It was encouraging to see a near-capacity crowd at the Wednesday evening Artists concert from the Mimir Chamber Music Festival, currently underway at Melba Hall. Previous Festivals have not been so well attended, and for the esteemed American colleagues who are now visiting for the third time, this surge in interest must be heart-warming. In his opening address, Mimir Director and University of Melbourne’s Head of Strings, Associate Professor Curt Thompson called Mimir “Melbourne’s best kept secret”. Not for long! On Wednesday night the audience was magnetized by the performances from regular Mimir Artists, Steven Rose and Frank Huang (violins) and Brant Taylor (cello). Australian violist Simon Oswell joined the fray for Dvorak’s String Quintet in E flat major, amping up the alto voice alongside violist Joan DerHovsepian (pictured).
A vocal and enthused student cohort was in attendance, no doubt inspired by the high-quality musicianship on stage. This hothouse environment means that the students eschew most regular classes for the week, rehearsing and practicing chamber music from 9am every day and having daily sessions with tutors in preparation for their own public concert this Saturday at 2pm. 21 students are grouped into string quartets and a string quintet performing works by Barber, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Dvorak and Sibelius. A quick chat with one of the participating cellists revealed just how much they appreciate the intensity of the week. “It’s been great working with our four tutors, especially because they performed the Sibelius which we’re learning at the moment and we had so many great tips. Brant (Taylor of the Chicago Symphony) stayed back after the tute to work on my own part with me for half an hour”.
Mimir is based on a tried and tested educational model. The Summer Festival As Musical Hothouse is very much the norm in the developed musical climes of the Northern Hemisphere. Which curious musician hasn’t heard of the Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood and Aspen Festivals? During the four summers I lived in Europe I attended at least a dozen chamber music and solo cello festivals. Intense immersion in our Art brought out the best in us, and it was a luxury to cover more repertoire in greater detail than the normal academic semester allowed. The idyllic surrounds of the French and Swiss Alps, Austrian hill towns and German gothic villages added cultural depth and importantly the inspiration of the natural world.
We need more than just political rhetoric in regards to an “education revolution” in this country. Good music education should provide expert hands-on training, not only for the 24 weeks of the academic tertiary year. In Australia the holiday orchestral training sphere is very well tended by The Australian Youth Orchestra, a well-run and funded organization that provides project-based orchestral camps for young musicians. It would be great if high-quality events such as Mimir could happen also during our summer when students have the luxury of a 12-week break from normal classes.
The Mimir Artist concerts continued on Friday September 4 with Shostakovich’s rarely heard Piano Trio in C minor, Bartok’s First String Quartet and after interval Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang String Quartet in A minor Op.132.
Earlier post …
Just sneaking in on the last day of official winter, the 3rd Mimir Chamber Music Festival hits Australian shores for its third antipodean instalment, from August 31 to September 7. If you’ve not heard of this fantastic mini-festival, which is funded by Melbourne University’s MCM (Melbourne Conservatorium of Music) here’s some background to pique your interest in this chamber-music-mad city of ours.
The name Mimir speaks right to the heart of what is good and necessary about good music education. Mimir, named from the Old Norse Mímir (pronounced MEE-meer) is an exceptionally wise being. This figure in Norse legend is central in imparting the wisdom of past tradition to the new generation. This year five visiting masters and one youthful string quartet (the Colburn Conservatory’s Calla Quartet) will be working on those musical past traditions, string quartets from the Classical / Romantic/ 20th century in a hothouse provided by the “Con” in Royal Parade, Parkville.
The brainchild of Curt Thompson, MCM’s Head of Strings, Mimir brings some of the best string players that North America has to offer for concerts and masterclasses with MCM’s plucky string students (forgive that pun). The festival is very much grounded in Fort Worth, Texas, where it has been a must-see event for the past 18 years, recently cited by the New York Times as a “summer hot spot’. Thompson’s esteemed colleagues are drawn from some of America’s great orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, Houston and Cleveland Orchestras.
This year much is being made of virtuoso violinist Frank Huang – the new Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, who is visiting Melbourne’s Mimir for the secoond time, also performing in a number of Mimir Artists concerts.
The Mimir Artists this year are violinists Frank Huang, Steven Rose and Curt Thompson, violists Joan DerHovsepian and Simon Oswell (the only Australian included in this year’s faculty), cellist Brant Taylor and pianist Alessio Bax whose recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier and Moonlight Sonatas was recently named Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice.
After meeting up with some of these performers two years ago at the inaugural festival I was struck by just how relaxed and amiable they all are, readily giving of their Northern hemisphere summertime, expertise and chamber music experience. Having studied myself in Europe and attended many such masterclasses, the student-teacher divide seems less formal with these American visitors, and the students soak it up in the string quartets they are placed in for the week. This video says it all https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrE-0FeDi1Q
I urge you to pay a visit to any or all of their concerts over the coming week. The opening concert of the Mimir elders takes place on Wednesday September 2 with quartets by Jean Sibelius and Kenji Bunch, and Dvorak’s E flat major quintet. Student masterclasses and concerts are FREE and open to the public.