Meet Helena Rathbone

Our last concert for 2015 next Friday 16 October at 8pm will feature Kathryn Selby (piano), Helena Rathbone (violin) and Timo-Veikko Valve (‘cello). The varied programme will comprise Mozart’s Piano Trio in E, K 542;  Beethoven – Seven variations for ‘cello and piano on a duet from  Die Zauberflote WoO 46; and Dvorak, Trio in E minor op 90, Dumky.

Richard Coleman was able to speak last week with Helena Rathbone, who is well known to many as the Principal Second Violin with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, which is currently in the last week of performing a programme of Mozart’s three last symphonies at concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Newcastle and Brisbane.


                  Meet Helena Rathbone



Helena has been with the ACO for 21 years. She has performed as soloist and Guest Leader with the Orchestra in Australia and is the Director and Leader of the ACO’s second ensemble AO, which sources musicians from the Emerging Artists Program. Before moving to Australia, she was Principal Second Violin and soloist with the European Community Chamber Orchestra and regularly played with ensembles such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

When not performing with the ACO, Helena has been the leader of Ensemble 24, guest leader of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Helena is a frequent tutor and chamber orchestra director at National Music Camps and with the Australian Youth Orchestra. She has appeared in the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, the Christchurch Arts Festival, the Sangat Festival in Mumbai, the Florestan Festival in Peasmarsh, Sussex and the International Musicians Seminar, Prussia Cove in Cornwall.

Our concert next week will commence with a late Mozart chamber work written over the same period as the last symphonies. I asked Helena for her thoughts on performing these late Mozart works with a full orchestra and in a chamber ensemble:

“The Trio was written in a year when Mozart was so prolific, near the end of his life. You need to know what he wrote around it to really appreciate the context in which it falls and to have in mind as well the sound world he would have had going on in his head.  The ACO has just been playing symphonies 39, 40 and 41, which were written within three months of each other.  They are all so different and you can see how they progress from one to the other. 

“In approaching a piano trio like this, the texture is much more simple – three instruments in place of a full orchestra, but you can imagine, for instance, the piano being the body of strings, and then the interjection of the violin and cello covering the wind instruments, coming in and joining the texture of the piano being the base of the strings.

“Of course, you can’t play Mozart without thinking of opera and bringing the characters to life just like they would be on the stage. All three of us are playing together but have a different character for each instrument. The piano has often more than one character.

“Having your imagination firing when playing Mozart is very important because his imagination was so incredibly vivid.  Also, with these later works the listener would be forgiven in thinking, in certain parts, that they were listening to early Beethoven.  Looking back from the future after Mozart and Beethoven are long dead you can definitely see the lineage of Mozart handing over to Beethoven. You can see the similarities. Mozart was much more shocking in his later works, which Beethoven carried on. There are a lot of unexpected key changes and modulations that you don’t get in earlier Mozart, but there is also that cheeky character all the way through his music.”