This year’s 3MBS Marathon showcases the music of Antonín Dvořák in an immersive, all-day experience at Melbourne Recital Centre. Across six concerts, some of Australia’s finest musicians will present the Czech composer’s best-loved music, as well as some hidden gems. We spoke to Artistic Director and cellist Chris Howlett about what he’s got in store.

Chris Howlett, 3MBS, Dvořák Marathon, DvořákArtistic Director of 3MBS’s Dvořák Marathon, Chris Howlett

What is it about Dvořák’s music that still speaks to audiences today, more than 100 years after his death?

Dvořák’s music is one of depth, character and passion, that takes influences from the world that he lived in. For me this writing, which is at the highest artistic level, will resonate with the audiences of today and for many years to come.

What can you learn about his music through this kind of immersive, marathon experience?

An immersive day like the marathon gives the listener a real cross section of a composer’s musical output, across musical genres and their lifespan. This gives unique insight into the compositional language and development of the composer over his lifespan. We will present solo, chamber, choral and symphonic works at the marathon and many are much loved and known. This immersive experience also gives the audience a chance to explore the lesser known gems such as the Preludes and Fugues for Organ, Violin Sonatina and the Silhouettes for piano solo.

What are some of the broader themes or ideas that can be heard across his output?

Dvořák’s music has a very strong connection to his Czech heritage with the use of nationalistic rhythms and forms. Dvořák was also a man that was very well travelled and because of this, I believe, his music goes beyond that of his homeland and gives as an intriguing insight into European and North American vogues in harmony, scoring and genre of the day.

Many will of course be familiar with works like the New World Symphony, but what are some of the less well-known works on the program? 

When programming a day like this, I think it is vital to make sure there are new and challenging experiences for the audience. For me this is predominantly the keyboard music, which is generally unknown and unplayed – surprising considering he was trained foremost as an organist. The response from the pianists that have learnt the works has been fantastic so I am very keen to hear the reaction of the audience after some of these great hidden gems.

Dvořák wrote for so many different line-ups, from operas and symphonies to chamber music – where do you think he was most at home as a composer?

Perhaps I am biased as a cellist but his cello and violin concertos are extraordinary, not only the way the solo and orchestral lines interweave but also the sheer drama of the harmony and writing. The piano concerto is another work that is over-looked regularly but is truly fantastic.

What were the kinds of things you wanted to keep in mind as you programmed the marathon?

For me programming should engage, challenge and start conversations for audience and performers alike, while keeping the highest level of artistry. This was very important to remember when getting the opportunity to showcase a composer in-depth like the marathon enables me to. The flow of each concert and the day as a whole is also something that I am considerate of when programming the day. We have audience members that attend one or two concerts, but over 50 percent of tickets purchased are half or full day experiences, so I must make sure there is variation and intrigue for all the different immersion levels.

Even with a full day, it’s only possible to hear a fraction of Dvořák’s output – how did you choose what to keep and what to cut?

There are musicians and works that I really want to showcase when I start the programming, which is always the start of the process. There are also some works that aren’t possible within the limitations of the day – Dvořák wrote nine operas for example, with only Rusalka being regularly performed, I would love to have included one of his other operas, however this may have been a little overwhelming (and expensive) for the fundraising event. I have tried to make sure that there are representations of each of his bodies of work in the program – violin sonatas, trios, quartets, larger chamber, choral and orchestral as well as a cross-section of emerging and established artists from the Australian music scene.

What are the performances or works you are most excited about?

I am particularly looking forward to the piano solo works this year, as well as Christian Li’s performance of the very rarely performed Violin Sonatina.

The 3MBS Dvořák Marathon is at Melbourne Recital Centre on February 24