Home again...

We have just arrived back home in Berlin, after a mammoth and very fun tour! But it’s been a while since I wrote a blog entry, so let’s rewind a bit…

Our second cellist for the tour, Elena Cheah, flew out from Berlin in the beginning of April. Our first stop was to our favourite Melbourne coffee-spot, St Ali cafe in South Melbourne. After a delicious breakfast with friends, we drove up to my parents’ olive farm, Kalaparee Olives, in St Arnaud (central Victoria), to begin some serious rehearsing for our next concert in two days time. We had already done a lot of rehearsal on our program with Elena in Berlin, but after performing five concerts with Julian Smiles, we had changed just about everything!

The farm in St Arnaud was a good introduction to Australia for Elena - isolated, dry, surrounded by gum trees, kangaroos and native birds, it really feels like you’re in the true Australian bush.

Elena has already filled you in on the details of our concerts in Dunolly, Macedon, Hamilton and Mornington. I don’t really have anything to add, except to say that the concerts were great, the audiences were fantastic, and we met a bunch of really interesting people. It was good fun traveling around Victoria with Elena and her husband, and we also stopped off at some beautiful holiday places en route to our concert venues, such as the Great Ocean Road, Torquay and Sorrento.

Our final Australian concert for this tour was at fortyfivedownstairs. This is a Berlin-esque underground venue, with peeling brick walls and cool lighting. We’re never quite sure what to expect there, because the acoustics can vary quite a lot, depending on what seating and staging equipment is set up there (the venue also doubles as a theatre), but this time, the acoustics were exactly right. We had a very responsive audience, who made the atmosphere very warm. Our program was Mendelssohn C minor trio, Elena Kats-Chernin Spirit and the Maiden, Haydn E major trio and Schubert trio in B flat major. It was a huge program (nearly 100 minutes of music), but the enthusiastic audience helped us keep our energy levels up until the very end.

The following morning, we set off to Sydney, for three days of rest and family catch-up time before a 14 hour flight to our final concert in Dubai.

Dubai was a fascinating place to visit - so different to any place I have been before! Our concert there was for the Dubai Concerts Committee, the only classical music concert presenter in the UAE. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they had put us up in the Sheraton hotel, on top of the Emirates Mall (the second largest shopping mall in Dubai). Check out my flash room!


I found it hard to imagine a bigger shopping mall than this one - it was complete with an indoor ski slope and skating park, but on our first evening, we went to visit Dubai’s very largest shopping mall - the Dubai Mall. It also happens to be one of the largest shopping malls in the world. I have never seen such extravagance inside a shopping centre - from the indoor aquarium to the numerous fountains, to the indoor waterfall, to the enormous indoor ice-skating rink, to the huge lake and fountain display (don’t forget that this is in the middle of the desert).





After watching an elaborate light-and-fountain display, we ate dinner in a restaurant overlooking the lake, which is towered over by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was lit up like a Christmas tree, changing colour every few minutes.


Dubai is such an interesting place. A mostly man-made city in the middle of the Arabian Desert, it’s a melting pot of over four million people from many different cultures (83% of people living there are foreign-born), many of whom have come to Dubai for the same reason: to make some serious money. Tax-free Dubai is sweltering hot all year long, especially in summer where the temperatures often rise above 50 degrees, but you wouldn’t guess it - everywhere we went was strongly air-conditioned. Even the outdoor terrace we ate dinner on featured an air-conditioner, blowing cold air directly out into the heat. Judging by the sheer quantity of shopping malls in Dubai, shopping seems to be a very popular recreational activity. The shops were the same as you can find in shopping malls all over the world - mainstream designer as well as the lower-end chains, but I have never been in shopping malls that were so enormous or opulent as the ones we saw in Dubai.

