Stephen McIntyre’s many happy returns to the stage

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Published: 19th April, 2012

It’s a special birthday, one of those with a nought in it, Stephen McIntyre admits. Not that the pianist and associate professor of music at the University of Melbourne, has anything to apologise for. One of Australia’s most eminent pianists and teachers, Stephen McIntyre followed early studies in Melbourne with time in France and Italy, working with Nadia Boulanger, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Guido Agosti. He has performed as soloist and chamber music player in many countries, and was Head of the Piano department at the Victorian College of the Arts almost from its inception in the mid-Seventies until 1992. Stephen McIntyre is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne. In 2003, he was the recipient of the Sir Bernard Heinze Award for distinguished contribution to music in Australia, and in 2007 he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM). His cycle of the complete piano music of Ravel won the National Critics Award. “All pianists probably teach and perform,” says McIntyre, adding “it’s necessary at a certain level that you’ve played the piece”. But “there’s great joy in learning things from students”, he says. “Different hands may more easily find solutions to performing particular works.” Stephen McIntyre has performed as concerto soloist with all major Australian orchestras; he has performed with violinists Valery Klimov, Viktoria Mullova, and Nelli Shkolnikova, and for more than 20 years with the renowned Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma. Stephen McIntyre was a founding member of Australian Chamber Soloists, Principal Artistic Advisor for Musica Viva during 1995/96, and Director of the chamber music program for the Melbourne International Festival from 1989-99. He was Artistic Director of the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival from 2005 till 2009, something he describes as “a great pleasure”, thanks to the town “full of wonderful people who work to make the Festival a success”. Some of the friends he made through a life centred on music came up with the idea of the birthday concert – and will perform in it. McIntyre says they went quite some way in planning the event before someone said, “We’d better talk to Stephen!” – and the concert took shape. Expect to hear some of the pianist’s favourite works, including Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and music by Chopin, Rossini, Rachmaninov and Saint-Saens. Performers will include singers Cheryl Barker, Helen Noonan and Michael Leighton Jones (in a unique version of the “Cat duet”), instrumentalists Jeffery Crellin (oboe), Prudence Davis (flute), Wilma Smith (violin), Justin Williams (viola), Rohan De Korte (cello) and Steve Reeves (double bass). As well as the honoured guest there’s a stunning line-up of pianists: Caroline Almonte, Stefan Cassomenos, Kristian Chong, Anna Goldsworthy, Michael Kieran Harvey, Stephen Ma, Benjamin Martin, Ian Munro, Daniel Yim and Raymond Yong. “Pianists are collegial … although it’s the most competitive instrument”, says McIntyre who remains friends with many former students and colleagues. (They’ll need to be friendly: among the “mixed pianistic stuff” there’s music for four pianists – and just one piano, McIntyre laughs.) Another joy for pianists is access to “an extraordinary repertoire, not just for piano but for voice and piano”, says McIntyre, who is heading off to Europe next month for Schubertiade and a fortnight of lieder in Austria’s Schwarzenberg. Before then, however, as part of his birthday concert a group of Australia’s notable composers (Gordon Kerry, Stuart Greenbaum, Peter de Jager and Michael Kieran Harvey) have joined forces to compose a series of miniatures inspired by one of Stephen’s favourite pieces, Chopin’s Barcarolle. “The second half is more of an entertainment,” says McIntyre who incidentally is not receiving any financial reward for the concert. And his friends all had the same idea for a birthday present: they will perform for free. As for his usual routine, Stephen McIntyre says he still does a fair amount of playing, and two to three days teaching a week. He is concerned that today’s university courses are not friendly to training needs; “Performance musicians need one-to-one”, he says emphatically. And, after this concert and his forthcoming trip to Europe – to play and then to have time in Berlin and Tuscany – he’ll be right back into a routine he evidently loves. Proceeds from the one-off concert will be used to establish a prize in Stephen McIntyre’s honour to be administered by Melbourne Recital Centre. The concert is on Sunday 27 May at 3pm at the Melbourne Recital Centre. For details and bookings phone (03) 9699 3333 or go to