Harry Ward will tour nationally for Musica Viva Australia with pianist Konstantin Shamray and the Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra, directed by Sophie Rowell, in April and May. The violinist, who is one of Musica Viva’s FutureMakers in 2020/2021, spoke to Limelight about plans during the pandemic, Mihkel Kerem’s Lamento and arranging Mahler.

Violinist Harry WardViolinist Harry Ward

You were due to be in Berlin at the Karajan Academy this year as the winner of the 2021/2022 Karajan Academy Place under ANAM’s Academy Program. How have you been coping with the uncertainty and changing plans caused by the pandemic?

It has definitely been an odd time… I think a lot of people have felt as if their lives are on pause – at the mercy of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and just the incredible mental fatigue of living through a pandemic. However, I have been so lucky to have this opportunity in Berlin to work towards and, despite its delayed commencement, the extra time has meant I can work on meaningful projects such as this tour with Musica Viva.

You’re performing the Australian premiere of Mihkel Kerem’s Lamento on this tour. What’s special about this work?

Kerem’s Lamento is just a gorgeous work. I think one could say it expresses some of the more intimate and particularly poignant emotions we have all felt living through lockdown. So it is indeed very apt that we should perform such a work in Musica Viva’s second tour since the pandemic.

It was originally written for cello (or viola), how different is it in this arrangement with violin soloist?

So often we see violin works being arranged for viola or cello and I can only think of a handful where it happens the other way around. This arrangement, although higher in range, still speaks to the emotional depths of the original work. I’m so honoured to give its Australian premiere.

Harry Ward workshopping MahlerHarry Ward workshopping Mahler. Photo © Annelise Maurer

You’ve also arranged one of the works in the program. What were the challenges of arranging Mahler’s Piano Quartet for a larger ensemble?

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges was the intimidation of arranging a work by one of classical music’s greatest composers. I am a die-hard Mahler fan and this arrangement should be seen as part of my appreciation for this work and his music. And because of the orchestration, this arrangement will only give more people the opportunity to further enjoy one of Mahler’s incredibly underrated works from his youth.

Mahler orchestrated a number of his songs for larger forces – did you use any of these as a model?

I did indeed, which also made me feel less cautious about arranging this work. Mahler, like so many other composers from his time, would arrange their works for various ensembles as it was profitable and would allow people to enjoy the music in different combinations of instrumentation. My approach to this music was to add to the narrative of the work, through increased range and adding depth to the climactic moments while also stripping back the instrumentation in the more intimate moments. A string ensemble with piano allows for so much variation in texture and colour – a greater palette for which I could use almost as if to highlight what it is I love about this piece of music.

Is arranging (or composing) something you would like to do more of as part of your career?

Absolutely! I think more instrumentalists should learn to improvise, arrange and compose like so many artists in other genres (not to mention the great composers of classical music who were all phenomenal instrumentalists and improvisers!). I think that may be the way forward for classical music.

What’s next for you?

I head to Berlin in late August and in the meantime, I am so fortunate to have many varied gigs and projects to look forward to. Some upcoming projects include a recital at the Play-On series in Melbourne and a recital with my quartet (the Rathdowne Quartet) at the Melbourne Recital Centre and the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House. I’m also immensely looking forward to my performance of the Sibelius Concerto with Ensemble Apex which will be one of my last gigs in Australia before I jet off!

Harry Ward tours nationally with Konstantin Shamray and the Australian National Academy Orchestra, directed by Sophie Rowell, for Musica Viva Australia from 27 April to 15 May


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