Our concert hall was actually joined to the Emirates Mall; a convenient 10 minute air-conditioned walk from our hotel. Named the Dubai Community and Arts Centre, the hall seated around 600 people. Our concert had been widely publicized around Dubai, especially towards the expat community - we were pleasantly surprised to find that our audience almost filled the hall. The concert was very well organized, and the audience was warm and enthusiastic. Our program was Haydn E major, Mendelssohn C minor, Kats-Chernin Spirit and the Maiden and Ravel Trio. The audience really seemed to appreciate the program; their applause resulted in an encore of the Andante movement of Mendelssohn’s D minor trio. We enjoyed meeting many of the friendly audience members after the concert, followed by a delicious dinner with some of the committee members.

The following day, we packed our bags for the last time and headed off to the airport. We had been very lucky with every flight on this tour - aside from one Jetstar flight where we weren’t allowed to bring our instruments on board (despite having purchased extra seats), we had no hitches at all with our travel this trip. All our planes ran on time, we didn’t miss any connections, and no bags got lost. Until our very last flight back to Germany… Our plane was delayed on the tarmac, because they couldn’t get the plane “unplugged” from the landing dock. One hour ticked by, then another, then another, until we realized that we were in danger of missing the last connecting train from Hamburg back to Berlin that evening, so could potentially be stranded at Hamburg Airport. “Don’t worry,” Emirates staff assured us, “they’ll sort something out for you when you land in Hamburg, since you bought the rail-and-fly tickets through us.” Sure enough, our plane landed four hours late, around 11pm, and the last train (and the last bus) to Berlin had long gone. And after some lengthy discussions with Emirates, we realised we were all on our own. We quickly booked into ourselves into a dingy little hotel at Hamburg train station just before it closed. But all’s well that ends well - we discovered one a great little pizza restaurant right next to our hotel and finished up our tour with a delicious midnight feast - not such a glamourous ending to the tour, but a tasty one!


An early train the following morning brought us finally home to Berlin. It felt good to be back home and finally unpack the suitcases, after over 6 weeks away. Spring time has finally arrived in Berlin, and the trees are just beginning to grow leaves. It’s a nice change from the freezing, grey winter that we left behind in March.

So, what next? Well, we have just met up with Martin, and we’re happy to report that his broken wrist has healed up nicely, and he’s back to playing the cello again. It will be interesting to play with him again and see how much Ben and I have changed from the experience of playing with two new cellists. We will begin rehearsals next week for our next program (Tchaikovsky piano trio - so exciting!) and we have some concerts in Lithuania, Switzerland coming up, plus a new CD recording to make - we’re about to record the complete piano trios by Elena Kats-Chernin. And there’s also a lot to organize for our next Australian tour in July and August. We can’t wait to come back!

