Sonja Schebeck - The Carnival - 21st to 25th September
Red Bennies unravels some of the story behind Sonja Schebeck - the extraordinary aerial & fire-breathing violinist - starring in Chloé Charody's 'The Carnival'
How old were you when you started playing violin?
I was 3 ½. Friends of my parents gave us tickets to see the Sydney Symphony kids education concerts at the Opera House and from then on I would walk around the house pretending to play the violin with pencils, rulers, whatever I could find. My parents thought this phase would pass but…it didn't, and I eventually started lessons studying Suzuki Method with Barbara Hayward.
How did you and Chloé Charody meet? And how did the idea of Ilythian come into being?
I was studying with Christopher Kimber at the Sydney Conservatorium and I met Chloé there – she was studying Composition. She was putting together a concert and I played one of her pieces. Our mutual respect for each other quickly led to us working together.
Ilythian was at first an ensemble to showcase Chloé's music, then as time went on we started to explore new ideas in the way we presented the concerts, creating a new experience and making it more accessible and fun. Press fast forward and now we have ‘The Carnival’.
Who are your major influences/role models?
Really too many to list! I admire anyone who sticks to their integrity (both in artistic and other fields), who is individual and spontaneous in their approach, willing to experiment and push boundaries and that never play a certain way simply because somebody told them they should.
I'm very lucky at present to be working with such talented and creative people.
How long did it take you to learn all your circus skills? Did you find it quite challenging at first?
I was taught fire-eating by Nellie Collins – stuntman extraordinaire who works with amazing act Liqueur Flambé.
I think the biggest challenge at first was fear – it's pretty much against all instincts to stick a flaming torch in your mouth. But he taught me that as long as you treat the fire with respect, including taking necessary safety precautions, you will be ok.
As my confidence increased, I was able to develop my skills into fire taming and wasn't scared to experiment with other elements of circus.
The continuing challenge is to find ways of integrating violin and circus elements without sacrificing musical performance.
How does the Carnival in London differ to the Melbourne Carnival?
'The Carnival’ is constantly evolving and growing. Each time it is presented, there are new things added. Our previous experiences with London audiences have been great - they're really into the arts over there and willing to try out new things. We had an amazing audience, even though we did not know many people.
The Melbourne Carnival involves quite a bit more circus – because of all the brilliant performers here! The audiences tend to be louder, more involved. It's a great energy and you can't beat the home vibe!
The next stage show (in London in October) will be to expand the production, making it longer with a more detailed story and bigger cast. The eventual aim is to have a full-scale circus-opera on our hands.
How would you personally describe The Carnival?
Hmmm.. I don't want to say too much - I'll let people make up their own minds.
The question we ask is: How will the audience describe The Carnival? Because ultimately they are the reason we are here.
What do you love about performing in The Carnival?
Apart from playing Chloé Charady’s absolutely brilliant music, I love the freedom that I have on stage and the chance to create, interact with the audience and see how far I can take my violin performance.
It is a show where really anything is possible - nothing is 'not allowed' or ‘out of the question’.
What is it like working with Nigel Kennedy?
He is the most incredible musician with limitless creativity and infectious energy. You never know what to expect on stage. And such cool person too - so down to earth and generous.
It is a real privilege and I'm learning so much.
You are really trying to bring this incredible genre of music to be more approachable and relatable to a modern audience. Where would you like to see the future of classical music?
I would love to see more people engaging with classical music and classical music engaging with more people. I think the key to this is more variety in presentation and more choice for people in the type of concerts and ways they can experience classical music. The genre needs to evolve with the audience.
I would also like to see more subjects in Performance Development and Presentation included in Tertiary Music Study.
What do you hope to be doing in 5 years?
To continue to build on the work with Chloé, further developing new presentations of classical music continuing to bring this great music to a wider audience. There's a crazy little chamber orchestra project cooking up too, which will hopefully be ready within the next 5 years.
Any last comments Sonja?
See you at the bar after the show.