In Conversation with Music in the Round Artistic Director Chris Howlett

    It’s that time of year again, when the Abbotsford Convent gears up to delight audiences with some of the finest classical musicians in the country at Music in the Round. We chat with Music in the Round Artistic Director and cellist Chris Howlett about what’s in store for this year’s audiences, his top picks, and why he loves performing at the Convent.

    As Artistic Director, you’ve curated the Music in the Round program for the last five years. Tell us about your vision for Music in the Round 2018. How does it differ from previous years?

    This year sees an exciting step forward for Music in the Round. We have changed the format from three stages running simultaneously, to five recitals performed consecutively, in different venues around the Abbotsford Convent, with a break for a delicious lunch by Bursaria in the middle. This will enable everyone to really take in the experience across a very special day. Artistically, we continue to be dedicated to presenting the very best classical music in an intimate experience, plus showcase one of Australia’s next generation performers who, this year, will be Christian Li.

    What do you expect to be some of the highlights for this year’s Music in the Round?

    For me, listening to Stephen McIntyre perform is always a highlight and I’m very much looking forward to his performance with Kristian Chong, with a number of ‘4 hands’ works. There has been so much publicity about violin prodigy Christian Li, and after playing with him at the 3MBS marathon, there is no doubt this will also be an amazing experience.

    At Music in the Round, performances throughout the day take place in a range of distinctive venues across the Convent, including the atmospheric Industrial School, the spectacular Oratory and the historic Chapel. How do you think the Convent’s unique spaces affect the experience for both performers and audience members?

    I think in a city like Melbourne there is a huge appetite for concerts in non-conventional spaces. The Abbotsford Convent have done an incredible job in bringing these spaces back to life and it will definitely give a vibrant and edgy feel to the day. In many ways, the Convent is the 11th artist of the day!

    The Convent is extremely excited to welcome 10 year-old international violin star Christian Li to this year’s Music in the Round. How and why did you choose Christian to join this year’s line-up?

    Christian is an amazing player. It is compounded by his age and the fact that he just won one of the most prestigious competitions in the world, but even without these two factors he would be welcomed onto most stages in the world. He performed for my 3MBS marathon this year and I was just blown away by what he can achieve. He is one of the brightest new stars in the music fabric in Australia.

    Not only are you Artistic Director of the event, but you will also be performing as a cellist in this year’s program alongside Rose Riebl on piano. How long have you been performing with Rose?

    Rose and I attended Australian National Academy of Music together, but have been playing together properly for 12 months. We have recently returned from 16 concerts in China together which was a fantastic experience. We are really looking forward to sharing our interpretation of Brahms with the audience.

    You have performed at Music in the Round for a number of years. What do you enjoy most about performing at this event? How does the experience and atmosphere of this event differ from your other performances?

    Music in the Round has a very special vibe as the audience is so engaged due to the intimate set up. I love performing chamber music in this intimate setting as most works were written for the small salon, rather than the large halls of today. Spaces like the Industrial School in the Sacred Heart building create an amazing juxtaposition to the music being performed.

    What projects are you working on next?

    I’m currently sitting on a plane on the way to Mudanjure, which is on the boarders of North Korea, Russia and China, for a Mozart Educational Tour with my company Australian International Productions. We have three more tours to China this year including a production of Aida which starts rehearsals the day after Music in the Round. It is an exciting time filled with many different projects, all of which I love wholeheartedly.

    Music in the Round will be held in a number of spaces across Abbotsford Convent on Sunday 9 September. Find out more about Music in the Round and see the full program here.

    Watch the video below for a sneak peek at Chris Howlett and Rose Riebl performing together.