Meeting Brisbane’s new Taimana Ensemble

Jo St Leon interviews emerging flautist Emma Armstrong

BY JO ST LEON

 

The Taimana Ensemble features some of the newest and brightest stars on the horizon of Brisbane’s thriving classical music scene. Formed in 2016, it is a trio whose members – flautist Emma Armstrong, cellist Julia Janiszewski, and pianist David Jenkin – are all young, emerging musicians devoting themselves to carving out portfolio careers without chasing the traditional job-for-life route of past generations. Their mission is to explore, share and enlarge the extensive, but sometimes obscure, repertoire for this unusual and effective combination of instruments.

Taimana launched boldly last year with its own fully fledged concert series; a brave act that speaks volumes about the musicians’ commitment and belief in what they are doing. Following the success of that first series, they have another  underway this year. The first concert was part of the 4MBS Festival of Classics, and you can hear the second – Vivacity – on August 20 at St Mary’s Church, Kangaroo Point.

Vivacity features a newly commissioned work by Timothy Tate. Commissioning new music, particularly by young Australian composers, is an important and ongoing part of Taimana’s mission. Emma Armstrong, the driving force behind the Tate commission, says “performing Australian music has always been important to me”.

“I think Australian musicians have a certain responsibility to promote the music of Australian composers. There is very little in the Australian repertoire for our instrumentation, and we wanted to contribute to filling in the gaps.”

Emma Armstrong talks new music

Tate’s work Take Your Time was commissioned earlier this year and premiered at the Australian Flute Festival in July. Taimana is excited to include it in the series.

“Tim is actually a good friend of ours, but further than that I think it’s important, when we involve other people in our work, that they are ‘emerging artists’ just like we are,” Emma says.

“Knowing Tim personally, and knowing that he’s also a recent graduate, gave us an immediate purpose for wanting to approach him for a new work.

“Tim’s work often draws on what he calls ‘extra-musical concepts’, basically using other art forms as inspiration. That’s something that really drew us in. I think it gives the music extra depth and probably makes it more rewarding for us to play.”

Composer Timothy Tate

The remainder of the Vivacity program comprises works by Martinu, Bartok, Prokofiev and Berkeley: some of the giants of 20th Century music. Taimana is joined for this exciting program by young violinist Xenia Deviatkina-Loh.

“This year, we’ve started incorporating some slightly larger ensemble pieces to bring more variety to our concerts, and to give a different perspective to our trio repertoire,” Emma explains.

Taimana takes its programming seriously. Audience development is its greatest challenge, so with every concert the artists try to find a balance between the familiar, to draw in the crowd; and the unfamiliar, to surprise and delight them.

“One thing we’ve seen consistently from audiences since we started…is pleasant surprise. We have this incredible opportunity to play so much music that people have never heard before, and to see it have such a positive reception is what pushes us on to the next concert.”

Where possible, they look for a theme running through a concert, to give the program added strength.

The theme for Concert 3 is Un Voyage, a journey through landmarks of 20th Century French chamber music.

“We have some of the biggest names in French music here, but the sound of each piece is not quite what audiences might associate with the composer,” Emma says.

“Each piece…has something of a heightened character, and we’ll hear absolute commitment to different sound worlds. There are still examples of the impressionistic style that people expect, but it’s alongside unpredictable fantasy, primeval song and bizarre wit.”

Concert 4, Converse, is all about contrasts. Quirky Haydn sits alongside colourful 20th Century music, with some Brahms in the mix as well. It’s a showcase for the versatility of this young ensemble.

Musicians today need to learn an incredible range of skills if they are to successfully create varied careers, and Emma says running Taimana has been a steep learning curve.

“We’ve had to develop skills that never occurred to us to look into at university, so it’s been an exercise in doing our best and having the courage to just run with it.

“However, a musician who has skills in design, marketing and web presence is one who has a leg up, so I think learning on the run is as good a way to learn as any.”

Future plans for this innovative ensemble include a 2018 series, further commissions, and a growing presence at Australian festivals.

 

For further details about the series, or to read more about Taimana, please go to www.taimanaensemble.com. It’s well worth a visit, packed with information about music and composers, and sound clips from their wide-ranging repertoire.

 


Images supplied.

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