Byline: Megan Steller

In the midst of 2020’s lockdown, Emma Jardine of the Streeton Trio had her hands full. Unusually, though, they weren’t busied with the violin, but instead with gardening and cooking and chasing her three children under the age of five, the youngest of whom had been born that January. As the year progressed, and the crisis escalated, leaving colleagues and friends out of work and the sector as we knew it strangely deserted, she had started contemplating the work she had been engaged in up until that point – what was the true purpose of art? What is the point of music?

How should musicians and artists be grappling with the question of their relevancy as all around them theatres and concert halls shutter? One afternoon, this question at the forefront of Emma’s mind, one of her children was idly scanning the radio as she tended to her garden. As he flicked through the channels, there out of the blue appeared Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, and Emma knew immediately that it was her ensemble that the presenter had chosen to broadcast. She hurried over to sit next to her son, and all of the feelings that had been brewing since the beginning of the strange new normal arose. “You know when it hits you?” she asked me, when we caught up on the phone at the start of the new year. “It was beautiful and sad, and a great feeling of longing and nostalgia filled me all at once, remembering how it feels to perform, to feel the connection and energy of the audience.” You get on with things, we mused, with life and day-to-day frustrations and joys, and then all of a sudden it strikes you: the reason why artists must continue to create.

Once the entirety of the piano trio had been performed, Emma listened as ABC Classic FM broadcaster Martin Buzacott relayed a text message he had received in the studio while the Mendelssohn played; a lady called Annette from Melbourne had written to tell him about her amateur piano trio, who had played together every Wednesday for the past 30 years. The Trio No. 1 had been a favourite of theirs to play together. Since the pandemic had begun, their cellist had been moved into an aged care facility, so the trio had been unable to get together for the first time in three decades. As soon as Annette heard those opening strains on the ABC though, performed deftly by the Streeton Trio, she’d called up her two long-time friends and musical colleagues and the trio had sat together, but apart, listening and remembering.

The power of chamber music, in all its imitable, intimate goodness, is its ability to “touch people to their very core”; a feeling that has been wildly missed by both the performers and their listeners over the past months. For acclaimed oboist Diana Doherty, who will join the Streeton Trio for Musica Viva Australia’s first program of the 2021 season, the “slightly slower pace of the past year was an opportunity to let go of perfectionism. 

"I am determined to hold onto the freshness that this period of reflection has afforded us"

The pursuit of perfectionism is one that many musicians get drawn into, as if it is achievable or even definable.” In finding space for the simple joys of what music can do, in particular the music shared by distant colleagues, Diana has relished the return to “the communication of the music” as first priority.

“I am determined to hold onto the freshness that this period of reflection has afforded us,” she says when asked about the challenges and excitements of moving into a time of renewed performance opportunities. “We love what we do, but when it feeds us and financially sustains us, it adds additional pressure. I had turned into someone who didn’t listen to music ever, because playing in an orchestra, what I craved was silence at the end of the day. I needed to rest my ears, so I stopped listening even to the radio, and I’ve rediscovered [in this time] the joy of hearing my colleagues and friends performing. I have turned the music back on.”

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