INTERVIEW: 7 Questions with Jessica Gethin for Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst…& Bjork!


It’s October, which means it’s time to become temporarily German by celebrating Oktoberfest with beer and sausages. Perth Chamber Orchestra is getting into the Teutonic spirit with their upcoming Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst…& Bjork!  at Fremantle’s B Shed on October 22. The program will feature old and new works performed under the baton of Perth Symphony Orchestra conductor Jessica Gethin. Gethin chats to us about PSO and PCO’s mission, what goes into producing an event like BBB&B!, and a little bit about her aspirations and achievements.

PSO/PCO’s mission is to make classical music accessible, and to do this, you create events like Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst…& Bjork! What makes this one different from the 2013 event (aside obviously from the inclusion of Bjork in the line-up)?

Every concert we deliver promises to be a unique experience; from the food and wine that is matched with the music, to the acoustics of the surrounds and the fact that we strive to include WA composers at every opportunity we can. The actual programming of repertoire is a real art and something we spend a lot of time tweaking over the years. We try to grow with both our audience and our musicians, as well as the world around us; hopefully this is reflected in each performance! This upcoming concert features some new collaborations; from a WA composer, a WA arranger, a local singer, a local choir and a whole journey of exciting works that have been written between around 1780 to 2015… quite the diverse collection!

image of 2013’s Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst courtesy of PSO

It seems like there’s a fair bit of complex logistical planning that has to go into a concert – you’ve got to cater it, presumably license it, set up sound and tech, plan crowd control, plus you’re working with a variety of artists, some of whom are presenting world premiere works. How far in advance do you begin planning and what sort of challenges do you most often find yourselves faced with?

We often speak of these concerts as ‘experiences’ to the audience, as they are full productions that our very small but dedicated team work tirelessly to tie together. The programming of works can start a year or two ahead, however the actual logistics start a few months before and go flat out until the doors open on concert day. Taking our music into new places and spaces can be a challenge as we start from square one with each new venue! From working out transport and access for some of our larger percussion instruments, to special acoustic considerations and simply considering what each audience member will see, hear, taste and experience from their seat, there is a lot more to each performance than the music itself. Sometimes I feel very fortunate that my job is to focus on the music and the rest of our team work wonders on the rest!

Chief Conductor & Artistic Director Jessica Gethin, image courtesy of PSO

What aspects of working in this kind of revisionist approach to classical music do you find most satisfying as a conductor and artistic director?

Bringing old works to life in a new and refreshing format, introducing first timers to the greats such as Beethoven alongside exploring the orchestral sounds of contemporary artists such as Bjork, I think the whole journey is very special. When you work on every musical detail for months, it’s quite powerful at final rehearsal when you hear it all come together and you can look back and feel very fortunate that we are able to perform what we love in this way.

How do you go about finding emerging talent to work with, and particular with Sean Tinnion, who is presenting his world premiere work Remembrance?

I think it is essential that we support emerging talent, and creating a legacy for a new Australian sound is something I have thought a lot about. Both Bourby Webster (PSO Director) and I lecture in conducting at the WA Academy of Performing Arts so many of the composers we work with are actually our former students! Sean was a brilliant example of someone who took the initiative to introduce himself and send us some samples of his work. I was taken by the sound he creates, which is beautifully melodic and very filmic in ways, and knew that his work would be an invaluable addition to this concert program. We are really excited to have him on board.

You have accomplished quite a lot in your career so far, and I see you participated in the Dallas Opera’s Institute for Women Conductors residency in 2015. Please tell us a bit more about what was involved in that residency, and what you took away from the experience?

The Institute for Women Conductors has been an amazing initiative by the Dallas Opera; as an inaugural fellow they are supporting me for five years, which shows much dedication and commitment to supporting women conductors in their careers. I’ve been over to Texas a couple of times already and learnt a lot musically, but also gained a more global perspective on the business side; all the things that we do off the podium. We’ve taken part in masterclasses, conducted a concert at the Winspear Opera House of 18 opera excerpts, and worked closely with expert faculty in seminars and discussions throughout the fellowship that focus on the challenges of an international conducting career.

PSO has grown and adapted to be able to present unique programming by creating off-shoots like the PCO – why do you think the last few years have been the right time for a second orchestra in Perth? 

Over the years I’ve watched our audiences gradually change; I think there is gradually becoming a greater demand for live performance, we’ve certainly seen this taking our music into local communities and regional areas as well as looking at the success of events like the PIAF and Fringe Festival. We are still a way off from being an economically viable arts economy, however I’m committed to seeing this continue to grow, with all of Perth’s arts organisations working together to create a valued and supportive arts hub.

image courtesy of PSO

In your wildest programming dreams, what would you most like to perform, and in what Perth space or location?

Good question… I actually have a little black book on my bedside table that I write down all the works that I’d love to add to my repertoire. Most of them are symphonic works by the great masters which I am slowly working my way through, some are more eclectic collaborations such as recreating the Montserrat Caballé and Freddie Mercury album from their 1988 album ‘Barcelona’, and staging some of the really interesting modern operas I’ve studied overseas. I’m at the stage where I’m finding purpose with any new repertoire I perform, whether it be working in a new language, collaborating with a world music artist or bringing to life some of the old masters in a new light. When I think of venues, any building that tells a story, with beautiful acoustics and interesting architecture attracts me! From traditional breweries to rustic abandoned warehouses in the CBD and old railway houses, I’ve often thought the underground train station would be a perfect location for our music!


For more information about Beethoven, Beer & Bratwurst…& Bjork! visit the Perth Symphony Orchestra website here. To book tickets directly, visit the trybooking website here.