In Greek mythology, the term ‘Arcadia’ is synonymous with visions of an unadulterated pastoral landscape, replete with mountains and nymphs and shepherds. It is the dominion of Pan – the god of nature and the wild. It serves as both a physical and intellectual state of perfection to eternally pursue, and such idealism has long since provided a source of artistic inspiration, from composers such as Maurice Ravel and Carl Nielsen, to the five young musicians who are the first beneficiaries of Musica Viva’s FutureMakers programme.

A forty-minute drive from Adelaide takes you to a place that – with the notable exception of shepherds and nymphs – bears remarkable similarities to the place described in myth. Completed in 2015, the UKARIA Cultural Centre (formally Ngeringa) is a concert hall purpose-built for chamber music, offering panoramic views of the undulating Mount Barker Summit. It seems as fitting a place as any to catch up with all five members of Arcadia Winds to reflect on more than a year’s worth of experiences in one of the nation’s most innovative artist development programmes.

Musica Viva’s FutureMakers ensemble Arcardia Winds. Photo by Keith Saunders

“It’s been an incredible journey from the very beginning,” flautist Kiran Phatak tells me. “We had really not much of an idea at all about what we were in for and what it might be, and I don’t think the others did either,” he admits. FutureMakers officially began in September 2015 under the artistic direction of recorder virtuoso and serial collaborator Genevieve Lacey, made possible by a generous donation from the Berg Family Foundation. The Arcadia Winds formed in 2013 at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and have since gone on to perform at almost every major festival in the country, including the Adelaide Festival and Four Winds in Bermagui.

The programme’s list of objectives includes providing professional career training and mentorship, the cultivation of entrepreneurial skills, basic financial and business literacy, the creation of a variety of performance opportunities across a broad range of different contexts, and discovering pathways to create new opportunities and new audiences. An element intrinsic to all these outcomes is an emphasis on collaborating in exciting and creative new ways.

“It’s been very, very intense,” Lloyd Van’t Hoff (clarinet) says. “We’ve been learning a lot and it’s really brought us together in new and very different ways,” he says.

They begin 2017 rehearsing with the Australian String Quartet and double bassist Stephen Newton for performances at the Perth International Arts Festival this weekend.

Arcadia Winds’ oboe David Reichelt. Photo by Dylan Henderson

“We definitely have a much clearer picture of what kind of ensemble we want to be,” David Reichelt (oboe) says. “We have a very strong playing style that we’re just starting to really learn how to manipulate to gain maximum advantage, both on stage and off. We’re also discovering how everyone works administratively, and what our strengths are there. This has probably been the biggest part of the whole programme – working out how we can function as a business.”

Developing the entrepreneurial skills required for the ensemble to remain economically and artistically sustainable in the future is perhaps the two-year fellowship’s most compelling raison d’être. It seeks to address a major shortcoming of most of Australia’s tertiary music institutions, which develop students practically and academically, but often leave them dependent upon the infrastructure of the university itself. Upon graduation, musicians who seek a career outside the orchestral mould are almost invariably left ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of a professional freelance career. The architecture of the FutureMakers programme has been developed so as to gradually render its beneficiaries less and less dependent upon Musica Viva as the fellowship progresses – a service that, currently, no other professional development programme provides.

Arcadia Winds’ horn Rachel Shaw. Photo by Dylan Henderson

As part of their residency at UKARIA Cultural Centre, the Arcadia Winds received mentoring from Lynette Nixon, the Director of Markets, Innovation and Deals at accounting company PwC. “They’ve given us so many opportunities to meet with accountants and people who are good at planning schedules and running a business, so we’ve actually formed a partnership now,” Rachel Shaw (horn) tells Limelight. “We run as a proper business and have a proper bank account and expense account and all that sort of thing. It’s been really great.”

In keeping with the initiative’s aim of creating a future, the residency also saw Kiran Phatak, Matthew Kneale and Lloyd Van’t Hoff work with the Artistic Director of Musica Viva in Schools, Michael Sollis, to prepare content for three years worth of school tours. Commencing in Term 4, Phatak, Kneale and Van’t Hoff will introduce young students to the flute, clarinet and bassoon, and act as ambassadors for their instruments and their art form.

Another notable and unusual aspect of the residency at UKARIA was mentoring sessions on stage presence with the Artistic Director of Patch Theatre Company, Naomi Edwards. “We have a lot of personality on stage, but that’s different,” David Reichelt explains. “Stage presence, and the stuff she was looking at, was really more about gravitas, and your presence in the room. How you draw audience members in, or how you can bring yourself to them. It’s that weird kind of sensory training. It was actually really, really cool.”

