We caught up with ACO2 Guest Director & Lead Violin Alexander Sitkovetsky to chat about the upcoming The Best of British tour, which kicks off at Darwin Festival and then heads off to Healesville, Montrose, Bendigo, Warrnambool, Mount Gambier and Adelaide. See what we found out.
What is the most remarkable music-related memory of your childhood?
It’s funny, but actually the first memory that I remember is listening to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. My father was the lead guitarist in a very successful Rock band in the USSR named Autograph and he was always playing the Rock Classics for me in the car and at home, so it was a good balance between my classical education and Led Zeppelin, Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the rest. Although my mom was taking me to many concerts from a very early age, I remember much more vividly going to hear my dad’s band performances.
In terms of an unforgettable experience from my childhood, that will always be my performance of the Bach Double with Lord Menuhin when I was 9 years old. Although I could not appreciate it the same way that I would now, I remember my excitement and also the support and encouragement that Lord Menuhin gave me at that time. This has always stayed with me.
You studied at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in England. What did you enjoy the most about this experience? Did this experience influence you to have an interest in British music?
Yehudi Menuhin School in England
I think that with any institution there will be positive and negative aspects of one’s time there. For me, what I thought was a huge plus, and something which I think in many ways defines many of the School’s students, is the fact that Chamber music was introduced parallel to my individual training. We were already playing string quartets from the age of 8 and this helped us learn how to listen to others and be sensitive to other players from a very young age. I think this is invaluable and has helped our individual playing as well. About British music, the school had a string orchestra and I went through almost the whole repertoire over my eight years there so of course the school had an impact on the music that I was introduced to, but we did all of the major String Orchestra works like Bartok’s Divertimento, Stravinsky’s Concerto in D as well as many others.
Can you tell us more about The Best of British repertoire and what motivated you to select these works?
Many of these works I grew up with so they are very close to me personally. The Violin Concerto by Panufnik was originally written for Menuhin and I was asked to perform it at the school with the School Orchestra. In fact, Menuhin conducted the piece with me playing just two weeks before his death. I am very close with Andrzej’s wife, Camilla, who has done amazing work to keep Panufnik’s legacy going, and she has been instrumental in helping me to promote the piece and have it performed more often. It’s a fantastic piece, beautifully written and very exciting for the listener as well as for the performer and I am looking forward to introducing this work to the Australian audiences.
All of the pieces in the program are representative not only of British composers but of music in Great Britain. Handel, Panufnik and Holst, although not English by birth, all lived and worked in England and were very much accepted as one of their own while Purcell and Britten reiterate the great tradition of composing that exists in the UK. I am especially looking forward to the Britten, which is a real tour de force and an incredibly virtuoso piece showing off all of the capabilities of the string orchestra. This is going to be a lot of fun with such an amazing ensemble as the ACO2.
ACO2, the ACO’s critically acclaimed string ensemble. © Jack Saltmiras
This is the second time you will be touring in Australia. What are your expectations about the upcoming tour?
I know that I am definitely not the first person who will say that touring Australia is always a highlight for every musician. The audiences are always very welcoming, there are some incredible concert halls and the musicians are so wonderful to work with, so I am greatly looking forward to all of these things. This is my fifth time to Australia overall so I feel like I am getting to know the country a little bit and I can’t wait to be back!
What talent do you not have that you wish you did?
Any sporting ability! I am a huge soccer and tennis fan and I wish that I could play either of these sports to any decent standard.
What are you listening at the moment?
I have a lot of repertoire on the go at the moment so there are many different things that I am listening to right now. All of the works on our tour are in my head constantly at the moment as well as many other pieces that I have been playing recently. A highlight has been the Chausson Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet which I have just been performing. It’s a piece that I have loved since my childhood and I was really excited to perform it last week.
What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
I think becoming a father trumps anything else that I have done! It is an indescribable feeling and gives me a pride and joy that I have never felt before. In terms of music, I think we are lucky because we are endlessly searching for improvement and trying to become better so I feel the best that one can do is to try and make each performance more fulfilling and convincing than the previous one. If one can do that then it means you are heading in the right direction!
ACO2: Best Of British | 19-30 August
HANDEL Concerto Grosso in G major, Op.6, No.1, HWV319
PURCELL Chacony in G minor, Z730
PANUFNIK Violin Concerto
HOLST St Paul’s Suite, Op.29, No.2
BRITTEN Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10
19 Aug 7pm Darwin Entertainment Centre
21 Aug 7.30pm The Memo Healesville
23 Aug 2pm Montrose Town Centre
26 Aug 8pm The Capital Bendigo
27 Aug 7.30pm Lighthouse Theatre Warrnambool
28 Aug 7.30pm Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre Mt Gambier
30 Aug 2.30pm Elder Conservatorium Adelaide