A new kind of classical music event happening next month will feature fashion label Romance Was Born, large-scale artworks by local artist Lara Merrett and stunning floral designs from Redfern florist Myra Perez (My Violet).
Called The Sonata Project, it’s by internationally acclaimed musician Bernadette Harvey; an innovative collaboration that marries bold new piano sonatas written by three young local female composers with captivating visuals from established artists.
A pianist who received her first medal at just two-and-a-half years of age, Harvey regularly collaborates with international solo and chamber musicians and has noticed the need to make classical concerts more relevant to younger audiences.
In 2014 she won a grant to explore whether or not the sonata is still relevant in the 21st century. The result is The Sonata Project: three new 15-minute sonatas by young Sydney composers Aristea Mellos, Jane Stanley and Melody Eotvos performed by Harvey, and a sonata by celebrated Australian composer Ross Edwards.
Part of Harvey’s mission was to reach a broader audience, so rather than the usual deathly quiet and often monochromatic experience of classical concerts, she has planned a stunning visual component of the performance.
“I hear a critical voice saying music doesn’t need other things, but I counter that with the fact that today’s society is very visually stimulated. We don’t have the training we used to have in how to listen to music, so we’ve isolated a lot of people. And apart from the visual beauty of art and the floral arrangements, and the gorgeous world-class instrument – a Fazioli – we’ll be using, it’s a way of inviting people to celebrate art,” says Harvey, who also lectures at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Harvey has collaborated with interior designer Lynne Bradley, a former fellow student at The Con, who reached out to Romance Was Born designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales. The duo, which has also collaborated with The Sydney Theatre Company, invited Harvey and Bradley to its Sydney factory. “They were very unassuming but such talented, beautiful people,” says Harvey, who will wear four different designs selected by RWB to complement the music. The addition of Merrett’s large-scale canvases and the floral arrangements complete the picture.
“Traditional recitals are kind of stuffy, let’s be honest,” says Mellos, 29, whose sonata will have its world premiere during the concert. “Concerts in the 18th, even 17th century were rowdy experiences, you could bring in your chicken, people were drinking beer, standing in the aisles … It was completely bawdy.”
Mellos began composing her piece years ago while studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and says she was initially overwhelmed by the weight of expectation.
Inspiration struck during a Roman holiday in 2014. The first of her three movements is about a crazy party she attended one summer evening in an apartment overlooking the Pantheon. “It was like being in a Fellini film – people speaking five different languages, everyone smoking and drinking and singing Puccini arias; while the noise from the street bounced up from the cobblestones below. It was wild,” she says.
The second movement is much darker and more ominous, the result of a fascinating yet horrific art exhibition she visited in Rome. The third ponders perception, from Italian frescoes’ habit of challenging and playing with visual perception, to one’s place in the world.
“It took years to write but I think it’s one of the strongest things I’ve ever written,” she says.
During her performance Harvey will be encouraging both applause and vocal appreciation, not common at most classical music events. “I want it to be more joyful: hence the staging and clothing. I still love studying the classics, but I do see it as my vocation to reignite some excitement and passion for the music that’s written today,” says Harvey.
The Sonata Project will be performed at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music on November 11. Tickets are available here.