THIS year the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 15th anniversary; quite an extraordinary performance from a group of classical musos who do it all with barely a sniff of funding. Much of the FCO’s success can be attributed to the super-human enthusiasm of founder and cellist Hans Hug. Here he discusses how it all came to be, and why the FCO gets to call one of the world’s greatest violinists their own (don’t just take our word for it, get goosebumps listening to Rudolf Koelman playing de Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs with the FCO on YouTube).
IN 1988 I migrated to WA from Switzerland where I had been playing in a fine chamber orchestra.
In 2005 a friend (Bob Sommerville) asked me to organise a concert with guitarist Milica Ilic who had just finished UWA with first class honours.
Her family and had come to WA as refugees of the Balkan war. Not having heard Milica, I trusted UWA.
Encouraged by two professional musicians with whom I did wedding gigs, I agreed to organise a concert.
Living in and loving Fremantle, a name was chosen: Fremantle Chamber Orchestra (chamber meaning ‘small’), venues booked and flyers printed and distributed.
There was one big problem: no musos wanted to sign up to the unknown FCO, yet the promotion spearheaded by the Fremantle Herald was already in full swing.
Finally I asked Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo, who played with me in a piano trio, to conduct and we came up with a great program.
The fantastic Rebecca Glorie (then White) agreed to be the concert master and suddenly we had an orchestra.
In the first half, FCO performed Beethoven’s Coriolanus Overture, and Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Guitar Concerto.
Listeners were so blown away, they flooded the green room.
After the interval, Milica’s own composition was on the program, but she hadn’t quite managed to finish it, so she played some charming solo guitar works.
We finished with Beethoven’s first Symphony; tight and with tons of energy.
We received many enthusiastic emails and it appeared the musicians had achieved more than they bargained for too.
With no chamber orchestra in WA at the time and because of the enthusiastic feedback, FCO decided to keep going.
But how is it possible that one of the world’s leading violinists, Rudolf Koelman, has been coming to WA to perform with FCO?
In the early ‘80s while studying cello at Lucerne Conservatory in Switzerland, my hometown, I was walking through the underpass in front of the train station when I heard a violin being played like I had never before heard.
I stopped, pulled out a Swiss five franc coin and dropped it in the violin case.
Rudolf and I started talking, he stayed with my family, played at my wedding and I travelled all over Europe to record him with a little walkman.
One of these pirate recordings was of the Saint Saints Violin Concerto no 3, which we will perform in February 2020.
Migrating to WA meant losing contact with Rudolf, but because he was professor at ANAM (Australian National Academy of Music), we somehow reconnected in time for him to perform during FCO’s third concert.
Koelman’s contribution to FCO cannot be underestimated: he lifts us to international excellence, and thanks to him, FCO has two acclaimed CDs which are broadcast on ABC Radio National Classic FM and FCO prides itself on having a very strong YouTube presence and rave reviews.
I do not know any other violinist whose playing touches listeners’ hearts from the first to the last note, stopping time in its tracks to be transported inside – except perhaps his teacher Heifetz.
It’s not easy starting a new ensemble but keeping it going is a real challenge, particularly when one lacks proper funding.
FCO is lucky that its main sponsor is the Fremantle Herald and Perth Voice, but thank you so much to Fremantle Ports, Total Eden, City of Perth, Metaxas Legal, Town of East Fremantle, City of Fremantle and the many private most generous donors, as well as our loyal audience.
Together with FCO’s clear focus on making exciting music and providing opportunities for young professionals, we have survived – nearly 150 concerts so far.
FCO’s 15th Anniversary Concerts will feature Rudolf Koelman and Paul Wright
Directed by the eminent Paul Wright, Mendelssohn’s wonderfully romantic Fair Melusine Overture leads directly to Saint-Saëns’s Violin Concerto 3, a romantic masterpiece, featuring Mr Koelman.
“Le verre siffleur” was composed for FCO by Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo, in memory of the Paris terrorist attacks, with one of the most exquisite moments in music, and is followed by a rarely played Mozart jewel: his very early 6th Symphony.
There are two performances: Saturday February 15, 3pm at John Curtin College of the Arts (90 Ellen Street, Fremantle). Then Sunday February 16, 3pm at Government House Ballroom, Perth.
Tickets via Ticketek or at the door (cash please), adults $40, concession $35, under 18 $20.