Elena's blog

“Oh, I wish I played the cello. If I could go back and do it all over again and learn an instrument, it would be the cello.” I hear this sentiment expressed about twice a week by people from every walk of life. My first instinct is always to ask them if they’d like to get as close to that as possible and become a cello carrier. If I’d known what it was going to be like to schlep one of these monsters all over the world, I might have thought twice about this cello thing. I do understand the appeal, of course. It’s big and curvy like a woman, not too big like the poor-postured, sloping-shouldered contrabass, and not as high and squeaky as the violin. It encompasses nearly every range of the human voice and, well, it goes between your legs. How much more sensual can you get?
It also happens to be an essential part of a piano trio, and this is why I’ve flown out from Berlin to join my new friends Ben and Emma on their Streeton Trio tour of Australia. I’m the second person to replace their regular cellist Martin, who is still recovering from the consequences of a bicycle accident (kids, please don’t ride your bike with a cello on your back. Get one of those cello lovers to carry it for you).
Our first concert together in this formation is in Dunnolly, a Victorian country town that reminds me of Wild West towns in the States, where I come from, although I’m from the east coast. There’s an old brick town hall and a county courthouse that begs to be filled with a mob of angry townspeople and a red-faced horse thief, and an old two-story hotel hidden behind two incongruous palm trees as if it were embarrassed about its past. We arrived at one for a three o’clock concert at Wright on Broadway, a very cute café with a sophisticated menu.DSCN1655
It was an ideal start to my segment of the tour, actually – low key (quite literally; it was an upright piano) with a very appreciative audience. DSCN1662Before the show, Fiona, the small, energetic restaurant owner, served us homemade sweet potato frittata with salad. We later learned that Fiona was singlehandedly responsible for getting a huge grant to have the Dunnolly town hall restored. It would be worth coming back to this town just for the frittata and to see what they’ve done with the town hall in a year’s time.
DSCN1692It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve played a concert in a café, but this one was special in many ways, including our ‘green room’: the tree-lined back lot of the café.DSCN1665 I was still jet-lagged – the concert started at 7AM Berlin time – but we had the feeling that the people who came to hear us were drinking up the music the way the parched earth would drink up rain if it ever came. After the show, we hung around and spoke to some of our audience members, local residents involved in everything from importing antiques to starting a musical production society. This, for me, is the way to get to know a country and one of the privileges of being a musician, no matter how grand or small the stage.
The next day we drove up to wine country to play for the Macedon Music Society in one of the most beautiful private homes I’ve ever seen. Ben was thrilled (as we all were) with the superb Hamburg Steinway standing before a wall of windows overlooking a verdant park sloping down towards a lily pond. It had just rained when we arrived and the sun was out again, making everything glisten greenly. It was an afternoon concert and I told our hosts I was glad we were sitting in front of the windows rather than facing them, because I would have spent the whole concert daydreaming about that green paradise out there.DSCN1697
The audience must have already been spoiled for the view, because I have rarely experienced such concentration in a group of nearly a hundred. As I told them, we could hear them not breathing. Still, there is a difference between a silent audience and one that is truly participating in the collective act of making music, which requires good listeners just as much as good performers, and this was definitely of the latter category. It’s hard to define what makes this happen or exactly what quality is present in their attention, but as a performer it feels as if the audience is helping you shape each phrase, and that is a great gift for any musician or ensemble.
Nevertheless, we came back down to earth afterwards and went for some great Nepalese food in Melbourne that evening on the way to Torquay, where we would spend a few days before our next concerts. Lucky me: I had the opportunity to drive down part of the Great Ocean Road with my husband and go for bush walks and see some of the incredible wildlife Aussies are so used to but which make us foreigners go wild with our cameras.DSCN1749
DSCN1871Our next trio trip was overland to Hamilton, which describes itself as the ‘ideal stopover’ between Colac and the Great Ocean Road. Admittedly, there is probably not much else that would inspire one to spend the night here, but we were very pleasantly surprised by the wonderful performing arts centre in town. Some of the subscribers apparently felt very much at home in their hall; one couple in the front row took off their shoes and stretched out their legs as if they were in the front row of an aeroplane. I wondered whether they thought this was going to be a long-haul flight. Still, we tried to take it as a compliment. They obviously felt comfortable enough to do that, and hey, classical music should be about the music and about communication, not about what you have to wear or do to listen to it.
Have you ever wondered, as an audience member, what musicians do all day before going on stage at 8 PM? Does it sound like a pretty cushy setup to just lounge around all day and then show up and play beautiful music and make people happy? Let me destroy your illusions.
On the morning of our concert in Mornington, Ben was pasty white, lying in bed after having been up all night with food poisoning. We’d all had the same fish and chips, so it couldn’t have been that, but it didn’t really matter; sick is sick, no matter where it came from. We were late leaving because it took longer to get everything together with one member out of commission, and Emma did her best racecar driver impression on the way to the ferry that would take us to the Mornington Peninsula. We made it, and while we went up on deck to have a coffee, Ben stayed in the car and slept, probably trying his best not to feel the waves. We did most of our sound check without him while he slept some more in the car, and then, magically, about five minutes before eight, he started to look human again. He walked out on stage and played beautifully, and the audience was so entranced they bought out the entire box of Streeton Trio CDs being sold in the foyer. There was no need to make one of those opera house announcements: “So-and-so has a slight cold but has agreed to sing for you anyway…” Music does have healing power, even for, or maybe especially for, those playing it.
That brings us up to tonight’s show at fortyfive downstairs in Melbourne, my last concert in Australia for some time. Every five minutes my husband keeps saying, “we could move here, you know,” so I have the feeling we’ll be back sometime soon, for something or other. Australia, we love you: your food, your audiences, your little country towns, your stunning coastlines, your noisy, beautiful birds, and your friendly people. Till next time!
xxx Elena

