Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Swan Virtuosi

I just got off the phone to Margaret Blades. She is jetlagged and excited. She’s just toured Europe as associate concertmaster with the Asia Pacific United Orchestra and is returning to Perth for a concert with her new ensemble Swan Virtuosi. All this between her full time job as Associate Concertmaster with the WA SymphonyOrchestra.

‘You find the energy to make it happen because the chance to play this music makes it worthwhile,’ Blades said with typical enthusiasm.  

The forty-five year old has been a loyal anchor for the WASO string section for six years, adding much-needed stability during transitions between concertmasters John Harding and Giulio Plotino and principal conductors Matthias Bamert, Paul Daniel and (incoming) Asher Fisch. More recently Blades has been a mentor figure for the influx of new young string players including twenty-five year old Louise McKay.

McKay’s appointment as associate principal cello and the return of ex-Australian String Quartet viola player Sally Boud to Western Australia is what prompted Blades to form Swan Virtuosi.

‘When I heard Sally Boud was back in town I thought ‘My gosh I’m going to just jump’. Sally and Louise both play with such passion and energy and it just seemed to fit. I’m so thrilled to find players who work together so well.”

The ensemble members may have high calibre pedigree but their vision is remarkably down-to-earth.

“We want to try and play to the community, to bring music back to where it should be and give people a sense of involvement.”

Instead of performing in ballrooms and concert halls the trio’s first concert was held at the Leederville Town Hall and the free tickets were - unsurprisingly - gone within days. Their next concert, featuring Mozart’s Divertimento for string trio and Kodaly’s Duo for cello and violin, is at the Subiaco Arts Centre on Sunday.

Blades originally hails from South Australia where she studied violin at the Adelaide Elder Conservatorium and the University of Tasmania Conservatorium. She followed her sister Mary-Anne Blades (associate principal flute) to WASO in 2006 following stints with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony and ten years as associate concertmaster with the Adelaide Symphony.

Blades’ passion for music includes teaching and she has established a private string studio from her home in Leederville. Her interest in pedagogy inspired a recent trip to the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg to attend classes with the giants of French and Russian violin teaching Pierre Amoyal and Dora Schwarzberg.

“It is important living in Australia to check out what is happening around the world. Pierre Amoyal would tell anecdotes of being taught by the great Jascha Heifetz, it was great.”

Blades’ European trip concluded with the Chinese-initiated Asia Pacific United Orchestra tour. Musicians from over twenty countries met to perform in Vienna, Prague, Estonia and Helsinki and to her surprise Blades found herself sitting alongside concertmaster John Harding again.

“It was great to see him again, he is still in great form as a concertmaster. The tour was incredibly well organised with near-capacity audiences. China is a world super power and they are making things happen in the arts too. The philosophy of cultural exchange was fantastic, especially since the Asia-Pacific region is becoming so crucial to the world economy.”

With all her experience is it tempting to look for a role as concertmaster?

“I’m genuinely happy in my position as associate concertmaster. It allows more energy for chamber music and teaching. And Perth is a place where creativity can flourish if you have the support. It is an exciting place to be.”

Swan Virtuosi Subiaco Arts Centre Sunday 2pm


  1. It is great to see an ensemble formed from these players. While not having heard Margaret Blades, Sally Boud is of course well known from her Tankstream and ASQ years. Tankstream I followed after heaering their MICMC performances. Louise McKay I first heard playing the Prokofiev sonata in a masterclass at the 2008 Adelaide Cello Festival. She was, arguably, the outstanding student at that festival and came back three years later to impress again playing Eliot Carter.
    So toi, toi, toi to the new ensemble. Australia needs a really good string trio, not only to play the string repertoire (trios and duos), but also to join with pianists from time to time to present the rich piano quartet genre.
    Lets hope they come east some time soon.

  2. Hi John
    Great to hear the ensemble is generating national interest. I like the idea of them teaming up with a pianist for the piano quartet repertoire.
    Will let you know how their concert goes on Sunday!