A Q&A with John O'Donnell from Ensemble Gombert
What is your goal/s for your Local Heroes series in 2016?
1. To give the choir the experience of singing in an acoustic very different from that of its usual performance space. 2. To expose the choir to a potentially new audience. 3. To attract our usual subscribers to the Melbourne Recital Centre.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Achieving a balance between learning, reading, research and performance.
What do you think about when you perform live?
Ideally I'm immersed in the moment and its context to the exclusion of all else but it has to be admitted that on occasion I catch my mind wandering.
Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?
Sir Henry Neville (1562–1615), alias William Shakespeare. His plays explore the gamut of our humanity in a way that no one else has ever managed to do.
Where is your favourite place on Earth and why?
My home in Woodend. As much as I love to travel and though I have many favourite places in Europe (most of them in Italy), the five acres I share with my wife Jacky, daughter Arianna, a wondrous variety of vegetation, a host of birds and a menagerie of animals is the place where I find peace and where my imagination is free to roam.
If you could swap places with any other human or animal who or what would you choose and why?
A pelican. No rational explanation—I've entertained the notion since my childhood.
Who is your ideal audience?
People who have come to immerse themselves in the music with the intention of being spiritually enriched by it.
What colours speak to you? Have you ever experienced synaesthesia?
None, though I'm most at ease among blues and greens. I have never experienced synaesthesia.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
My wonderful wife, whose mind works so differently from my own that I am daily amazed and challenged by it.
What is your favourite book and why?
If we're talking novels, Hermann Hesse's Der Glasperlenspiel. The work portrays my ideal concept of the artist—one whose life is in service to his art.
What is your favourite piece of music and why?
That changes almost on a daily basis, but Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor is always either at or near the top of the list.
How did you come to play your instrument/s?
As an infant I was naturally attracted to any piano I encountered (most often at my maternal grandmother's house), and I soon learnt how to pick out nursery tunes by ear. By the age of 4 I could add basic harmonies to the tunes I had discovered and formal piano lessons began at 7. It was the discovery of Bach around the age of 10 that led to both organ and harpsichord in due course, while exposure to Renaissance polyphony in my early teens led to conducting.