From Dubbo to Batehaven

After an early flight from Melbourne to Sydney, we boarded a tiny Dash-8 plane bound for Dubbo. IMG_2564
These planes aren’t for the faint-hearted - on a windy day like this one, the aircraft is thrown around from side to side, with stomach-lurching dips and drops. Even I applauded when the pilot landed the plane in one piece at Dubbo airport!

I knew very little about Dubbo before this visit, but I was really impressed with what a vibrant and cosmopolitan community it seems to have! We ate lunch at a cafe that featured healthy, fresh ingredients from the Paleo diet, followed by a very good coffee - much better than you can find in most country towns in Germany!

In the afternoon, I gave a masterclass to string students from the Dubbo Regional Conservatorium. Nine violin, viola and cello students played for me in total, and were observed by a roomful of parents and teachers. It was lovely to meet them all and share a few technical tips and bits of performance advice with them. I remember playing in masterclasses like that when I was a child - I know how nerve-racking it can be to get up and play in front of a room full of your colleagues and teachers, then publicly receive criticism from a complete stranger, especially when you haven’t performed much before. I tried to hone in on one particular aspect of each student’s playing that could help them improve, but to stay encouraging at the same time. I think one of the most important aspects of learning an instrument is to keep children’s enthusiasm for music alive. If kids like doing something, they will want to do it more. The more they like playing, the more they will practice, and the more they will improve.

That evening we performed a concert at the Dubbo Regional Conservatoire. Our program was Haydn E major, Mendelssohn C minor, Elena Kats-Chernin Wild Swans, and Schubert B flat major Trio. The concert went well, despite the sweltering heat and humidity - we were all soaked with sweat by the interval! The audience was great - I think there must have been over 200 people there, and they ALL gave us a standing ovation at the end of the concert! It was great to see so many young people in the audience, including several of the children who had played in the masterclass for me that afternoon.

The following morning, we woke up early for a much less-turbulent Dash-8 flight back to Sydney, followed by a long, scenic drive down the coast to Bateman’s Bay. This felt more like a holiday than work - we stopped in at a beautiful wood-fired bakery in Berry for lunch...
Followed by a swim and a walk in the sunshine at the beautiful beach in Mollymook:


Before finally arriving at the destination of our Batehaven concert:


Yep, life on tour is pretty tough!

The Batehaven concert went really well, and the Batehaven Music Society audience was fantastic! They seemed to really love the concert. Here’s an extract from the review of our performance:

RAVE REVIEW! There is no better way that I can think of to head this review of an absolutely stunning concert! All aspects of the presentation were outstanding from the planning of a very well balanced and demanding programme to the execution of the same.
The choice of works and their juxtaposition in the programme was excellent. The addition of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wild Swans suite provided a delightful contrast to the two major trios by Schubert and Mendelssohn. It was a demanding programme physically, emotionally and technically and Benjamin Kopp (piano), Emma Jardine (violin) and Julian Smiles (cello) proved themselves more than equal to the challenge presented.
(You can read the rest of the review at http://www.streetontrio.com/styled-11/index.html if you’re interested).

Here’s a video of us playing the first movement of the Mendelssohn C minor Trio in Batehaven:

We were sad to bid Julian Smiles adieu afterwards - this was his last concert with us for this tour, as now he will rejoin his quartet, the Goldner Quartet, to perform at the 2013 Musica Viva Festival. It was such a pleasure to work with him!

Now on to Melbourne, where we will meet up with our next cellist, Elena Cheah, who is flying out from Berlin to perform the last five Australian concerts of our tour with us, as well as the concert in Dubai on the way home to Berlin.

From Sydney to Castlemaine

We have had a lovely week back in Sydney, attending concerts and catching up with family and friends. Sydney really is beautiful at this time of year!

