Camerata of St John’s have bagged ABQ violin legend Gerhard Schultz. Brendan Joyce discusses how and why.

The intrepid unofficial Queensland Chamber Orchestra – the Camerata of St John's – pulled off quite a coup earlier in the year when they bagged Notre Dame titular organist Olivier Latry to come and play Poulenc’s Organ Concerto in, among other places, exotic Toowoomba. It looks like they’ve done it again this month, tempting Gerhard Schultz, former violinist with the legendary Alban Berg Quartet, to travel down under and not only conduct them in concerts but stick around for a two week educational residency.

“I guess it’s the first time we’ve extended one of our visiting guest artists in this way,” says Brendan Joyce, self styled ‘first among equals’ and violinist with the chamber ensemble. “Gerhard’s directing our concerts but he’s also going to help us develop. We can all of us sit around doing our own thing but it’s good to get some input from someone of his experience.”

The program is appropriately entirely Viennese – Mozart, Schubert and Webern – with some ‘mystery music’ that I can reveal is, yes, Viennese. It was the group’s founder Elizabeth Morgan who introduced the idea. She has been in Vienna with a student who now studies with Schulz. “Gerhard’s a good fit for the Camerata,” says Joyce. “We tend to see ourselves as a giant string quartet and he’s a quartet player.”

Although not an original member, Schulz played with the Alban Berg Quartet for over 30 years until they disbanded in 2008. Now at the age of 61 this is his first time in Australia. “Before I joined them, the quartet had one tour to Australia,” he explains, adding with a mischievous chuckle: “And for sure they played so badly they never got invited back”. It’s an intensive schedule too – when I spoke to him Schulz has just finished teaching two violists and two violinists.

The day before I'd spoken with Joyce who had had his one-on-one lesson with the master on the Beethoven concerto and was full of enthusiasm. “He’s such a musical aristocrat,” he says. “He plays so beautifully.” In two weeks Schulz has plenty of time to get to know these players. But what do they hope to get from him while he’s here? “As much as there’s a huge enthusiasm for classical music in Australia, anybody who’s been to a city like Vienna will know how inherent music is in the culture,” says Joyce. “I think you can feel that when you talk to him. There’s a level of sophistication there that we can aspire to. And he’s connected to that whole European string quartet history.”

Schulz is certainly well connected. “I grew up in Linz but, when I was 14, I moved to Vienna to study there,” he tells me. “I went to Sándor Végh, the famous Hungarian violinist – he was a wonderful musician, I owe him so much – and this you can say was the Hungarian-Austrian tradition. But I also studied with Shmuel Ashkenasi in Chicago so I also have that influence.”

Judging by those in the know, Queenslanders are in for a Viennese treat. And as Gerhard Schulz revealed to me the ‘mystery music’, on which point I’m sworn to secrecy, the encore should be well worth it as well.

The Camerata of St John's and Gerhard Schultz play the Conservatorium Theatre September 30. See the website for public rehearsals and masterclasses.