Classical music our way: Melbourne Philharmonia Project

Orchestral music with an underground vibe

BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE

 

The Melbourne Philharmonia Project defines itself with ambition: “An orchestral movement changing the perceptions of classical music”.

And we love it. Hitting the streets with Sculthorpe and Sibelius, the new initiative will perform its second ever concert this month. MPP is set to light up the Meat Market with an “underground vibe”, bringing in jazz quartets to keep things buzzing during interval, and offering beverages from Melbourne’s micro-breweries.

But what’s wrong with keeping classical in the concert hall; a glass of house wine with your chums after the applause have silenced? Well, nothing if you’re one to honour tradition – but we like the idea of something more.

MPP Artistic Director Clinton Daley, who has received mentoring from leading conductors such as Benjamin Northey and David Byrne, talks us through his vision and what it takes to make it as a new musical initiative in today’s classical scene.

 

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Hi Clinton, lovely to meet you and congratulations on MPP! Tell us everything about your journey and how MPP started.

Like with most new ideas, it normally starts with a drink at a pub. We were no different…I was chatting to a close mate Thomas Pepprell, who is also a violinist in MPP, about what we felt was lacking in the Melbourne classical music scene. We felt that there wasn’t an orchestra which represented how we wanted classical music to be perceived. It wasn’t so much that we felt the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra were doing things wrong. But if there was one time that we could reach for the stars and dare to make the craziest of our musical dreams a reality, then the naivety of youth, I reckon, is the perfect backdrop.

In terms getting this orchestra off the ground, I went out of my way to talk to as many young musicians about what they wanted an orchestra to represent. I firmly believe that what MPP is, and strives to be, has been the product of many people’s opinions and not just mine. That’s why we call ourselves an orchestral movement. However, I didn’t want to fall in the trap of letting financial planning come behind artistic planning which I feel a lot of orchestras and ensembles starting up do. So we took our time and also consulted a lot of people in the business world so our elevator pitch and aims were crystal clear.

There are some fantastic new initiatives and ensembles breaking out into the Australian music scene. Why did you feel it important to create your own, and what do you offer that’s a point of difference?

It was important to create MPP because we believed there was a demand in the marketplace for an experience of this type. An orchestral experience which was aimed at not the 7 per cent that listen to classic music but the other 93 per cent. From an administrative standpoint, our executive committee is not made up of musicians. I feel there are too many grassroots initiatives in music which form committees that are all musicians. I believe this is the wrong way of going about it. It is a complete waste of talent in such a big think tank like Melbourne to be appointing people to roles which they have no long term passion in. What’s the point hypothetically in having your first oboist as your PR manager if he or she wants to simply pursue a career as a performer? Why not provide opportunities and appoint people to roles for which they are studying or want a career in? That’s what MPP has done with roles such as our PR and media advisor and in our business manager. Our chairman Seth Watts is also CEO of one of Australia’s largest Real Estate Marketing Companies, New Litho. Again, it was important to have strong business brains and business smarts behind this orchestra.

It’s a risky, highly competitive business. How do you gain that confidence necessary to bring an idea to life (especially when our nation’s arts funding and policy situation is dire…)?

Well, to be completely honest, our goal is to be an orchestra that is completely independently funded. You could say less like our current situation Australia and more like America. Rather, our financial situation is not dependent on political circumstances. That means conjuring relationships with corporations and private individuals, which we have done. Personally, there are most definitely moments which test my belief and confidence about what we are doing and what I’m personally doing. However, for me personally it’s the musicians that play in MPP which give me confidence. They are the most astonishing people and it’s them that push me to strive for more. I’m blessed that these musicians are also incredibly honest to me and that their advice comes from a good spot. The truth is, the music gives me confidence, which is the way it can only be.

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MPP chooses its programs based on what the musicians want to play. How do you find a balance between playing something you want to play or you like as a musician, and presenting works that you think will have a significant impact on your audience?

Our first concert two months ago, we performed two pieces: Sculthorpe’s Kakadu and Mahler’s first symphony Titan. Yeah, I know…ambitious! Both these works are incredibly emotional works, especially the Mahler. No matter your musical bias, it’s a piece which provokes a reaction and, due to the eclectic inspirations behind Mahler’s music, it’s a piece where there’s something for everyone. The works of Sculthorpe are a focus of MPP during this year’s season. Each concert this year will be opened with a piece of his, because I believe if “us” as the younger generation aren’t prepared to play the works of our greatest composer, how we can expect professional Australian orchestras to do so? Our major work for our next concert is Sibelius 1, which was suggested by a trumpet player who played in our first concert, Tony Frantz. His reasoning was that it was a piece that rarely gets performed and that there was no reason for that. Also, it’s got a killer brass part. The orchestra agreed with his assumption and voted in favour of Sibelius 1. I think if you have a listen to it, you’ll agree with them. The second movement, for example, is simply stunning. I guess it’s about performing pieces which the orchestra is enthusiastic about, but also pieces that have had significant impact on you personally. You can only gauge how someone is going to react by your own personal experiences, but there are pieces which you know will create the unique atmospheres that only classical music can conjure up. Sibelius’ music and especially this symphony definitely has the ability or the potential to create an experience which you are forced to be moved by.

