BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Have you ever wondered what life is really like in the orchestra? Welcome to EXPOSED!
Throughout 2017, we’re teaming up with musicians and arts administrators from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to take you behind the scenes, and show you what it means to pursue a career in a challenging and fulfilling industry.
Our latest interview features Sophie Radke, who performs with the TSO as a casual cellist. Sophie grew up in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, and went on to study her Bachelor of Music at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music.
Five years ago, she moved states to undertake her Honours and Masters of Music at the University of Tasmania. In her Masters, she focuses on ‘Stylistic Direction: A performance based investigation of selected violoncello works of Pēteris Vasks’.
Here, Sophie tells us what it’s like to progress even further in her musical life and join a major orchestra in concert.
How did you make your way into a position with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra?
I moved to Tasmania, from South Australia, five years ago to study with Sue-Ellen Paulsen, principal cellist of the TSO. Around four years ago, I was called up to fill in for one of the cello boys at the last minute for a recording session. I have been fortunate enough to have had regular casual work with the orchestra ever since.
What did you imagine life would be like with the orchestra – and what’s it really like now that you’re living it?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first came in to play with the TSO. Every week is always different and brings new challenges. Sitting in a small cello section of four (sometimes six) comes with its own specific challenges, with each player playing an important role. I now love playing in such a small section.
How would you describe your typical day backstage and in the rehearsal room?
I’m normally a morning person, so I always get up before work to practice, warm-up and look over any difficult moments in the works we are playing.
Was there ever a time you thought the challenge of your role inside the orchestra would be too great?
As a casual, I am sometimes called into work at the very last minute when a member of the section cannot come in. This means I often have to sight read sometimes very difficult music. This can be quite stressful! I always try to keep my technique up so that in these instances I am as prepared as I can be.
I think the most nervous I have ever been was my very first time working with the TSO for a recording session. My cello spike was so blunt that it wouldn’t stay in the cello board. It can sometimes make quite a noise when it slips, and I definitely didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I ended up squeezing my cello very tightly between my knees all day that by the end of the day, absolutely everything hurt!
What do you feel are the strongest expectations placed on you in this role?
Any section becomes familiar with how each other plays, and it is expected that I can come in, fit in and blend to their style. As I have now been playing with the TSO cello section regularly for some years, I now find it easier to adapt to the quirks and charms of the section.
How do you cope with live performance pressure?
As long as I am well prepared and well rested – I always need my pre-concert nap – my nerves are generally under control. I make sure I have eaten a little and not had too much caffeine. At home before a concert, I normally crank some Bjork whilst getting ready to go to work!
How would you describe the chemistry in your instrumental section, and how do you work to support each other in your small team?
Everyone in the cello section has their own unique qualities that contribute to the strength of the section. We all get along personally, which means we can rely on each other for support both personally and professionally. Even in stressful moments, the section always manages to pull together and make each other laugh!
What do you wish audiences could understand about what it means to play in the orchestra?
In Tasmania, there is an amazing and very supportive audience who fully appreciates what the orchestra does. There are many regular subscribers who make the effort to get to know the orchestra personally. This is so important and valued. One thing audiences might not know is that outside the orchestral job, we all have many other musical commitments including teaching, chamber music, practice, and in my case completing my Masters.
What is the thing you love most about life in the orchestra?
I love the constant changing nature of the work. Every week, there is a different conductor, soloist, and repertoire. I have really enjoyed being a part of the TSO Live Sessions at Red Shed and Willie Smith’s. I also loved the opportunity to tour with the orchestra to China at the start of this year.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young musicians looking to commence their orchestral career?
There is no one path to a musical career, so always keep an open mind to all the possibilities.
The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra will next perform at the Federation Concert Hall for Mozart’s Jupiter on November 25. But you can catch the brass players on tour in the meantime – for the full details, visit the TSO website.
Do you have a burning question about what life is really like in the orchestra?