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Musica Viva has announced its 2018 season, with mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital returning to Australia, as well as violinists Nicola Benedetti and Ray Chen, clarinettist Sabine Meyer, Canadian Baroque stars Tafelmusik, pianists Joyce Yang and Sir András Schiff and more.
With so many stars on the programme, Musica Viva’s Artistic Director Carl Vine is hard-pressed to nominate highlights when talking to Limelight. “Tafelmusik is a major event in the year,” he says. “It's another of their mixed multimedia presentations, Bach and His World. But at the same time, Sabine Meyer is a massive inclusion in the season, as is Ray Chen, and Joyce Yang. So there's actually nothing missing – Nicola Benedetti is always wonderful to have. Now she appears with two equal young stars, Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexander Grynyuk.”
The season opens with clarinettist Sabine Meyer and the Alliage Quintett touring in February and March. “Sabine Meyer was here in 2010 and we have been trying to work out a way to bring Sabine back that wasn't simply a duplicate of the last tour,” Vine says. “It’s tough for the clarinettists who either have clarinet and piano, or clarinet and string quartet. And if it's the latter, then they have to do the Mozart and the Brahms, and that's kind of it.”
“It was just in the last year and half that Sabine started playing with this group, the Alliage Quintett and this is an extraordinary collection of musicians – she considers them her equals. This is the most famous clarinettist in the world saying, ‘these saxophone players are every bit as good as I am.’”
“And these amazing programmes they've put together of incredible arrangements of orchestral favourites written for clarinet, four saxes and piano – it sounds kind of a clunky, weird ensemble, but the arrangements are so good that it really is quite compelling,” he says. “That for me is a very exciting thing. I normally don't allow arrangements in the programme, but it's just such an unusual offering that I thought it was a perfect addition.”
Mandolinist Avi Avital, who was in the country this year performing with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, will return to Australia for Musica Viva’s second national tour of the year, in April.
The programme has been in the planning stages for a while. “We've been looking for ways to use Avi most effectively,” Vine says. “It started with the David Bruce piece Cymbeline, which was written for Avi and played all around the world everywhere except Australia.”
The work for violin and string quartet was the starting point and to this will be added a new work by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. “We asked Elena Kats-Chernin if she would be interested, and she said ‘I've always wanted to work with Avi’, and Avi said 'I've always wanted to work with Elena’. So that then became the fulcrum of the programme.
The string quartet will be the Giocoso Quartet, which won the Musica Viva prize at the 2015 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. “So this is their prize,” says Vine,” to have this concert tour with Avi.”
Tafelmusik will tour in May and early June, while pianist Joyce Yang fills the July slot. “Both of her programmes are incredible,” says Vine. “They are just powerhouse work after powerhouse work, so they are really a collection of some of the most impressive piano works ever written.”
Yang’s programmes will also feature a newly commissioned work. “This is a fairly rare event, a premiere of a new piano work in the international season,” says Vine. “This is a young composer called Elizabeth Younan, she's just finishing her Masters at Sydney Conservatorium. She's actually a student of mine, and I think that she has a massive future, so this is really going to be a calling card for her, working with Joyce. Two young, talented women working together – it's very exciting.”
Another new work on the programme will be by Matthew Hindson, for violinist Ray Chen who tours with pianist Julien Quentin in August. “Matthew was a viola player, and so he was a natural choice to write for the violin,” Vine says. “Ray is an incredible musician, massive technical dexterity, and he needed a composer who was capable of understanding the instrument at that level. So really, Matthew was my only choice. I'm a great fan of his music, and his knowledge of the instrument is I think unparalleled in Australian composers.”
Russian string quartet the Borodin Quartet will tour in September and October, with a programme Vine describes as “core Borodin – Shostakovich, Beethoven, Haydn and Wolf”, while pianist Sir András Schiff will return to Australia for the first time in over two decades for gala concerts in Sydney and Melbourne in October.
“The most unpronounceable piano trio in the world” will do the final tour of the International Concert season in November – the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio, which includes violinist Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk. The trio will perform works by Brahms and Ravel, solo sonatas by Strauss and Prokofiev, as well as Australian composer Gordon Kerry’s second piano trio, Im Winde.
The Musica Viva Coffee Concerts will return in 2018, with artists including guitar-cello duo Karin Schaupp and Umberto Clerici, the Australian Brass Quintet, Romanian violinist Ioana Cristina Goicea (making her Australian debut) and the Goldner Quartet.
“The only thing that we don't have next year is something vocal, but we do have a couple of quite extraordinary events in Avi and Sabine, which I think make up for that,” Vine says. “I am really proud of this collection that has come together magically for next year.”