You’re boasting an “underground vibe” – sounds exciting, tell us more!

Orchestras have to represent the city and community which they serve. One of my pet hates is when amateur orchestras put the word ‘Melbourne’ or ‘Australia’ in front of their name and the concerts which they are putting out to the consumer don’t reflect the city or country. Melbourne is blessed with some of the most exciting venues and is famed for its alleyways. It’s this slightly edgy Fitzroy vibe that I personally love about Melbourne, you could say like Greenwich Village in New York. So how is MPP creating this ‘underground vibe’? First off, we are presenting a chamber music festival in October which will be located in a Melbourne alleyway called ‘Up Your Alley’. Keep your eyes peeled for that! In terms of our concert experience, alternative venues like the Melbourne Meat Market, using lights to enhance the musical experience, beverages from Melbourne’s famed micro-breweries, jazz quartets before the concert and at interval. It’s little weeks like this which we are doing that we believe will create a unique and inviting environment. Also, we are having an afterparty with a DJ that’s performed at Stereo Sonic, which will be opened to the under 25s. So yeah, I reckon MPP is doing things a bit differently!

Why do you think classical music needs an image change?

Quite simply, it’s not financially stable. Professional orchestras can sell out a concert and still not make a profit, which defeats all common sense. It’s a financial model that cannot last and orchestras cannot expect external funds to always save the day. But I guess, if orchestras could be financially independent then they most definitely would be. Having talked to a lot of people, their problem is not necessarily classical music as in the music itself, but more so the stigma that comes with classical music. I guess the inconvenient truth is that classical music in the last 50 years has become more and more irrelevant for the average Jo on the street. How do we change that as a community? Well, Leonard Bernstein did it in America. His Young People’s Concerts are a lesson for us in 2016 about what classical music should be and represent. We shouldn’t snub our noses at pop music, because that’s the music that most people our age listen to. Leonard Bernstein didn’t snub his nose at mainstream music of that time and was keen on incorporating artists like the Beatles or The Kinks into his televised series. More so, Bernstein was mates with people like Michael Jackson and Miles Davis. Bernstein was ‘cool’. We are seeing conductors like Dudamel and soloists like Yuja Wang that are also gaining attention on a larger scale but these are exceptions and none to the scale of Bernstein. I guess my point is, you never hear artists like Beyonce or bands like Coldplay being talked about in the same vein as our great composers like Mahler or Bach. That’s more a reflection on us – the classical music community – rather than the general public. That’s why we need an image change, because classical music is no longer the artform which the general public look to be inspired by, classical music has become the outlier.

Talk us through the works for your upcoming concert.

Sculthorpe’s iconic work Earth Cry is one of those pieces that define a composer and, in this case, a country, much like Sibelius’ music in Finland. It only made sense that we start off our second concert with this piece. Earth Cry also ties in with our concerto which is Elgar’s fiery Cello Concerto in E minor, which Elgar wrote down at the Sussex Cottage. One of Australia’s most exciting young Cellists Jovan Pantelich is our soloist, which will no doubt bring a new and unique take to this famous work. Sibelius’ first symphony, well…I think I covered that in a previous question. All the pieces relate to nature but also have a very personal quality about them, hence the title Solitary Pathways. I have to credit that title to Michelle Wood, cellist of the MSO and Tinalley Quartet. We were struggling to find a name for the concert and her suggestion was absolutely perfect. There’s also a very personal connotation to that title, which I think is perfect. I think a lot of young people will definitely relate to it; I know I most definitely do!

Parting words before we see MPP?

Although there is a lot more that we can do as a community to bring classical music to a wider Australian public, I think it is without a doubt an exciting time for classical music in Australia. As you said, there are such exciting ensembles and initiatives being launched – especially in the publishing sector like yours with CutCommon, but also other initiatives like Rehearsal Magazine that are all providing something new and filling a void. It most definitely feels like we are coming together as community, and doing something about the future of classical music in this country. We are not simply letting history take its natural course. Also, countries in Asia are being exposed to Western classical music for the first time – for them, it’s new music. How exciting is that?! The works of Beethoven, Strauss and Bruckner being classified as new. That’s what I call inspiring!

 

The Melbourne Philharmonia Project will perform its concert Solitary Pathways at the Meat Market, 7.30pm July 16. For more info visit the MPP website.

 

Image credit Daniel Martinie.

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