A Q&A with Steven Hodgson from The Consort of Melbourne
What is your goal/s for your Local Heroes series in 2016?
Our goal is always to facilitate a profound connection between the people in our audience and the works that we are performing. In 2016 we have programmed some old favourites but also a lot of gems that have been hidden in the 1000 years of repertoire we have access to as a vocal ensemble. If we can spark a new love in a listener for a piece or composer they have not heard before, we would consider it a job well done!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
This is going to sound painfully twee but the times I've been happiest have always been performing excellent music with people I love and respect - there's really nothing better! However, cocktails on a tropical beach somewhere might be nice also.
What do you think about when you perform live?
When I'm performing as a vocalist or conductor with the Consort of Melbourne, my main focus by the time we're on stage is the words that we're singing. The notes and musical details are usually second nature by the concert date, so we're really focused on the meaning behind each phrase and how to best project this through the notes that the composer has written. Sometimes this leads to new revelations mid-concert and I think that is when the freshest and most spontaneous music making occurs.
Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?
I don't honestly identify with any big historical figures. I share a birthday with Albert Einstein but I think that's about all we have in common. I love Stravinsky for his music but perhaps even more for his cutting commentary on other composers and musicians. I would love to have the multi-dimensional genius of Da Vinci.
Where is your favourite place on Earth and why?
I did a trip across the Gobi desert in Mongolia a number of years ago that had a profound effect on me. There was something about the frozen sands, the simple nomadic lifestyle of the camel and goat farmers we stayed with, and the abundance of life in a seemingly desolate landscape that rendered me dumbstruck for almost the entire trip. I can't think of another place that has had more of an impact on me.
If you could swap places with any other human or animal who or what would you choose and why?
I would love to be Simon Rattle (Principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic) - mostly for his amazing knowledge and insight into all kinds of music. He seems to be able to inspire musicians at every level, from players in a youth orchestra to the top orchestral players. That is an enviable gift!
Who is your ideal audience?
Our ideal audience would be as diverse as the music in our programmes. I would love to see a really colourful cross-section of the Melbourne community - people of all ages and backgrounds and from all walks of life. I think that the text elements of a vocal performance provide an access point for all kinds of people - not just those that consider themselves 'classical music lovers'.
What colours speak to you? Have you ever experienced synaesthesia?
I'm always drawn to the cooler colours - deep blues and purples. I have never experienced involuntary synaesthesia as such, but I do associate certain notes with particular colours. An A is definitely a red/orange colour, for instance, and D is a dark blue.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
I have a deep admiration for Julian Burnside and the amazing work he does in human rights and refugee advocacy. He is also a committed supporter of the arts in this country, as well as various community organisations. He has dedicated his life to making the world a better place, and I think that there is no more admirable quality.
What is your favourite book and why?
I couldn't possibly single one out. My favourite book as a child was Dr Seuss' ###i
What is your favourite piece of music and why?
There are so many favourites! I'm obsessed with Perotin's 'Sederunt Principes' - one of the first true four-part pieces, composed back in the 13th centuries. In some ways a very simple work, but one that creates its own world of ideas and textures. To my ears, it still sounds fresh and exciting even 800 years later, and performing it is a transforming experience. I also love Harrison Birtwistle's 'Ritual Fragment', composed in 1990. This piece has such an amazingly satisfying form and such drama in its details. I could listen to it over and over again all day long!
How did you come to play your instrument/s?
I started my real musical education as a cellist and only came to being a vocalist rather late in the game. I joined the Ormond College choir as an undergraduate and, with the encouragement of Douglas Lawrence, the director at the time, started taking vocal lessons with Stephen Grant. My interest in ensemble singing grew and grew until it completely took over my musical life. I started directing vocal ensembles as a natural offshoot of this and was appointed Assistant Director of the Consort of Melbourne in 2014, under the mentorship of artistic directors Warren Trevelyan-Jones and Peter Tregear.