teach us at ANAM in Melbourne after the Festival!

Of course, I went to as many concerts as I physically and mentally could – just for the record, there were almost 25 concerts in nine days. There were so many excellent performances, how can one list them all? But try as I may:

  • The Storioni Trio (with Natsuko Yoshimoto replacing their regular violinist, who was injured) from Holland were very impressive in all of their performances. Their Ravel and Archduke trios were magnificent, and full of colour.
  • Piers Lane’s performance of Malcolm Williamson’s second piano concerto was a riot, as this is a piece I don’t know, and it is utterly nuts! It’s jazzy, it’s fun, it’s offbeat and just crazy.
  • The Debussy concert: an account of Debussy’s messy and crazy life, interspersed with some of his chamber works. Debussy’s music constantly makes me fall in love with music again and again!
  • Goldner Quartet’s Beethoven Op. 18 No. 3 They’re just amazing. The quartet, that is (more about them later..)
  • A fabulous tango concert, largely led by Atle Sponberg, the coolest Norwegian around – this guy went roller-skiing (?!?! But we found out they don’t have brakes!) and plays the violin like a boss, and he does tangos amazingly!
  • Caroline Almonte playing the Goldberg Variations – just, wow!
  • The best Brandenburg #3 I have ever witnessed – the most energetic, fun and spirited strings I have seen.
  • The Families’ Concert with Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals (made my glockenspiel debut..!), best rendition of ‘Pianists’ (by best I mean ‘hilarious’), amazing narration (text by Ogden Nash) and just all-round fun

and a most memorable Festival Farewell concert, the most fun concert of the entire festival.

….and that’s just some of the highlights! (Don’t worry, emphasis on ‘some’.)

But the real highlight of the week was surely playing in one of the evening concerts with such fine musicians as the Goldner Quartet, Cathy and Max. Here I entered into the world of being a Festival Artist. Let me tell you, festivals run at breakneck speed. You often get chucked together with other people in a quick hurry and you don’t get a lot of rehearsal time! We had three scheduled rehearsals, a dress rehearsal and then the performance; however, due to schedules being tight and several changes during the week, I think we had a total of maybe two or so hours to put this piece together. Thank goodness all (but one) of us had played this work before! It’s a tricky work, with changing time signatures, offbeats and things that lock together, but maybe not how you expect it to. It’s got a cool groove, so once you get into it, it’s great, but getting into it in the first place is hard. Had I not been at ANAM, firstly, I would not have had this amazing opportunity to even be at the Festival. Secondly, I would not be so well prepared, or happy with the idea of short turnaround times, or be used to working at such a fast pace. Of course, the other members of the ensemble were very kind and helpful (I’m just little me!!). But I’m glad that I was paranoid enough to prepare well! Working with these musicians was an utter joy and exciting ride. The performance itself went quite well, with a few slips on the way (as to be expected in live performance, and with new people!), and I had lots of fun. Apparently I grooved big time, as many people pointed out later! What was crazy about this experience was that I was playing alongside these musicians who are people I respect greatly, and are the sorts of people I myself would go to, to seek musical training! They have taught and tutored my friends and colleagues – it’s a crazy thought to conceive that I was an equal member of the ensemble as them. Part of me was proud to have been performing and to be able to prove that I am a capable pianist, and the other part of me was completely humbled to be part of it. I don’t think I even have the words to adequately express how amazing this experience was.

This was truly one of the most exciting musical experiences in my life so far. I learnt so much from being there, doing stuff and being around so many amazing artists. There are many stories from this trip, which I have not even recounted – many are hilarious and fun (like watching the Olympics coverage in the green room prior to going on stage, true story!). I met so many amazing people – both professional artists and fellow students (my future colleagues!) and had a lot of fun. Should anything further come from this, fantastic; if not, I have had a wonderful experience. Words fail to really capture it all!

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