Melbourne broadcaster 3MBS’s 2024 Marathon is, in part, a celebration of the 150th birthday of Arnold Schoenberg. It’s also an opportunity for second-time Artistic Director Wilma Smith to put one of her favourite masterpieces on the stage.

The annual, day-long event borrows its subtitle Transfigured from Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), a work conveying the love-at-first-sight giddiness the composer apparently experienced on meeting his first wife.

“It’s absolutely one of my most favourite chamber works,” Smith says. “One of the beautiful classics of Romantic repertoire and very uplifting.”

Wilma Smith. Photo © Agatha Yim/ Polyphonic Pictures.

Now in its 12th year, the Marathon is an exciting staple of Melbourne’s classical music scene. This year, it includes five concerts across the marathon’s nine hours, all performed in the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Primrose Potter Salon. Transfigured, for Smith, also perfectly parallels the experience of hearing chamber music in “such a special place”. 

“It’s a gorgeous venue; beautiful acoustics, lovely and intimate. I don’t know any player who doesn’t love to play in that room, and I love going to concerts there. I think we’ll be really rewarded in that space, because it’s so immersive. You really feel like you’re enveloped by the sound.”

A second motivation for the Marathon, Smith says, lies in the celebration of Melbourne’s musical talent. Smith herself is usually among them as a violinist for the Flinders Quartet – but shoulder surgery means this year is a breather for her while she recovers. All her efforts have been in curation.

There are three Australian works on the program – Aaron Wyatt’s Viola Concert, Anne Cawrse’s Honeybee, and Robert McIntyre’s Phoenix. While not premieres, each work is relatively new. 

“Of course, premieres are very exciting. It’s wonderful to bring a new work to life. But it’s sometimes just as good to give a piece a second or third performance, so it continues to live,” says Smith. 

The featured ensembles demonstrate the breadth of Melbourne’s scene. While the Australian Wind Quintet are relatively new, Smith notes that it’s an “all-star ensemble of Melbourne legends” and not unfamiliar to local audiences.

Tair Khisambeev, Kyla Matsuura-Miller, Katie Yap, Elina Faskhi and Richard Narroway play Schubert during the 3MBS Marathon. Photo © Australian Digital Concert Hall

Ensemble Liaison, “one of Melbourne’s most established and most-loved chamber music groups”, will perform Brahms’ clarinet trio, while “resident Baroque group” Latitude 37 will perform its own mini-curated concert next to the Schoenberg.

There’s also an entirely new ensemble. Performing Schoenberg’s masterwork is a “lovely group” Smith has put together specifically for the performance. Led by violinist Zoë Black, it comprises celebrated chamber musicians Christopher Moore (viola) and cellist Molly Kadarauch alongside early-career players from the Partridge Quartet. The program was devised through consultations between Smith and the performers. Smith says it’s a much more interesting process when performers have input into how they present themselves, what suits them, and what they actually want to play.

“Curation is an interesting jigsaw puzzle. It has to have a balance, a natural progression. I want to make each concert an experience itself. It also makes sense that there’s an emotional journey to take in each concert – and then, of course, over the whole day as well.

Concert Three features a solo performance by pianist Paavali Jumppanen, performing Chopin’s Berceuse and Sonata No. 2, the Funeral March. Smith asked him to put together a shortlist of works for her to choose from, and they were both on it. 

“I was so bowled over by his performance of Beethoven last year that I knew I absolutely wanted to feature his playing again,” Smith says. “We’re so lucky to have him in Melbourne. He’s an extraordinary musician, and I can’t wait to hear him play again.”

Smith expresses much the same excitement for Hari Sivanesan. Featured in last year’s Marathon for Smith’s first year as curator, the veena virtuoso returns with his trio for this year’s lineup.

Hari Sivanesan. Photo supplied

“I was so taken with Sivanesan. He did a set with a trio last year and it was just so atmospheric and so evocative. I think he will fit so nicely in the program because his music is not from our classical world, but totally belongs in this lineup.”

When pressed for her favourite acts, Smith laughs. It’s a barbed question for such a thoughtfully-constructed event.

“It’s too hard to narrow it down to particular favourites! I’m actually looking forward to the whole thing. I guess that’s part of curating something like this, is that you want everything to build the experience. You don’t want a weak spot on a day like this, and I don’t think there will be. I think it’s going to be really fun!”

More about the 2024 3MBS Marathon can be found here.

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