Flautist Kiran Phatak and composer Lachlan Skipworth. Photo by Dylan Henderson

I ask Reichelt about some of the pieces they’ve been rehearsing – in particular Echoes and Lines, a new work for wind quintet by Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth, commissioned for the Perth International Arts Festival by Dr David Cooke and the Silo Collective. “Lachlan’s piece is great – we’ve had a lot of fun working on that,” Reichelt says. “It works really well for us as personalities, and it’s really well written.”

“I think Lachlan’s piece is going to be a big hit,” says bassoonist Matthew Kneale, after an intense afternoon of rehearsals under Skipworth’s supervision. “I think it’s very appropriate for a festival audience that wants to hear the instruments, but not get bored with the music. The episodes that he’s written – nine of them – are short and straight to the point, which is brilliant for a festival, because you don’t want anything too long,” Kneale says. It’s only been a day of rehearsals when I first hear a run through of Skipworth’s piece, and already the work has a character and a life of its own.

When I return the following week, rehearsals have begun with the Australian String Quartet and double bassist Stephen Newton. According to first violinist Dale Barltrop, it is the first time the current formation of the ASQ have worked intensively with another ensemble. “It’s been a real treat for us working with wind players, because they bring a whole different modus operandi to the table,” Barltrop explains. “We’re learning a lot from them and hopefully they’re learning a lot from us too. They have a wonderful energy and enthusiasm for music making,” he says. I ask him about one of the more audacious works on the program, Jörg Widmann’s Octet. “It’s one of the wildest pieces I think I’ve ever played,” he says, a sentiment echoed by everyone I speak to. “It really pushes the instruments to their extremes of sound and technical capabilities, but the overall effect is absolutely breathtaking, and confronting, and everything in between. It’s a piece that we all feel really affected by.”

Australian String Quartet cellist Sharon Draper. Photo by Dylan Henderson

“When you listen to it, you have no idea where the pulse is, or if there even is a pulse – often he purposely doesn’t want one,” cellist Sharon Draper says. ‘I think we all have incredible respect for all [Widmann’s] compositions because, even though he’s a contemporary composer and there’s lots of extended techniques, he doesn’t write them for the sake of it, or to be showy. There’s always a purpose for every single thing that he’s putting down on the page,” she says.

Also on the programme is Britten’s Sinfonietta, Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major, K. 285, and Martinů’s Nonetto. “I love the extra colours and characteristics that come out when you have a bassoon punching out a line,” violist Stephen King says. “It sounds much more funny on the bassoon than it does on the cello. Adding a double bass gives it this enormous depth, and then obviously a flute and an oboe are again entirely different.”

“It just feels like one ensemble now,” second violinist Francesca Hiew says. “With a different combination of people, it could have been a completely different experience, but it’s been really, really enjoyable,” she says.

Finally, I ask them about the work that concludes their second and final concert at PIAF, the Françaix Dixtour. “You can’t help but be in a good mood when you’re rehearsing that,” Draper says. “It’s just so fun; it’s so cheeky and full of humour! The guys at Arcadia as people are full of humour and fun as well, so it really brings out that side – I adore that piece.” Scored for all ten musicians, it seems to be the popular favourite between both ensembles. “It’s just so funny, so witty and so over the top, but still so sincere,” Van’t Hoff adds.

When listening to the sounds, stories and experiences of the first FutureMakers ensemble, it is impossible not to feel a warm sense of optimism for the renewal of our art form. Their performances at the Perth Festival are just the beginning of what is shaping up to be a particularly eventful 2017. From high profile appearances at the Musica Viva Festival in Sydney in April, along with performances of Australian works at the National Portrait Gallery as part of a new initiative by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, to new collaborations with Circus Oz and singer/songwriter Bertie Blackman, there can be little doubt that FutureMakers is delivering on its promise to create opportunities. The quixotic aspirations of the programme seem to mirror a vision of Arcadia itself, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the infectious energy, ambition and enthusiasm of it all. And although the pursuit of perfection, in music and indeed all artistic endeavours, remains perpetually elusive, it’s hard not to feel like the echoes and lines (to borrow the title of Skipworth’s piece) of a very bright future have already been mapped out for the Arcadia Winds.

Arcadia Winds and the Australian String Quartet perform at the Perth International Arts Festival February 18 – 19