Q&A with ANAM Musicians: TSO All-Wagner Gala


In a week or two, ANAM Musicians will set off to Hobart to join the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, soprano Nina Stemme, baritone John Lundgren, and conductor Marko Letonja for a night of Wagnerian splendour. Before they get swept up in emotion-filled and epic scenes from Der Ring des Nibelungen (commonly referred to as the Ring Cycle) and Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), our musicians share their views on opera music and Wagner. 

TSO-All-Wagner-Gala-Jackson-BankovicJACKSON BANKOVIC (trombone)

If you could get Wagner to write just one more piece, what would it be?

As a trombone player, I would love a Symphony for brass. The colours that Wagner achieves through his brass writing are nothing short of spectacular and I would love to see this explored in a piece specifically for our instruments.  

What is your personal response – as a music lover and audience member - to Wagner’s music?

It took me a long time to understand Wagner how I currently do. I didn't understand the need for four hour operas. However, now I can appreciate how much exists beyond just the music. When Wagner considered his works to be Gesamtkunstwerk (Total art work), he wasn't kidding! It's only upon experiencing the sets, costumes, and choreography alongside the scores that I realised how this music was meant to be received. Having said this, Wagner's music has sensational moments that very easily and beautifully exist on their own, but suddenly the gargantuan works make sense! 

TSO-All-Wagner-Gala-Ruby-ShirresRUBY SHIRRES (viola)

Are there any special challenges you face in performing opera music? 

When performing an opera in full, especially Wagner, there are a few skills required that are specific to the style. You need stamina, physically and mentally, in order to stay focused and capable for anywhere between 3.5 to 5 hours of music. There are also lots and lots of notes, especially for strings, so the key is to avoid getting too bogged down as the orchestra is only one part of a much greater production and coordinating with the other aspects of the performance even through the tricky passages is the most important thing for us to do as individuals. There's also the challenge of playing with singers, who have a different technique and way of realising the music which as an orchestra is more foreign than accompanying an instrumentalist for a concerto, for instance. In the performance we are presenting not a full work but excerpts of Wagner's music, so these challenges are present in varying measures, but the same skill set still applies.

If you could sum up your feelings about Wagner’s music in three words, what would they be?

Dramatic, colourful, storytelling.

What are you looking forward to the most on this visit to Hobart? 

The opportunity to work with an orchestra like the TSO is invaluable, as is the chance to play with singers...two things that aren't really available to us everyday in an instrumental training academy like ANAM. I've also never been to Hobart so I'm excited to travel to a new place through music. 

TSO-All-Wagner-Gala-Giovanni-VinciGIOVANNI VINCI (bass)

What are you looking forward to the most on this visit to Hobart?

I value any opportunity to learn from professionals in the music world, especially orchestral musicians. Sitting side by side with one of Australia’s most energetic and vibrant orchestras will allow me to actively engage and learn in a stimulating and challenging environment. I am looking forward to working alongside TSO’s Principal Double Bass, Stuart Thomson, being receptive to his ideas, approach and leadership.

Are there any special challenges you face in performing opera music?

Performing opera music is quite the experience. Personally, I feel one has to stay actively aware and be receptive of everything that is happening, especially with the addition of the vocalists. Operas can be monumental works, particularly in Wagner’s case, and the amount of concentration required can leave you exhausted. Having a good knowledge of the opera score is essential and acknowledging that every performance will be different to the last is important. One always needs to be fully engaged with what is happening in the pit and on stage simultaneously. Opera can be highly challenging, but is bountiful in rewards for both the listener and performer.

TSO-All-Wagner-Gala-Liam-OborneLIAM OBORNE (violin)

Are there any special challenges you face in performing opera?

For me the greatest challenge of opera is often remembering that we're not always the main event in the orchestra. It's important to make sure that we're always supporting the singers and only coming to the fore as the primary voice when it's actually required by the music. Also accompanied recitatives. One of my musical nightmares is performing extremely under rehearsed accompanied recitatives in Mozart operas!

If you could get Wagner to write just one more piece, what would it be?

Definitely a string quartet. Although he apparently wrote a very early quartet that is now lost to history, I would love to hear Wagner's take on the string quartet at the end of his career.

What is your personal response - as music lover and audience member - to Wagner's music?

My personal response as both a music lover and audience member would before the most part, one of awe and wonder. Wagner's music has a magical and timeless quality to it that transports the listener to another world where one can escape from reality for a couple of hours. My response as an orchestral musician however is "how can I possibly play all these notes?!"

What are you looking forward to most on this visit to Hobart?

I'm really looking forward to performing with the TSO again. Playing casually with the orchestra while I was still living in Hobart taught me a lot about orchestral playing and gave me my first real professional experience. Working with such a welcoming and supportive group of musicians was really lovely for someone like me just at the start of their career. I also can't wait to just be in the city itself once more. Hobart became like a second home to me over the course of my degree and I owe a lot to the support of my teachers and the faculty at UTAS, and my fellow UTAS alumni and friends.

Saturday 2 November 7.30PM
Federation Concert Hall

Presented by Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Photo by Pia Johnson

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