Q&A with Dale Barltrop

Interview with
Dale Barltrop
ANAM Board Director


You were recently appointed to ANAM’s Board of Directors. How do you feel about this appointment?

Since my own student days, I have watched ANAM grow, evolve and flourish into one of the most inspiring music institutions in the world. It is an immense privilege to be invited to join the ANAM board at this critical juncture in its history and I look forward to working with all of the board members, staff and Faculty in their mission to ensure a bright future for music in Australia.

Can you share a bit more about your background?

In a nutshell, I grew up in Brisbane, began playing violin in my state school instrumental music program, was a devoted Queensland Youth Orchestra and Australian Youth Orchestra kid, left Australia after high school to study in the US at the University of Maryland and then the Cleveland Institute of Music before beginning my professional life in the St Paul Chamber Orchestra as Principal Second Violin. I then moved to Canada to become Concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, where I lived for seven years before returning to Australia to join the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Australian String Quartet (ASQ).

You are deeply involved in both orchestral and chamber music with your roles as First Violin of the ASQ and as one of the Concertmasters of the MSO. Can you describe the main things that you love about each of these roles?

I feel like such a lucky guy to make music at both ends of the spectrum. Playing in the ASQ is a powerfully intimate experience – you share artistic responsibility with three other people who become your musical spouses, travel companions and in many cases and often without realising it, your mentors in life. What makes chamber music so special is that the unique personality of each musician is vital to the overall sound of the group. In the MSO, I am constantly inspired by the collective power of a great number of musical voices combining together to create an artistic whole. It is always a stimulating workplace – both on and off stage – and I often find myself swept up in the sheer exhilaration of being part of a dynamic shared experience.

Pre-2020, how did you manage your time between these two positions?

I must admit that it has always been a bit of a juggling act to schedule my year in such a way that allows me to spend ample time with both groups. I am unbelievably fortunate to have such supportive colleagues in both the MSO and ASQ, who put up with me flitting in and out. But somehow – and notwithstanding the odd shuffling of weeks here and there – things do seem to have a way of working themselves out in the end. Whilst it can get pretty busy at times, I find the frequent change of pace keeps me fresh and on my toes!

Can you tell us about the ANAM Alumni link with the ASQ?

Our second violinist, Francesca Hiew, and cellist, Sharon Grigoryan, are both proud Alumni of ANAM. They speak with such fondness of their time as students at ANAM and the opportunities it provided for them. Indeed, both of their formative experiences in string quartets, for Franny as a member of the Auric Quartet, were born out of their time at ANAM. [Another ANAM Alumni, Michael Dahlenburg, will join the Australian String Quartet as its Cellist in November 2020.]

After the events of this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, how do you see the role of a musician changing in the future?

There’s no denying that this year has forced all performing artists to re-evaluate their existence. Speaking from my own experience, it has been confronting to face the reality that my musical life will undoubtedly look quite different in 2021 and beyond. But I remain vehemently optimistic that our industry will bounce back with renewed vigour and a belief that our contribution to society will be more vital than ever. This also gives us an opportunity to do things differently – to experiment with new ways of communicating with our audiences and to create ever more meaningful engagement with people through music.

What’s the next musical project on your horizon?

The ASQ is about to wrap up its eight-week series of live-streamed webisodes from the beautiful UKARIA Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, called ‘ASQ Live @ UKARIA’. The whole series can be purchased and viewed on our website until the end of October. Shameless plug aside, I must say I am very proud of the work our team has done on this project. It has challenged us to find new and creative ways to share our craft while giving audiences an intimate glimpse into our lives both on and off stage. Beyond that, we are looking forward to recording the next instalments of our Australian Anthology series with quartets by Paul Stanhope and Anne Cawrse. For the MSO, it will be a little while yet before we can bring the band back together, but there’s been a whole lot of behind-the-scenes dreaming and strategising which fills me with great hope for our future.

– Article orignally published in ANAM's Music Makers vol 36

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