“You never hear the name Edgar Meyer unless it’s followed by ‘the greatest double bass player in the world’,” says Carl Vine of the 2019 Musica Viva Festival’s marquee star. “This has been a given fact for 20 years. There’s no disputing that he is simply a remarkable musician.”
Musica Viva Artistic Director Carl Vine. Photo © Keith Saunders
High praise indeed, and it’s clear that Vine is delighted to have snagged the American bassist for the last Musica Viva Festival he’ll curate, stepping down as Artistic Director at the end of this year.
Vine says that engaging a bassist was a logical choice for 2019’s chamber music celebration, explaining that it follows on from the Festival’s two previous featured guests – a violinist (Pinchas Zukerman) and cellist (Mischa Maisky). “It’s a natural progression to have a double bass. And if you’re going to have a double bass, your first choice is always Edgar Meyer.”
But Meyer differs from his predecessors in that he’s known for being a crossover artist, something that Vine celebrates. “It kind of frees up your approach to concerts so you aren’t just sitting down listening to Mozart and Beethoven – you might also get some bluegrass. In this case, we have a number of Edgar’s own compositions in the program including a string quintet. In another concert he’s playing the Schubert Trout, so there’s a kind of juxtaposition of styles and freedom in programming that you don’t always get.”
The Festival’s opening night sees Meyer team up with violinist Tessa Lark, pianist Andrew Tyson, and the Dover Quartet, all of them young guns and Americans. Serendipitously, the bassist has previously worked with the Dover Quartet at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he is currently a Visiting Professor of Double Bass.
“They are very well known to each other and have done a lot of this repertoire before so it’s a chance to get a little look into one of the world’s leading music institutions and experience the next rung of world-class musicians coming out of the States,” says Vine.
The opening night program serves as an introduction to some of the key players through the music they particularly cherish. Meyer will perform Bach’s First Cello Suite, with Lark choosing the composer’s Third Partita for Solo Violin and Tyson pairing the Berg Piano Sonata with a Chopin ballade. The Dovers cap off the night with Schumann’s stirring Third String Quartet.
After he dazzles audiences with his take on Bach, Meyer will dish up his own Quintet for String Quartet and Double Bass in the Festival’s third concert. It’s a rare opportunity to hear the Quintet, not least because, as Vine explains, Meyer is the only musician with the rights to perform his works. “You can’t actually buy his music, so I’ve only ever seen him play it on video. You have to admire that singularity [laughs]. It is a very special thing to see Edgar’s string quintet played by him, and it is remarkable music. It is crossover, it pays homage to Bach and the canon, but it also pays homage to his interest in more popular forms.”
Another rarity is Matthew Hindson’s Second String Quartet, commissioned and programmed by Musica Viva in 2013. Inspired by the wonders of scientific discovery, Vine describes it as a challenging work that adheres to the standard quartet form, but through unusual, extended techniques.
Vine has paired it with the Trout Quintet, a deliberate juxtaposition. “The more stark the contrast, the more exciting it is to experience. In this concert you go from Mozart‘s Flute Quartet to Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, to Hindson’s piece, and then you’re thrust back to Schubert. You get a change of expectations at every point, beginning with two lesser-known works by great masters, and closing with a terrific work that’s not really well-known, and then a hugely popular one. I’m aiming for contrast from every perspective.”
Vine is proud to be presenting the world premiere of Nicole Murphy’s String Octet, commissioned for Musica Viva by Barry and Diana Moore, and to be performed by both the Goldner and Dover Quartets.
The composer from Queensland has previously been commissioned by London’s Royal Academy of Dance, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestra Victoria.
“Nicole has done a lot of work with the Musica Viva Education Program and she also wrote a commission for our Melbourne Coffee Concerts, [Spinning Top, 2016] which was a terrific work,” says Vine. “I have enormous respect for her talent and I thought she would write a really great octet – there are not enough Australian octets – so I asked her to write this work as a companion to the Bruch Octet, which closes the Festival.”
As Vine reflects on the legacy he hopes to leave with his Festivals, he zeroes in on “the sense of exploration and joy”, as well as the opportunities given to young musicians.
“Part of the reason for setting this Festival up in the first place was the link with the Australian Youth Orchestra, and I would immediately point to the Orava Quartet. They were part of the AYO program in 2011 and it was thanks to the work they did partly at this Festival that allowed them to work with the Takács Quartet and become a real ensemble. They are our big success story.”
“It’s that kind of long-term connection between young Australian musicians and leading international players, having been part of bringing them together, which has been so satisfying.”
Carl Vine’s Festival Highlights
Franckly, My Dear
The Goldner String Quartet. Photo © Keith Saunders
“The Franck Piano Quintet with Andrew Tyson and the Goldners is going to be very special,” says Vine. “I actually advised them against it because I had other things in mind, but they were insistent. ‘We want to play the Franck and you’re wrong.’ [Laughs].” Concert 2 also features pianists Aura Go and Konstantin Shamray playing Rachmaninov’s Suite No 2 for two pianos, with Go joining Adam Walker for Dutilleux’s Sonatine for Flute and Piano.
Power of Eight
Composer Nicole Murphy. Photo © Robert Catto
“For me, the most exciting piece is Nicole Murphy’s Octet, because nobody’s ever heard that before, including Nicole,” says Vine. It will be given its world premiere by the Goldner and Dover Quartets in the Festival’s final concert, which opens with a tasting dish of French delights by Debussy, Messiaen and Ravel. Walker returns for Varèse’s Density 21.5 and the Martinu˚ Flute Sonata, while the Bruch Octet brings the Festival to a brilliant close.
Edgar Meyer. Photo © David McClister
“You’d have to see Edgar Meyer play his own string quintet and the Trout,” says Vine. “Those are two absolute must-sees.” The bassist performs his Quintet for String Quartet and Double Bass in Concert 3, which also includes Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D, Beethoven’s String Quartet No 16 and Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major, another example of Vine’s love of contrasts. Meyer performs the Trout in Concert Four.
The 2019 Musica Viva Festival is at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music from April 25 to 28.
A family fun day will also be held on April 26.