BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Thirty solo gigs up the Australian coast?
Cellist Anthony Albrecht is set to launch Bach to the Bush – his independent tour through which he’s chosen to perform Bach’s solo cello suites for 30 new audiences in the coming months. From lecture halls to arts centres and all sorts of venues in between, Anthony’s tour is a test of stamina – a road trip with no soundtrack but Bach.
Anthony, a Juilliard School graduate based in London, has returned to his home country of Australia to embark on this challenge. Bringing his experiences of live performance from shows with Pinchgut Opera, Australian Haydn Ensemble, Ironwood and more, the musician hopes to introduce the music of Bach to rural audiences – some for the first time.
Anthony was a recipient of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust, an MCA Freedman Fellowship nominee, and a finalist in the Kruger Scholarship. The Historically Informed Performance practice-trained cellist tells us everything about his solo tour, from its logistics to his motivation. When will you plan yours?
Thanks for taking the time to chat! Tell us all about your tour. Why now, and why Australia?
Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure to chat with such an important new platform for classical music!
Bach to the Bush has been a dream of mine since graduating from Juilliard in 2014. I felt really empowered to start creating performance opportunities for myself, and decided that one of the best ways to do that would be to engage regional audiences that don’t often get the opportunity to hear great classical music. While I love returning to Australia each year from my base in London to perform with Pinchgut Opera and the Australian Haydn Ensemble – and often get to play in amazing venues like the Opera House and Angel Place in Sydney – towns on my tour such as Girgarre, Adelong and Atherton have never hosted a cellist before! I’m keen to see more of Australia, grow an audience base for myself here and have a great time meeting classical music lovers all around the country.
Thirty solo concerts in a row is no mean feat. Why did you decide to go it alone?
This a chance for me to build momentum playing solo repertoire, which I hope to do all over the world, as well as creating a blueprint for others to follow. Solo concerts are very easy to manage logistically and financially. A solo recital is, for most musicians, a rare and intimate thing that allows you to tell your story to an audience. It’s a challenge to be the centre of attention and to have the mental focus to make sure each concert is great when dealing with so much admin work, but I’m getting more streamlined in my methods.
Have you ever attempted anything like this before? What are your expectations going into this sort of venture?
I began Bach to the Bush in 2014 with concerts in the Hunter Region. I had no idea how many people would show up for the first concerts, but local media are very generous when you tell them you are returning from study overseas, and some of my early audiences were incredible. Back then, I hung every poster, sent every promotional email to anyone that I thought might be interested after endless googling of arts/music/historical societies and organisations, and usually was also the one doing ticket sales on the door. My expectations, artistically, logistically and financially, were surpassed in every way.
This time, I’m not visiting any of the tour locations before I play, so I’m relying on an incredible network of local committees who look after the wonderful community halls around Australia. I found out about many of them through the amazing work of the Festival of Small Halls run by Woodford Folk Festival, which fortunately is having a year off. Many of these committees were very keen to keep the momentum going, and have been very generous with their support. I don’t expect sell-outs, but with an average audience of 50 per concert, I will consider this tour musically and financially very successful!
How do you plan to sustain your energy – physical and psychological – in playing so much Bach in so many events?
This will definitely be a challenge. I always try to eat well (pre-concert banana and daily smoothies), but I’m definitely going to get to bed earlier than usual and seek out some physical help. For example, the president of the Warrnambool Mozart Hall is also an Alexander Technique specialist! Bach is a gift for the mind, body and soul. I don’t want it to be a stressful experience. I’ll get to see some beautiful parts of Australia, so hopefully the sights, sounds and smells of the bush will keep me regular.
Why did you choose Bach as the composer for your tour?
Bach is the obvious choice for a solo cello tour, as we cellists are so lucky to have the six suites. Bach, while also looking great on a poster, brings a beautiful source of associations. It takes people immediately into a profound and sincere artistic place. They know what they will experience will be beautiful, spiritual and even healthy. It is like choosing to pursue a ‘wellness treatment’ when you choose to attend a Bach concert. You know you are not just going to be entertained, but that something is going to happen inside. I think for many people, non-musicians, at least, they could count the number of times they have heard the suites played live on one finger, let alone one hand. It’s a privilege to give them that experience.
You’ll be playing in such a large variety of venues. I’d imagine Bach’s cello works would sound entirely different in a church compared with a lecture hall! How do you practice for a tour of this nature?
I choose venues – usually via a Google image search – based on the acoustic potential, or from a recommendation. Wooden floors and high ceilings are ideal, and many of the School of Arts halls are perfect in this regard. Sometimes, I take a gamble – such as with the new Learning Centre at the University of South Australia in Mount Gambier – but the principles of practice are always the same. I’m still learning how to practice efficiently, but slowly is the key! Pieter Wispelwey taught me to listen to the ‘alchemy’ of intervals between notes in Bach, hearing how his implied harmony can resonate through a whole bar. This was incredibly important for me, but just the other day I loved reading this article in Business Insider, written by a mother whose 11-year-old son was auditioning at Juilliard. She used the phrase: ‘Listening with your head and with your heart’. Beautiful.
You’re trained in Historically Informed Performance practice. What does this tell us about your underlying philosophies as a musician, and human?
I nearly gave up hope of being a professional cellist after doing some modern cello study in Germany. I wasn’t ready for that level of intensity and training for orchestral auditions didn’t resonate well with me. HIP reignited the fire thanks to the generosity and warmth of its community, the creativity and intellect it demands from players, and the sense of exploration and learning shared by performers and audiences. I suppose in life, I try to be logical, reasonable, principled, loving. The education I’ve had in HIP has demanded all these traits and given me a much greater sense of the interconnectedness of art, history, music and politics. I feel empowered to make musical decisions based on more than just what the teacher told me or what my instinct says. A life well lived is spent learning, sharing, and loving; and musicians know they are privileged to be able to.
What do you hope to learn from your tour experience?
No matter how many people I play for, I’d like to always give them an experience they won’t forget. I still find it inspiring how much I can be moved by listening to live music and I love the idea that I can have this kind of effect of others. I’ve learnt to build websites, work with the Adobe Suite to design posters and flyers, write press releases, make budgets, do fundraising, apply for image licenses from art galleries; it’s endless work, but I’m pretty good at this now. I quite fancy a solo tour of the Greek islands. Life goal: no regrets.
Do you have any advice for other musicians looking to embark on such a journey?
Learn all of the above, then: just do it.
Bach to the Bush kicks off this June 17, continuing in the coming months. To find out when he hits your city, visit Anthony’s website.