Chamber groups battle for income

The Age
Sept 13, 2011
By Robin Usher

A PIONEER classical musician, Sydney pianist Kathryn Selby, says the explosion in the number of Melbourne chamber groups is unprecedented, but warns the current downturn in retail spending has increased the difficulty of such groups earning a decent living.

"The problem is to keep going because some people end up doing it for next to nothing," she says. "Life in classical music is not easy."

Selby says the pressure grows for female musicians when they have children, because of the need for financial security while commitments increase.

Such pressures have led to the demise of her second group, Trioz, that has toured nationally since its formation in 2007. Violinist Niki Vasilakis had a child last year, while cellist Emma-Jane Murphy is seeking a regular income to help support her family.

Murphy auditioned for a position with the Sydney Symphony last April, but has yet to hear the result. "She very kindly told me she might not be here next year so I have reluctantly programmed without her."

This is the second time that Selby has lost a high-profile group. The first was the acclaimed Macquarie Trio that lasted 14 years with the support of Macquarie University before it "imploded" over personality issues in 2006.

The program for next year's national tour will be made up of five concerts with different friends, including the Goldner Quartet's cellist, Julian Smiles.

"I want to ease into the new reality without my lovely girls," she says. Other guests include violinists Sophie Rowell and Natsuko Yoshimoto, clarinetist Cathy McCorkill and cellist Li-Wei Qin.

The different personnel is one of several changes next year, including a move to Federation Square's BMW Edge.

"Not only has there been an explosion of chamber groups in Melbourne, but also the number of venues has grown," Selby says.

Selby's career began when she was 14 and left Australia to study at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute in 1976. "I didn't come back until 1988, so I basically grew up in the US."

She had a professional agent, but rebelled at her dependence on him to arrange her bookings. "I was always waiting for him to call," she says.

She returned to Sydney because she wanted to be in charge of how she spent her life. "Then, when I fell pregnant 20 years ago, I decided that I would stay in Australia because I didn't want other people to bring up my kids," she says.

She is keen to introduce younger people to chamber music by offering free entry to children under 12. "People think you need to know a lot to enjoy chamber music but that isn't true. It is very intimate because musicians like to be able to see the faces in the audience. I always talk a lot in my concerts because I know we are there to entertain."

Kathryn Selby and Emma-Jane Murphy perform duos at Melba Hall, Parkville, at 8pm tomorrow. Next year's Selby and Friends five concerts will take place at BMW Edge from March-October. Details online.

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