"...to hear music with deeper understanding, to dive more deeply into artistic experiences" - An interview with Dr Robert Taub

Why have you created Musica Viva, and what do you hope to achieve with the series?

I’ve been fortunate to perform concerts in many of the world’s best venues, with great colleagues. I have also built concert series and music festivals in other places that have done very well, attracting large audiences with good programmes. 

We all know that everyone responds to music; going to a concert is an exciting experience, something that’s a bit of a treat, out of the ordinary. Now that I’m here, I created Musica Viva in order to share as much music as possible with our community – to develop exciting concerts, to bring in great artists, and to do all this in a way that is inspirational for everyone – students at the University, members of our community, and even school children.


You obviously see Musica Viva as about much more than just the concerts. What else is on offer as part of the series?

You’re right; the concert is the apex of a lot of hard work and preparation and it’s often really exciting to attend (and to play!). 

Through Musica Viva, all of us involved in making music will share our experiences of learning the programme, practicing our instruments, and discussing interpretive issues so that the audiences can more fully appreciate what they’re hearing. If you know more about a particular musical work, there are more ways to understand it. 

So, I’m including informal pre-concert talks before each concert performance. Our guest artists and I participate in University classes, sharing our experiences and thoughts about music and performance. These are all good ways for everyone to interact.

"If you know more about a particular musical work, there are more ways to understand it."  

Here’s one example about sharing musical information that’s more than the musical notes. Our next Musica Viva concert is on Friday 17 May at the Sherwell Centre; I’m collaborating with the Dante Quartet in the mighty Shostakovich Piano Quintet, and before that they’re playing a couple of great String Quartets by Debussy and Szymanowski. 

At 7pm we start with a pre-concert talk about the music, and then play the actual concert starting at 7.30pm. In the pre-concert talk we’ll demonstrate how the Soviet composer Shostakovich – ever courageous and brave - used a kind of personal musical code to express his strong pacifist political views despite narrowly escaping being arrested by Stalin’s police forces in the USSR. Once you know the ways the composer expressed his viewpoints that we’ll discuss in the pre-concert talk, you can more fully understand the actual music itself, and the artistic reasons it was composed. This makes hearing it even more special.


How does Musica Viva reflect your own interests, and your research and performing background?

I believe that music is a universal language that transcends demographic and geographic boundaries. A lot of my research is devoted to understanding why composers have written the music they have, what it means to them, why a lot of it was 'ahead of it’s time.' How did certain composers advance the state of the art? How can we bring fresh life to a work that has withstood the tests of time? 

Sharing insights about responses to these fundamental questions can enable audiences to hear music with deeper understanding, to dive more deeply into artistic experiences. I also like to discuss how to interpret various elements of music – how to decide issues affecting tempo, or dynamics, or phrasing. When you have a few artists on stage discussing these issues in a pre-concert talk things can become quite animated and excited. And it’s wonderful for audiences to participate in this excitement, both before the concert officially starts, and during the performance as well!

Regarding the upcoming visit of the Dante Quartet, I’ve asked them to come to Plymouth a day early so that we can also have a free open rehearsal on Thursday 16 May (1.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1 in the Roland Levinsky Building). Everyone who attends this rehearsal will hear us practicing – discussing phrasing, bowings, timing (hopefully no arguments but you never know!). Then hearing the actual concert the next day will be more meaningful.

 

How was the inaugural concert in the series - the London Mozart Players, St. Andrews Church - and what is coming up for Musica Viva?

The London Mozart Players are wonderful, and it was a very successful concert with a great ensemble. We had a packed house, and everyone enjoyed it – they received a standing ovation. We had been hoping to work together for quite a while but schedules had not coincided until this event, so I was happy to join them for a performance of the dramatic Mozart Piano Concerto in D minor, K466 as part of the programme.

Dr Robert Taub - Music Director of The Arts Institute

Acclaimed Pianist, Dr Robert Taub, performing Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 53 Waldstein at his Introductory Talk and Performance in September

On 12 October, we’ll be welcoming Randall Scarlata, a terrific baritone from the US, performing Schubert's mighty song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey). Randall and I have performed this cycle in other concerts in the US and Europe, and we’re looking forward to bringing it to Plymouth audiences. 

Winterreise is more than a bleak winter journey. Although on the most literal level, the songs recount the flight of a man rejected in love from his village and his ceaseless wanderings throughout a winter landscape, Winterreise is a metaphor in which the Inner Self – never still – relentlessly seeks universal truth. The journey is motivated by internal drive; the landscapes are more mindscapes than reality. Schubert wrote Winterreise close to the end of his life. He was not in good health, and had to come to terms with the fact that he had not truly been accepted by society. This is a fantastic piece with universal appeal, very powerful, deeply moving, and timeless.

But first things first. The next concert is soon, 17 May will be before we know it. Come to our event with the Dante Quartet; you’ll be sure to enjoy it!

Musica Viva Concert Series 

The newly-created Musica Viva Concert Series brings internationally acclaimed performers to our Plymouth community to inspire, educate, challenge, and unite audiences by presenting world-class musicians in public concert performances, open rehearsals, and informal talks. 

Musica Viva sets the highest standards of artistic excellence with compelling performances that enrich the lives of the widest possible audience – including students – and provide a contextual, comprehensive approach to programming that enables greater musical understanding and appreciation.

 

The Arts Institute – public arts season

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