What were the particular considerations behind the programming choices for 2018?
Programming is always a central consideration at Mimir, and I work closely with cellist Brant Taylor of the Chicago Symphony each season when making those decisions. He and I are the most veteran members of Mimir, and the only two who have performed in all 21 seasons in Texas and soon the sixth in Melbourne.
Curt Thompson. Photo supplied
The festival is known for its programming, and while we do perform all of the monumental chamber works, we also try to present lesser known compositions by well known composers, new music, and master pieces that missed the notoriety they deserved along the way. We have given Australian premieres of works at all five seasons of Mimir Melbourne, including chamber music by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mason Bates, Kevin Puts and others. This year, we will proudly present the Australian premieres of Quartet No 1 by George Walker and works by pianist and Mimir artist John Novacek, who will be making his Australian debut at Mimir.
In addition to crowd favourites by Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn, Mimir 2018 will feature three works that are rarely heard, but should be. Two of these composers were overlooked by issues that our society still faces today. The first is Brahms’ Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano. These beautiful songs, to be sung by mezzo-soprano Victoria Lambourn, were written as a wedding present for the celebrated violinist and violist (and Brahms’ best friend) Joseph Joachim, and contralto Amalie Schneeweiss. The second, the Piano Quintet by Amy Beach, is a marvellous work by the most revered female composer in the United States during the late nineteenth century. Discouraged from a promising career as a musician by her parents and husband, her music had been largely forgotten until 1990. The last, the quartet by George Walker, was written by the first African American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Mr Walker is 96 years young.
What did you want to build on from 2017?
It’s difficult sometimes to believe that Mimir has been presenting concerts for more than two decades now in Texas. As we approach our sixth season in Melbourne, we are excited to see old friends and to make many new ones. Our support base has steadily grown over the years, and we hope this year will be our most exciting yet. Already we are anticipating our largest audience to date and we also plan to reach a record number of secondary and tertiary students, as well as an incredible group of musicians with professions in fields other than music, through our teaching and outreach programs.
What does the MIMIR Chamber Festival do that no other Festival does?
Mimir offers our audience and students a week of chamber music immersion like no other event in Australia. First and foremost, the calibre of the artists presented at Mimir are without question second to none. Mimir 2018 includes leaders of the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago, Nashville and Houston symphonies, and Grammy Award nominated recording artists. It has become one of the highlights of the year at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, where Mimir Melbourne is based. MCM students receive intensive coaching sessions and performance opportunities, and Melbourne secondary school students are invited to attend and participate in the classes. New to Mimir this year is a day devoted to side-by-side chamber music coaching and performance with members of the Corpus Medicorum Orchestra.
How do each of the three concerts speak to each other, and what do they set out to do in isolation?
Each concert is constructed as a stand-alone event with a unique flow, feel and sensation. At the same time, the architecture of the festival as a whole, this year bookended with works by Brahms, provides a provocative experience for those who attend all three. All concerts feature at least one work likely to be unknown to our audience (such as a rarely played string trio by Jean Sibelius) balanced with works likely more familiar to concertgoers. Audience members often tell us after our performances that the experience they had at Mimir was like none other.
The Amy Beach Quintet is a particularly intriguing selection. What moved you to program her?
Amy Beach was a gifted pianist who made her solo debut with the Boston Symphony at the age of 17. She was able to sing forty songs accurately by age one, she was capable of improvising counter-melody by age two, and she taught herself to read at age three. Unfortunately, her parents discouraged her from a career in music, and later her husband insisted upon limiting her musical activities to two charity performances per year and musical composition. Although these restrictions on women were not unusual in the nineteenth century, the thought of programming her Quintet this year was, I will admit, motivated to a degree by recent events in the United States regarding women, minorities and under-served communities. It also so happens that if she were alive today, Amy Beach would be celebrating her 150th year.
The Mimir Chamber Music Festival is at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from August 29 – September 2