Five years ago ANAM alumna, Phoebe Russell (bass) took the plunge and moved to Berlin. We caught with Phoebe to see how life is treating her in the cultural capital of Europe. She also reflects on her time here at ANAM.
Tell us a bit about how you took the big step to Berlin?
I actually didn’t exactly plan on moving to Berlin. After my first year at ANAM I decided to go to Berlin to take some lessons with members of the Berlin Philharmonic in preparation for my audition for the Karajan Academy. I went to Berlin for 3 weeks and went to concerts every night and had lessons every few days and, despite the harrowing winter (arriving to -15 degrees without a coat!!) I ended up changing my flight home and staying in Berlin and I’ve been here for 5 years since! Probably if I’d tried to plan a big move like this one, it would never have actually happened, but life is unexpected!
What did you find challenging about adapting to life there?
One thing I don’t think I could ever get used to is the European weather. Winters are so long and I miss the Australian sunshine so much! I try to embrace it by filling the house with fairy lights and lamps and keeping active but sometimes when the sun sets at 4pm it just makes you want to go to bed for 6 months!
What do you enjoy most about living in Berlin?
One thing I particularly love about Berlin is the ease of getting around. I love hopping on my bike in the summer and cycling around. For me, cycling gives me so much freedom and the bike paths here are wonderful. When I have a free day and the weather is nice, My husband and I love to take our bikes and cycle so far that we get lost and explore the forests and the outskirts of Berlin. Obviously the concerts in Berlin are exceptional too though, I always really liked being able to pop into the Philharmonie any day of the week without even reading the programs and experience world class musicians playing inspiring concerts.
Another great thing about living in Berlin is that it’s so easy to travel everywhere. In the past year I’ve been playing very regularly with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra which means I’ve been through Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Poland and England all in the space of a few months!
Describe your experience with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy
I had such a broad range of experiences in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Academy. I felt we had such a nice, close group in the academy and it was so great to get to know young musicians from all over the world. Working with the Berlin Phil was really exciting and I learnt a lot of invaluable lessons. The tours were a really fun part of the two years, especially the 10 day residency I was able to be a part of in New York. It was really exciting playing for the opening night of Carnegie hall and seeing celebrities in ball gowns on the red carpet and in the audience and what was even more exciting was that my Mum was able to fly over and share those 10 days with me!
At the end of my time in the academy, I put on a harp and bass recital in the Berlin Philharmonic lunch concert series with one of my closest friends from Karajan Academy. We played a lot of really fun repertoire all arranged by us for harp and bass from Piazolla and De Falla to Debussy and Bloch. We had a lot of fun picking our own repertoire (and of course dress shopping for fun gowns) and ended up having a turnout of over 2,000 people which was definitely a first for a recital for me!
How did your time at ANAM help in your success as a musician abroad
My year at ANAM was one of the best years of my life. My teacher, Damien Eckersley, and all the staff at ANAM made me feel like I really could do anything. I played almost every piece of standard chamber music repertoire with double bass during that one year, played in the finals of the concerto competition with Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, played in the chamber music competition finals and gave some of the most memorable concerts of my life. Looking back, I can’t believe how much I packed into one year!
Any fond memories or silly moments you remember at ANAM?
I think one of my fondest (and silliest) moments at ANAM was with my lovely bass colleagues. At the end of the year we put on a bass quartet in forum. We really went all out. We played Carman by Bizet, arranged for bass quartet and Damien helped us hire costumes for the show. There were only three of us in the bass department so we brought in our friend Jono who was to start the following year at ANAM. Just before going on stage, Simon (dressed as a bull) grabbed Jono’s shirt and he had to do his first ANAM performance topless. The performance got off to a great start… We didn’t think to rehearse in the costumes and Simon couldn’t see anything through his bull mask so as he gave the cue to begin, his bass slipped out and he slammed it down and started again a second time.
What are your future plans for the next 5 or so years?
I would love to have closer ties to Australia and broaden my solo and chamber music repertoire even more. I absolutely love playing with huge symphony orchestras but one of my passions is performing in more intimate orchestrations and settings. One of my best friends from Karajan Academy and I are planning to come to Australia together next year to record some of our favourite repertoire and hopefully put on some concerts once we get that organised!
Do you have any advice for young musicians who are thinking about taking a big leap of faith like you did in moving overseas?
DO IT. I think it’s so important to live in a completely different environment from your own even if the only thing it teaches you is to appreciate your home more.