By ANGELA TURNER, JAN., 2015
Greetings from Banff, Canada!
I’m currently at the Banff Centre for the Arts with my dear colleagues Glenn Christensen (violin) and Simon Cobcroft (cello). This is the second time our Australian-based piano trio – Lyrebird Trio – has been in residence at the Banff Centre, following on from our role as Winter Musicians-in-Residence in January 2014. The Banff Centre is recognised internationally as a leading organisation for chamber music, and its residencies are sought after by artists around the world. There is a remarkable array of artists here, working in all disciplines – music, literature, visual artists, film, audio, dance, theatre, and other areas covering the full gamut of artistic endeavour. This ability to mingle with and be inspired by creative people is just one of the aspects that makes Banff a very special place to be.
The centre’s campus rests on a mountain, just above the town centre of Banff, Alberta, where mostly winter sports and tourism drive the economy. Surrounding us all is the towering snowy backdrop of the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. It seems that from every window, footpath and intersection, there is a breathtaking view of snow and stunning peaks, and it’s hard to draw your eyes away. The trio’s first experience here was nothing short of transformational, coming after a whirlwind year which saw us win both piano trio prizes at the 2013 Asia Pacific Chamber Music Competition. Our intensive time at Banff allowed us to regroup, learn new repertoire, give weekly concerts, and helped to prepare us for a year’s worth of concerts in Australia, including our role as Ensemble-in-Residence at the Queensland Conservatorium.
Back home, this is the time of year we have holidays, or can take leave from our day-to-day jobs. I’m a teacher at the Queensland Conservatorium; Simon is currently Principal Cello with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and Glenn is just about to commence a new role as a core violinist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. With the demands of our jobs, in different states, it’s often tricky to coordinate these concentrated blocks of time where we can work together. In these idyllic surroundings with my colleagues, it feels like such a privilege to be here.
This year, Lyrebird Trio came to Banff to record a long-awaited CD. As I write this, we have just finished 24 hours of recording. True to the international nature of the centre, our session producer was Russian, with a Polish sound engineer, and a Canadian supervising producer. We recorded a trio by Australian composer Nigel Westlake, as well as works by Beethoven and the Czech composer Smetana. Our recording venue was the Banff Centre’s Rolston Recital Hall, which when looking up from the stage has… you can probably guess… a view of mountains peaks.
For three home-grown Queenslanders at this time of year, it can get pretty cold here: sometimes colder than -30 degrees Celsius, with a wind chill factor that quickly cuts through your clothes like they aren’t there. So far, it’s been quite mild this year, but it’s still cold enough that the idea of practicing indoors for ten hours seems like the wisest option for the day. Coming from Australia, the weather and the dryness of the air here can cause the string instruments to be a little moody as their wooden instruments adjust, swell and settle to their new environment.
The trepidation of not knowing what a piano will be like and finding places to practice is one of the ongoing challenges of being a travelling pianist. You often just have to deal with and adjust to whatever piano happens to be in front of you. In Australia, we’ve been very grateful to Theme and Variations in the past where they’ve helped our trio out by providing a place to work, or provided a fine piano on which to perform. I’ve been similarly grateful to have had access to some lovely pianos and piano technicians here at the Banff Centre. They affectionately name their pianos here, so I spent the recording working with a Hamburg Steinway D piano called ‘Yolande’. (Interestingly, Australian pianist Piers Lane was one of the team who selected this instrument for the centre). The technicians were on-call to make fine action and voicing adjustments as requested, as well as to tweak the tuning of the instrument throughout the recording days.
For my string colleagues, travelling with musical instruments often makes for interesting times. I have been a regular witness at airports, watching them patiently trying to reassure check-in and security staff that their instruments and bows are not weapons; spare strings in the case will not be used to lynch people walking down the aisles on the flight; the cello can indeed have its own boarding pass since a seat has been purchased for it, and violins are not too big for the overhead compartment. Depending on the airline, and sometimes the mood of the staff, it has been an ongoing source of unpredictability. On the occasions where the cello has gone in the cargo hold, as had to happen on this trip, there are solemn prayers from all of us to the gods of the baggage handlers that they are gentle that day. Pianists often have to carry many heavy music scores in their luggage. But as the cello comes out of baggage claim and we wait anxiously to check if it is safe, this is when I remind myself to never complain, ever, about having to carry nine kilos of notes.
We are thrilled to be making music at Banff, and are looking forward to sharing our new CD and 2015 concert programs when we get home to Australia.
Pianist in the Lyrebird Trio
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