Chamber musicians The Muses Trio will shine a light on female composers when they make their debut at Music By The Sea next month. Pianist Therese Milanovic talks about the inspiration behind the group, their upcoming debut album and the ups and downs of making a living as a musician.
You’re performing at Music By the Sea in October. What are you most looking forward to when appearing there?
We love performing, and bringing the music we love to new audiences. So far there has been a fantastic reaction to Muses concerts, with an overwhelming emotional reaction to the music from the audience, and surprise that this music is not played more often. I would also like to say that we’re not scary feminists, and blokes are very welcome! What man wouldn’t enjoy seeing three gals in great frocks on stage and lots of feminine wonderful music? Girl power!
One of the things that makes you unique is that you’re known for playing music by women, in celebration of women around the world. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
We love music written by male composers as well, but we are shining a light on music that deserves to be played and for various reasons has been ignored.
Unfortunately music by women is rarely performed, however there are so many undiscovered gems. There are so many wonderful women composers, all the way from the baroque times. Just they were often stifled by society, dominating husbands who asked them to stop performing after marriage, being limited with time bringing up children etc…there are many great female composers out there.
As well as playing music from the past, it is important for us to feature music by living composers today. Hopefully we will inspire more new compositions written for the group. So far Cecile Elton and Lynette Lancini have composed especially for us, which has been a huge thrill to work directly with composers and get their feedback.
We have fallen in love with the project and have happily continued into our third season this year. It’s been wonderful unearthing fantastic music which has been undeservedly ignored, and bringing these fresh works to the concert stage, and appreciative audiences.
All of the members in The Muses Trio come from different musical backgrounds. How did you come to play together?
The formation of the Muses Trio was inspired by Barry and Jeanne Gorman, who have been huge supporters of music and my work over the years, and Barry in particular is a strong believer of music by women composers. He had been dropping hints and sending me CDs to listen to for some time, then he and Jeanne very generously supported the Muses [Trio’s] debut in 2013.
For me, chamber music is about playing with people you love as human beings and as musicians. Christa [Powell, who plays violin] and I work in Topology together, and I’d wanted to perform regularly with Louise [King, on cello] for some time. Fortunately, the stars aligned in our busy schedules, and we’ve really enjoyed working together (along with many giggles, cups of tea and girly chats!)
How does performing as part of the trio compare to performing as a solo musician?
I really enjoy sharing the stage with people I love and trust, and sharing the experience of making music with other people. It’s such a joy. We also do combinations within the trio to highlight other repertoire, for example violin / piano, cello / piano, or violin / cello.
What is it you enjoy most about touring?
Touring can be really difficult as a pianist – I cannot bring my instrument with me, nor can I practice in the hotel room. It is a challenge to be separated from one’s instrument with a performance looming.
The best thing about touring is having the opportunity to bring one’s craft and one’s art to a new audience, and to connect with new people. Fortunately, I work with people I love, so we also enjoy the hanging out and fun along the way. Every now and again there is an opportunity for a little bit of spare time to enjoy the surroundings, whether it’s going for a jog along the waterfront, discovering a cute café for lunch, or a quick pop into a vintage shop! Very often though, between the travel, sound checks and rehearsal, there isn’t much time to explore.
What do you want people to get out of attending one of your live performances?
We hope for people to come with open hearts, ears and minds, and to join us in experiencing some wonderful music which happens to be written by women. We hope that by doing so, the audience will become more aware of music by women, and appreciate the incredible diversity of women’s music available which has not yet been accepted into the core repertoire.
You’ve done a lot of work with Topology. Can you tell me about that?
I’ve been the main pianist with Topology since mid-2009, so a while now. It’s been wonderful having the opportunity to work with such great and versatile musicians, including Rob Davidson (bass), John Babbage (saxophone), Christa Powell (violin) and Bernard Hoey (viola).
We’ve had the chance to work with everyone from the Brodsky Quartet to drum superstar Grant Collins, the Kransky Sisters to Kate Miller-Heidke, with national touring, and performances in the Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore, and Indonesia. It’s been great, they’re a hugely talented bunch of performer / composers, and like family to me now.
What are some of the highlights and lowlights of your career thus far?
