Great masters and young stars align

23 May 2022

The Irwin Street Collective focuses on breathing new life into old music but their latest concert also provided a showcase for a future star, writes Stewart Smith.

‘Mozart and Beethoven’, Irwin Street Collective ·
Callaway Auditorium, University of WA, 20 May 2022 ·

Those fortunate enough to be in the audience for the Irwin Street Collective’s latest concert were treated to a glimpse of the future with a flawless performance by outstanding young pianist Jude Holland the highlight of a strong program.

Based on this concert, where Holland was the soloist in Mozart’s final piano concerto, it is no exaggeration to state that he is a once-in-a-generation musician who has the potential to become one of the most significant players of his time.  

This is a fine example of the important platform the Irwin Street Collective provides for student musicians through their ongoing collaborations.

Led by scholar-musicians and joint artistic directors Cecilia Sun, Sara Macliver and Shaun Lee-Chen, the Collective is a performance-focused research group based at the University of WA Conservatorium of Music. 

Taking their name from the original historical site of the university in the CBD, their work interrogates sources from the past, such as scores, documents and sound recordings, to breathe new life into old music. Some of their work involves collaborations among themselves – the ongoing Lee-Chen/Sun Beethoven sonata project for instance – but more recently they have partnered with students, alumni and distinguished early music practitioners. 

For this concert, Lee-Chen directed a student orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s first symphony and in Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music and in his final piano concerto, the premiere of which in 1791 was to be Mozart’s last public appearance.

Irwin Street Collective at Callaway Auditorium. A group of violinists with other players behind them. All are dressed in black
Shaun Lee-Chen, front, leads the student orchestra in the Irwin Street Collective performance. Photo: Jesse Stack

Directing with authority and quicksilver brilliance, Lee-Chen inspired all around him to give their best. The strings impressed with their care over phrasing and excellent internal balance, and the winds, even though at times getting a little over excited, still communicated with personality and commitment. The turbo-charged outer movements of the Beethoven work were particularly successful as was the coda of the Masonic Funeral Music, whose final gesture, so beautifully realised by Lee-Chen, elicited gasps from a hushed audience.  

However, it was Holland, a 19-year-old UWA student, who was the star of the night. He is one of the most remarkable pianists I have heard. With flawless technique and sublime artistry, he transcends pretty much everything the greatest players of today bring to this work – and here I’m including fortepianists and players of modern piano alike.  

With an innate ability to grasp the musical potential of every phrase, Holland’s playing clearly demonstrates the folly of so much of today’s standard-fare “motoric” Mozart playing.  On the contrary, every bar was detailed and meaningful: the notes on the page were transformed by the insights of the performer and the music came to life, not least of all in the (largely improvised) cadenzas, which through their audacious brilliance had us all on the edge of our seats.  

I’ve always wondered what Mozart’s Viennese audience would have experienced at the premieres of his piano concertos, and I think I may just have glimpsed this. Hyperbole? I don’t think so, but you’ll just have to judge for yourself.

Holland can be heard playing with his gifted colleague, cellist Max Wung, at a lunchtime concert in the Callaway Auditorium on 26 July 2022.  

The Irwin Street Collective’s next concert is the Chamber Music Salon on 7 June 2022 featuring Ashley Smith in a performance of German 19th century chamber music. 

Pictured top: Jude Holland at the piano. Photo by Jesse Stack

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Author —
Stewart Smith

Stewart Smith is a specialist in historical performance practice at the WA Academy of Performing Arts and he has performed, recorded and published widely in the field. At the park he enjoys the seesaw though, sadly, does not always find it easy to find a suitable counterbalance.

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