When did you first take an interest in classical music?
From the age of seven. I fell in love with my piano teacher, Margaret Horton-Fawkes, and from then on wanted to become a concert pianist. In my senior years at school I was taught by a wonderful man called Duncan Cedric Hammond-Chambers-Borgnis, but after ploughing my way through Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 in B Flat, I realised I’d never make the concert stage and after school went off to play the piano in a nightclub in Vienna.
How did you become involved in broadcasting?
By accident. I was working as a journalist in London’s Fleet Street, when I got an offer to join the BBC. I spent five years in television with them before coming to Australia and joining ABC Radio. A further five years spent with Caroline Jones doing City Extra on 2BL, before leaving to work in theatre and films, and then finally back to the medium I love, radio, with 2MBS (now Fine Music 102.5).
Michael Morton-Evans and composer Ann Carr-Boyd. Photo © Fine Music 102.5
Do you remember your first interview for In Conversation?
To be perfectly honest, no. I think it was with the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor back in August 2012. What I remember most about that interview was the way in which Benjamin, despite his worldwide concert commitments, chose still to live at home so that he could help his mum look after his brother who has Down Syndrome.
What have been some of the highlights and favourite interviews?
One of my most favourite was with Robert Albert of the Albert Music family. So fascinating was he and so many tales did he have to tell that he has to date been the only interviewee that I’ve had on two weeks running! I much enjoyed speaking with the Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov and was amused by his tales of growing up in Novosibirsk inside the Arctic Circle, where it was so cold that his mother cut the ends off a pair of woollen gloves so that he could go on practising the violin. The German conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, grandson of the great composer Ernst von Dohnányi, on his only visit to Australia gave a fascinating account of growing up in Nazi Germany during the war. It was, as he said, the end of childhood for him. I was amused to learn that Professor Gillian Triggs, the former President of the Human Rights Commission, didn’t really want to be a lawyer. Her dream had been to become a ballet dancer. And then there was the hair-raising account by Russian cellist Mischa Maisky of how he was arrested out of the blue when he was 21 and sent to a gulag in Siberia. So many stories from so many wonderful people!
Michael Morton-Evans and violinist Ray Chen. Photo © Fine Music 102.5
What have been the biggest surprises?
I think the biggest surprise is the amount that people are prepared to reveal about themselves to a complete stranger. I put this down to the fact that the depth of research that I do for each programme shows my interviewee that I respect them enough to get it right and that respect is reciprocated by their co-operation. I believe that it’s important to make an interviewee feel safe. I hope I succeed.
What’s been the worst thing that’s gone wrong in an interview?
Touch wood, nothing so far! And that probably relates to the depth of research. I did miss an occasion once however to elicit what could have been a funny answer while speaking with the British cellist Steven Isserlis. Having put it to him that I understood he’d been something of a naughty lad in his youth, he replied:” Not at all. I was a very good boy and outrageously good-looking!” It was on the tip of my tongue to say: “And what changed?” but as it was fairly early on in the hour and I didn’t know the man, I refrained. A friend of his later told me that I should have asked the question, he would have loved it!
Do you have any favourite pieces of music you’ve played as part of the programme over the years?
I get some really odd requests from some guests and all I can say is thank God for iTunes because, despite our enormous CD library, some people ask for some way out stuff we don’t have. I’ve only once, out of roughly 1000 pieces of music, refused to play one piece. I honestly cannot remember what it was, but I remember saying to the guest: “I’m sorry I cannot play that. If I did the listeners would turn off in droves!” On the flip side, I’ve been introduced to some wonderful music that I never knew existed. The Penguin Café Orchestra for example, or the Portuguese singer Maria Lisboa.
Who’s on your wish-list for future interviews?
I’m hoping soon to speak with the brilliant choreographer Graeme Murphy and that wonderful Israeli mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham is on the guest list for February.
Michael Morton-Evans celebrates his 250th episode of In Conversation on Fine Music 102.5 January 24 at 2pm AEDT.