Definitely a low light was struggling with playing-related injury, which plagued me for around nine years, and seriously threatened my performance career. Fortunately, I discovered the Taubman Approach in the US, and through my studies with Edna Golandsky, have not only been able to completely recover from my injury, but to build my playing in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.
I have also since become Associate Faculty with the Golandsky Institute (USA) and am the only qualified Taubman teacher in Australia. Bringing this innovative knowledge to Australia and now training teachers within Australia has been incredibly rewarding, so that’s one of the highlights.
Who inspires you?
I look for inspiration in many places. The conductor Simone Young, whom I saw perform last night, is a formidable woman and incredible force of nature. Louise and Christa inspire me – how they manage to combine motherhood with teaching, performing, creating events, tours, concert series. A wild Buddhist nun Robina Courtin is another inspiration. Basically any leader, or anyone who is living their life to the fullest, and pursuing their dreams, no matter which field, I can take something from to feed back into my own creative practice and development as a human being.
When you’re not performing, what do you like to do?
Performing is only one part of a practising musician’s life. Apart from the rehearsals and performance preparation, there is always admin to do, grants and references to write, teaching, preparation for teaching; the list is endless.
In my spare time, I love going to see concerts, and support my musician friends by seeing their performances when possible. I also love going to GOMA, reading voraciously, trying to keep fit, stretching out my creaky bones at yoga, and keeping in touch with a wide and varied circle of the wonderful people in my life.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I’m fascinated by neuroscience and the brain, so if I ever grow bored with music, I will become a neuroscientist!
Fortunately, the study of music and the process of learning and teaching the Taubman Approach is so rich that I doubt I will have to change careers.
If you could perform with anyone in the industry, who would it be and why?
I don’t really have a wish list – I’m fortunate to be able to work with people I love, and would rather count my blessings and enjoy the life that I have, rather than dreaming about things that won’t happen. Having said that, I did see Renee Fleming perform recently though, and confess I was jealous of her accompanist! The vocal repertoire is wonderful and it would be great to have the opportunity to work with a world class singer such as Renee Fleming, Cecila Bartoli etc. But I’m happy enjoying their artistry through my latest opera tragic habit of seeing all the Met Live in HD shows at the cinema, it’s amazing.
Do you have any songs that you particularly enjoy playing or are they all pretty special?
Honestly, whichever piece I’m working on at the moment is my favourite, but of the women composers we’ve performed so far, I really love the music of Jennifer Higdon. We’re playing her trio in this forthcoming Sandgate concert. Unfortunately I’m not an improviser or composer, so I feel a contribution I can make is uncovering and discovering some amazing works and helping curate these programs.
As previously mentioned, you teach at the Queensland Conservatorium as well as privately. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Being a professional musician is not easy. One has to be versatile, flexible, and be willing to develop strengths across a number of areas. No one is going to do the work for you, and part of the job is spending long hours at the computer to make things happen.
The artist has to do everything today, much of which university does not prepare you for, and the career is a balancing act of many different elements, some of which pay, some of which do not. The balance of performing / teaching / creating / ways of making it work financially is different for everyone, and each individual has to find their way through.
What’s the epitome of success for you?
Success is personal happiness and satisfaction. Being a musician means a life-time commitment to improving; one always strives to grow and learn to become a better teacher and performer. As you improve, you want more, but at the same time, you have to stay grounded and present.
These days, success is also finding a way to make a career as a musician work, and not have to study to change fields – many of my contemporaries from the Conservatorium have since gone back to university to become lawyers, engineers, done MBAs etc, to create career opportunities with more predictable income, and shorter hours.
What else is in store for you this year?
It’s been a huge year already with two trips to the US, one to perform in NYC in my debut recital with Sophie Till (violin), the second to teach at the Golandsky Institute (Princeton University), tours with Topology, organising Sophie Tills’ visit to Australia and subsequent workshops /teaching schedule in Brisbane and Sydney, many chamber music performances – phew! After this Muses Trio concert, I will be performing in a concert called “Mostly French” with delicious repertoire by Debussy, Ravel and more, and hopefully recording the Muses Trio debut CD. It will be great.