We recently sat down with Nathan Greentree, Principal Viola for ACO Collective's tour of Mozart, Haydn & More, to discuss what it's like to play this unique program of music led by Pekka Kuusisto. Nathan also gives his own insight and advice to young musicians thinking of applying to ACO's Emerging Artists Program.
1. The upcoming tour Mozart, Haydn & More has an interesting twist with its palindromic theme. What’s it like to play this program of music that mirrors itself?
It's not very often that you get to play or listen to a program that moves away from convention and breaks pieces apart like this. The result is an interesting journey where you get introduced to a work but before you can really settle into it and get comfortable, you're suddenly transported into another sound world with new themes and emotions. This creates quite a challenge for us as musicians, as it requires even more concentration than we would need for a more traditional performance. As the concert goes on though and the remaining sections of the works are reintroduced, there's a definite sense of completeness and closure that's really satisfying as you finally come full circle. It's kind of our equivalent of the movie Inception, where instead of a dream within a dream, you have Haydn's 'Palindrome' symphony within the palindromic program!
2. Pekka Kuusisto is known for his energy and charisma and it seems his wicked sense of humour shines through in this unique program he has built. What is it like to work with and learn from the such a renowned Finnish violinist?
I mean, where do you even begin with Pekka Kuusisto? He obviously comes to us with his eclectic reputation as being one of the most engaging and original musicians in the world today, however unlike many of his stature who save their energy and enthusiasm for the stage or put in on as an act, Pekka is just like that every day without fail. Our rehearsals normally involve a lot of experimentation, with Pekka encouraging us to approach the music in ways that we probably hadn't thought of before and he's always willing to try out all of our ideas, no matter how whacky they might seem!
His enthusiasm and cheeky humour are ridiculously contagious, which creates such a great vibe in rehearsals and are the perfect pick me up after some of the long travel days. If you want a preview of the Pekka experience right now watch this clip here and see him in his element at one of the highest profile gigs around, the Proms in Royal Albert Hall.
For young, aspiring musicians like us who are trying to make our way in the huge world of music, Pekka is the ultimate source of inspiration for what we should all aim to be. His humility and approachability are so rare for someone as successful as himself and in an industry with so much competition and where ego can sometimes rear its ugly head, Pekka is a breath of fresh air. I know all of us who have had the chance to work alongside him since he started with us in 2016 would agree that we've all benefitted so much from learning from him and hopefully he can keep coming back and sharing his magic with us for a long time to come!
3. This tour travels regional South Australia and Victoria. How does playing regional venues differ from the cities?
Obviously, every concert is unique and special for the musicians (and hopefully for our audiences too!) but there's always a certain buzz in the air when we play in the regional venues. I think a big part of this comes down to the anticipation for these concerts from the regional audiences. Right from the get go of arriving in each town, we can see posters for our concerts hanging everywhere from cafes to light poles which also raises our excitement levels! For some of our audiences, there isn't necessarily the chance to make it into the capital cities for concerts, so our performances may be the only opportunity for them to see a live concert that year or until we return again. As such, there's an extra level of appreciation that we can feel at the end of our performances which makes every show even more memorable.
Also, as these venues aren't as large as their city counterparts, there's definitely a more intimate connection between us and the audiences, both whilst playing and also through meeting many of them afterwards when we're often lucky enough to be treated to some of their delicious homemade baked goods! Pekka loves a bit of audience participation at these gigs since they're so up close and personal and audiences for this tour might get to experience this too, but you'll just have to come along to find out!
4. In your opinion, why is it important for ACO Collective to bring music to regional Australia?
I think one of the most common misconceptions about classical music today is that it's a "dying art form". In a place like Australia which has such a strong sporting culture, it's things like music (and in particular music education) that are often pushed to the side as they are seen as being irrelevant or unbeneficial and not worth funding. For years, people like the late, great Richard Gill have been advocating to make music education compulsory in schools, as music can teach children so many valuable lessons which can be applied to all areas of life. Of course, music educators are more readily available to children in the capital cities and this is why it's so great that ACO Collective make it a priority to visit the regional centres of Australia. While the concerts are wonderful for general exposure to live music, it's the school workshops we give that are just as, if not more, important, as it enables us to pass on what we ourselves have learnt from our ACO mentors and therefore can hopefully inspire the students to keep pursuing music.
Great musicians don't just come from big cities, they can be found anywhere and there are plenty of amazing Australian musicians who come from regional areas. Just look at the ACO itself for proof of this with violinist Glenn Christensen calling Mackay in far north QLD home. If that's not a good enough reason as to why it's so important to bring music to regional Australia, then I don't know what is!
5. You were an Emerging Artist back in 2016 and now 3 years later you are leading your section as Principal Viola on this tour. Tell us a bit about this journey and where you hope this adventure takes you next?
These past 3 years since I was an Emerging Artist have been amazing and it has definitely been an unbelievable journey so far! As a younger lad, I had always imagined what it would be like to play in this group who have this unrivalled level of energy, comradery and enjoyment for what they do day in and day out. In 2016, I started to experience that firsthand and as cliched as it sounds, it really has exceeded all of my expectations! To be able to tour all around the country with likeminded peers who are constantly striving to raise the bar every night is something really special which I don't take for granted.
I've been extremely fortunate since 2016 to have played quite a bit with both ACO and ACO Collective. This period has been absolutely transformative for my playing and my understanding of music and the lessons I've learned just from being around these incredible musicians have been invaluable. I strongly believe that these experiences I've gotten from the ACO have more than prepared me for the next step of my musical adventure, no matter what that may be. That being said, it's really rare to find an ensemble of the ACO's calibre that are so close knit and welcoming that you feel like you're part of the family, so I hope I'll be able to keep playing with this group for many more years.
6. Applications for the ACO’s Emerging Artist program are open until early April. What’s your biggest piece of advice to a young artist who is thinking of applying?
I think the best piece of advice I could give to anyone that's thinking of applying for the EA program is to really be sure of who you are as an artist and to not be afraid to show that. The ACO isn't an orchestra where you can just chill out and hide in your section - you need to be confident, adaptable and willing to take risks. The usual audition requirements of good intonation, rhythm etc obviously apply, but the panel will be looking for you to go above and beyond that and to do more than just fit into the usual orchestral mould. As I've learnt from Pekka and the ACO musicians, there really are an infinite number of ways to approach the music you're playing, so be patient until you find what resonates the most with you. Other than that, just apply and good luck!
ACO Collective's Mozart, Haydn & More is currently touring. Click the link below for full details on tickets and tour dates.
ACO's Emerging Artist program applications are now open. For full details on the program and how to apply follow the link below.