15th February, 2019 | Articles and Interviews

Pianist Kathryn Selby tells us what she looks for in musical friends ahead of Selby & Friends’ Root Position tour.

by Angus McPherson on February 15, 2019

In Selby & Friends’ next concert Root Position, pianist Kathryn Selby is joined by violinist Natalie Chee and cellist Umberto Clerici. They will play Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E flat major, WoO. 38, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 2 in C minor, Op. 66, and Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15. Kathryn Selby spoke to Angus McPherson about the concert.

Natalie Chee and Umberto Clerici are both Selby & Friends regulars – what are the features you look for in Friends?

This is a very important question actually as it goes to the very heart of Selby & Friends and whether it works or not! My friends are consummate professionals, hard-working busy artists who spare time from their lives to do these tours and so the purpose of the tours is not only for us to have fun working and travelling with each other but also to grow as individuals with each performance and enjoy sharing music and ideas with those who have different viewpoints and are keen to share. So I guess these features are all built into these wonderful, highly intelligent, fun, kind and generous people who just happen to also be terrific musicians and performers.

How would you describe the dynamic between the three of you in rehearsal? And on stage?

Going back to the features you asked about, the dynamic, of necessity, needs to be supportive, caring, communicative and energetic. In rehearsal there is much discussion, trialling of various ideas and a willingness to be open-minded. On stage it is the hope that inspiration flows from one to the other, energy is high and so is the desire to enjoy oneself and be able to share that with both those on stage with you and the audience.

What inspired the name of this tour, Root Position?

Essentially the inspiration came from the keys of the works on the program themselves. They just seemed to align into a loose root position chord and so I went with it!

How does the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Smetana sit together? Are there elements of each that become more prominent when heard alongside the other two?

Well now we are getting into the metaphysical – yes I think there are elements of each that align perfectly. Beethoven was a great teacher for those who followed and even in his experimental early works, there is much to learn. Mendelssohn was a great student and a genius in his own right and both he and Smetana took elements from Beethoven and then made them into their own. When you perform these works back to back many times, you cannot help but begin to see similarities of approach, especially within the same genre, but it is in their differences that the works really come together and complement each other on a whole new level.

What are the pleasures of these pieces?

Each of my colleagues will have a different answer to this question but I have to say that the longer I know a work and the more I perform it, the more it changes and evolves. There is always something new to find in each of these three works, no matter how often I have performed them. Perhaps it also comes from playing with different artists each time, but the greatness of these works lies in just this – nothing is ever the same and there is always something new to learn either about the music itself or the manner in which I approach it.

What are the challenges for the players?

Challenges? Well, there is a lot of virtuosity in the writing but perhaps balance within the group is the greatest challenge. With the modern nine-foot grand piano, the space in which the performance is held and the materials in the venue all contribute to the amount of sound coming out of the instruments. Working within these parameters and with instruments hundreds of years old is a real challenge.

How did Smetana’s personal circumstances inform his Op. 15 Piano Trio? Does this come across in the music?

Smetana lost his little girl just before the work was composed. When I learned this before I first began the work years ago it informed a great deal of the absolute pathos and rage and even acceptance inherent in the music. It is a powerful work and yes, I believe it does come through the music but overarching all this is the beauty of his score and the gift he left us with.

What do you hope the audience will come away with?

I believe the audience will be uplifted by this program. It is an interesting mix of extraordinary composers at interesting personal points in their lives whose decision to compose these works for piano trio – one of the most popular yet difficult of genres – is fascinating in and of itself. The challenge of piano trio writing is to somehow make a single entity from three wholly different personalities and to reflect this in the writing. Not easy to do successfully and yet here we have three examples of truly innovative approach. Plus the performers show off their skills amply! One cannot go wrong with Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Smetana!

Selby & Friends tour Root Position to Adelaide (as part of Adelaide Fringe), Sydney, Kew, Canberra, Burradoo and Turramurra from February 24 to March 3

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