We held our own Sydney concert last Friday evening, at the Pitt St Uniting Church, which is a gorgeous old church right in the centre of Sydney, complete with a Bosendorfer grand piano. Churches can often be very resonant and boomy, but the acoustics at Pitt St are surprisingly good. Our concert there went really well; we performed Haydn, Kats-Chernin, Schubert and Mendelssohn. We were happy to have the concert reviewer John Garran in the audience, who later tweeted “An exquisite delicacy to @streetontrio's Haydn Hob XV 28. The way Haydn should be played. Schubert B flat Trio also eloquently presented… Beautiful Kats-Chernin and Mendelssohn C minor Trio wrapped up @streetontrio concert. Articulate, passionate, all you could wish for.” Thanks John!
Pitt street snap 2
After spending five days soaking up the sunshine in Sydney, Manly and the Blue Mountains, we set off to Melbourne on Thursday morning, for our performance at the Castlemaine Festival.This is a huge festival that spans over two weeks, featuring dozens of performers of not only classical music, but also rock, jazz, theatre, dance and visual arts. It’s held in the historic gold mining town of Castlemaine - a gorgeous town in Central Victoria. With tiny, quaint houses from the 1850’s lining the streets and several pretty little churches, it’s hard to believe that this town once housed 50000 gold miners and was the starting point of the Eureka Stockade.

Our arrival was heralded by the first rain storm Castlemaine has seen since last October. It really bucketed down - we could barely see out of our windscreen as we drove through town. The rain must have come as a welcome relief to the olive and grape farmers of Castlemaine - the paddocks were looking very dry and yellow. The air smelt amazing from the first thunderstorm in months over a very dry countryside.

One great thing about touring with a chamber music group is the interesting people you meet along the way. At each city we visit, we get a brief glimpse into the lives of the people looking after us. We have already met such an interesting and varied bunch on this tour - from the man who lived on Magnetic Island to work with the Indigenous Australians in Townsville, to the couple who travelled the world as aid workers, to the couple who run the Castlemaine Garden Festival and restore old houses, to the 80 year old violinist and founder of the Castlemaine Festival, to the evangelical minister who we shared a looong car ride with, to the powerhouse ladies running a vibrant chamber music society. That’s the great thing about music - it brings together the most assorted bunch of people. Each city we visit has such interesting characters whose life stories are all so varied and fascinating. I love meeting our audience members and getting to see the world through their eyes for a few hours. Then we’re whisked off to the next city, where we meet a whole new community of people.

Our Castlemaine Festival concert was sold out - 250 people were packed into the gorgeous Castlemaine Uniting Church. We performed Haydn E major trio, The Spirit and the Maiden by Elena Kats-Chernin, and Mendelssohn C minor Trio. The church as lovely to play in and the Kawai piano was excellent. Here’s Ben having a soundcheck:
IMG_2558We felt a great atmosphere from the audience, and really enjoyed playing for them. I love when you can really sense that the audience is appreciating what you do - that in turn inspires you to be more expressive, more musical, which the audience appreciates more, etc… It’s a love-love situation!

After the concert we were whisked back to a hotel at Melbourne airport, for a quick sleep before our early morning flight in the morning. Next stop… Dubbo!

Kia Ora New Zealand!

Wellington is a gorgeous city. When we landed here at 11pm, the air here smelt even sweeter than in Sydney, with the honey blossoms that are in bloom at the moment. The purpose of our trip was a concert for the Waikanae Music Society - a wonderful organization with over 600 members (very impressive for a chamber music society in a city of only 10,000 people). Waikanae has a large community of retirees who all seem to be very intelligent, interesting and well-travelled, and who are equally knowledgeable and passionate about classical music. This was our second time our trio has performed in Waikanae - our concert last July led to an immediate re-invitation thanks to a trust set up by some very generous Waikanae audience members. We were very happy to oblige as soon as possible! 
Sunset in Waikanae, NZ

We performed Haydn E major, Schubert B flat major, Kats-Chernin Wild Swans and Mendelssohn C minor trios. We had been a bit anxious about this performance, as it was our first performance of all four (very challenging) works in our program, plus being our first ever performance with Julian Smiles. With a new member in the trio, even after intensive rehearsals, you never know how the concert is going to go until you’re all on stage together. Fortunately, Julian was wonderful to perform with. It was amazing how well he fit into our ensemble, blending when required but also driving phrases at other times, and always providing a solid pulse that is so important in the role of the cellist. Plus he had some really stunningly beautiful solos. It was a pleasure to share the stage with him - we all ended up really enjoying ourselves! 

