The cellist talks about being an invader ahead of his performances at the Margaret River and Dunkeld Festivals.

You’ve performed at the Dunkeld Festival before with the Australian String Quartet. For you, what are the pleasures of these kinds of festival?

I did the Dunkeld Festival twice before. It is lovely to go back. At the Dunkeld Festival everything is so compact. And the intimacy with the audience is great, and there is so much opportunity to meet the audience. The programming is usually really interesting and well thought of. It’s like festivals should be – it’s a festive occasion and it lasts for days!

And in Margaret River, of course, there is the wine dimension and the glamour of the environment, the locations. It’s quite spectacular.

Cellist Pieter Wispelwey joins the Australian String QuartetCellist Pieter Wispelwey. Photo © Simon Shiff

You will be performing the world premiere of a new string quintet by Gordon Kerry. Were you familiar with his work before preparing for the festival?

No, this will be very exciting for me. Every time you start working on a new piece it’s a very uplifting experience. You just need to invest all your creativity and imagination, because that’s what composers do, you have to match that. I mean, they are creating new things, so you have to match that creativity. It’ll be exciting.

The Tanayev Cello Quintet not all that well known, what can audiences expect from it?

The Tanayev quintet is an enormous piece. Tanayev was a great Russian composer. Not as famous as some of his colleagues, but very much respected by his colleagues, revered even. And he was definitely a very skilled, a masterful composer. He was seriously admired by his colleagues and the string quintet is a masterpiece. The polyphonic writing is stunning. That means in a texture where five instruments play, they all can be playing interesting parts – so there is a very intense and dense musical play going on. And the atmosphere of the piece – I mean the whole spectrum of the atmosphere is enormous. It’s a very rich, copious dish.

The scherzo has lots of running around and balls and mystery, the slow movement has depth and the opening movement is completely symphonic – huge landscapes – it’s just a formidable piece. I played it a few times in programmes where we also programmed the Schubert Quintet. And the Schubert Quintet is, of course, one of the best quintets ever written, if not the best. But Tanayev survived that competition, which does say something about the power of the piece.

Australian String QuartetThe Australian String Quartet: Dale Barltrop, Francesca Hiew, Sharon Draper, Stephen King

What do you enjoy about playing with the Australian String Quartet?

What is wonderful with a quartet like the Australian String Quartet is the dedication to the beauty of playing in that combination. The string quartet combination is probably the best in music, but it’s also probably the most difficult one. It also means that I’ll be working with specialists – they know exactly what the pitfalls are, how to solve problems, so that’s always a great learning experience for me, too. To remind me of the craft that goes into playing chamber music well.

Is it challenging to come in to an established ensemble like that where they have already got their own dynamic?

My role will be to stir it up a bit. They are a very balanced ensemble, they can deal with invaders, usually. It’s give and take. But, it’s definitely interesting to be the odd one out and the odd one coming in.

Pieter Wispelwey performs with the Australian String Quartet at the Margaret River Weekend of Music April 21 – 23 and the Dunkeld Festival of Music April 28 – May 2


Pieter Wispelwey will also perform the Bach Cello Suites at City Recital Hall, Sydney August 7 and a marathon Bach, Beethoven and Brahms at Melbourne Recital Centre August 16 – 18

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