The wonderful thing about performing chamber music, in particular piano trios,  is the very special, improvisatory feeling that you get when all three players connect. It’s as if all players are linked together by an invisible thread, but also have the freedom to be individuals at the same time. This allows musical conversations to occur - each player feeds of one another. It makes performing very fun and spontaneous, allowing performers to pass around phrases like a game of ball, mimic one another, converse between the instruments, interrupt one another, joke with one another, or sing together. This was certainly the feeling we all experienced during our Waikanae performance. Our concert received a packed audience of over 300 people, with very enthusiastic response. After the concert, we were taken to a lovely restaurant in Waikanae by members of the committee, where we enjoyed some lively conversation and delicious New Zealand wines.

After a few hour’s sleep, we rose at 4am to catch the 6am flight back to Sydney. Now we will begin preparations for our next concert at Pitt St Uniting Church, which will take place this Friday night. 

Back in Sydney!

Here begins our first tour back to Australia and New Zealand in 2013! We are so glad to be back! Sydney couldn’t be more perfect at this time of year. The first thing we noticed when leaving Sydney airport was the air - it is warm and smells sweet, like flowers and eucalypts. Trees and greenery are everywhere; we feel like we have landed in paradise after having just spent months surrounded by grey concrete and snow. One good thing about jetlag is that you wake early enough to watch the sun come up - on our first morning back home in the Blue Mountains, we woke at 4am to watch the sunrise. It’s absolutely magical - the kookaburras begin laughing at the moment that the sun appears.IMG_2854

Even though I make this trip three times a year, I still find it so surreal how you can just cross seasons in the space of 24 hours.
Before 24 hour flight: IMG_0779

After 24 hour flight: IMG_2856

This tour is going to be quite different from any other one we have done, because we're without our cellist this time! Martin injured in an accident with a taxi that ran a red light while he was riding his bike in Berlin. Unfortunately he has broken his wrist! It is healing ok, and he'll be fine, but it means that he's out of action for the next month. 

So, after a really unlucky accident, we've been really grateful that Julian Smiles (the wonderful cellist of the Goldner Quartet and the Australia Ensemble) has agreed to step in for Martin for the first half of the tour. Julian will be performing with us in New Zealand, Sydney, Dubbo, Batehaven and Castlemaine. Then for the second half of the tour, we're flying out an amazing cellist from Berlin, Elena Cheah. Elena was principal cello of the Staatskapelle Berlin and also the Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra and we have been working together with her in Berlin since Martin broke his wrist. Elena will be playing concerts with us in Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, Dunolly and Hamilton, before we all fly to Dubai for our final concert of the tour. Then we will head back home to Berlin until we set off on our next trip. So this is going to be a very interesting tour for us - sad that it's not with Martin, but with superstar cellists to replace him all the way! We will be performing some beautiful trios on this tour; a bubbly Haydn Piano Trio in E major, Schubert's magnificent Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Mendelssohn's turbulent Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor and an arrangement by Elena Kats-Chernin of her popular Wild Swans Suite. 

This will be the first of three Australia-wide tours our trio will be undertaking in 2013. We will be performing nine concerts in Australia this time at some really beautiful venues, which we're really looking forward to visiting. Now we have three days of rehearsals with Julian at the University of NSW to cover all of our repertoire, before leaving for our first concert in New Zealand! Luckily we are getting lots of sunlight on our skin to help get over jet lag!
Lunchtime at the University of New South Wales