Cellist Jon Tooby has been building Perth’s chamber music scene for decades. This weekend the fisherman, carpenter and conductor is launching a new spring chamber music festival in his favourite hills community. Tooby has extensive networks with WA’s best chamber musicians and a reputation for connecting the audience to the music. Which is perhaps why Tooby is promising “This festival will have it all!”

What music gets your heart racing?
Chamber music gets my heart racing, particularly Brahms.

What calms you down?
Getting away fishing up in the North West

The Darlington Spring Festival kicks off this weekend – what was the inspiration behind this new festival in Perth?

The Spring Festival is just a slightly more condensed version of the hugely popular winter series. I guess it was to bring us closer to our audience over one weekend and to play in a few different venues.

As festival director you seem to have gone to some effort to match the right performers with the perfect venue. For example Sara Macliver’s angelic soprano in the cathedral acoustics of Guildford Grammar Chapel, and the intimacy of string quartet in the quaint St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church. How important is the venue in a chamber music concert?

The space in which we perform is hugely important. One of the things which we pride ourselves on in our performances is in bringing our audiences closer to us and to really share in the magic of the music with them. We are blessed as chamber musicians to have this never ending supply of exquisite repertoire and as much as we love to immerse ourselves in it as players it is totally enhanced when you can bring others along for the ride.

The repertoire looks very appealing on paper: string quartets by Janacek, Mendelssohn and Haydn; Baroque motets by Dowland and Vivaldi; staples such as Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Brahms’ Sextet in G minor, and Argentinean favourites Piazolla and Golijov. What do you hope the audience will experience?

This festival has it all, starting with a full program of string quartets including works by Haydn, Janacek and Mendelssohn. This really is the purest form of chamber music as we know it – what a way to start. Then we have Sara Macliver join us in the stunning Guilford Grammar School Chapel in what shall be a night of special magnificence. With the wonderful acoustics of this Gothic architectural masterpiece combined with the music of Brahms, Vivaldi and Dowland it is sure going to be a night to remember. Our final concert is presented with a sumptuous lunch at the Darlington Estate Winery. It will be a celebration of fine food , wine and of course amazing music. Here we present probably the most iconic chamber work The Trout Quintet among other tasty musical treats.

The Darlington Trio: Tooby with Semra Lee-Smith and Graeme Gilling

You are taking part as a performer too – playing cello for all three concerts. How are you preparing?

We have a pretty busy rehearsal schedule this week, but I’m feeling confident it’s going to be a terrific weekend. We have an amazing team of very experienced musicians, for me the best available. Not only are they all fabulous players in their own right but they are also passionate about performing chamber music together. We really all have a lot of fun.

Mark Applebaum says music should be above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

For me personally I think all the arts but especially music have the power to transform people, to take people to special places and to unlock held emotions and dreams. Yes I think music has to be interesting but only in as much as it can have this effect on people.

Tooby performing Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor with Brett Dean (viola), 
Natsuko Yoshimoto (violin) and Jonathon Anur (piano).

You have a soft spot for Darlington – you have been making chamber music up there for 12 years since the launch of the Darlington Chamber series. What is the appeal of this hills suburb?

Darlington is special to me partly because I grew up here but also because I love it for the sense of community. It is a very artistic community, many fine artists and musicians live in Darlington and it is just far enough away from Perth to feel like you’re in the country but not totally isolated. I used to go to chamber music concerts here in the 70’s and some very fine ones too. It’s a funky place with funky people.

Your love affair with the cello began at the age of seven and has been sustained through 18 years with the WA Symphony Orchestra, studying at the Royal College of Music and over 200 concerts with I Cellisti. Why the cello?

 I think all musical instruments attract certain personalities and I think most cellists are quite smug in the fact that they almost blindly believe there is no better instrument on the planet than the cello. In terms of the sound, colour and the texture range is immense and really I don’t think anything can get closer to replicating the human voice. The repertoire is endless and you get to sit down in a relatively comfortable position. I could go on but you might feel ill.

Tooby conducting Etica ensemble

More recently you have ventured into conducting, studying with John Hopkins, Richard Mills and Richard Gill. You founded and directed the new music ensemble Etica. Do you have plans to further pursue a career in conducting?

Conducting is very important to me and I will continue to work towards a career in it . Orchestras are amazing and I feel after 30 years playing in the profession I have a good understanding of what makes them tick. Clearly though, there is more to it that just being a good musician, something which I’m working on.

Do you have a partner/significant other/pet?

I have a wonderful wife, Penny Reynolds who is a soprano. Also two fabulous daughters, Laura 15 and Rosie 17. We laugh a lot together. Oh yes I also have a black cat Sandy, a dog Barney and a horse named Kat.

Where did you learn the skills to juggle a diverse freelance career that includes performing, directing, teaching and conducting?

I love my life with all it’s diversity. I am also a Builder/Carpenter and when I’m not conducting , playing cello or teaching you might find me up a ladder somewhere replacing someone’s ceiling or building a deck.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

 I love fishing and every year I go away with my brothers on a pilgrimage to Quobba or Dirk Hartog Island, 30 years and counting.

Thanks Jon Tooby for taking the time from your busy rehearsal week to participate in the Celebrity Soft Spot. 

Concert 1 Saturday 22nd 11am: Darlington String Quartet perform quartets by Mendelssohn, Haydn and Janacek
Concert 2 Saturday 22nd 7pm: Sara Macliver and ensemble perform Vivaldi: Nulla in Mundo pax Sincera; Brahms String Sextet in G minor; Dowland: Come Again, Weep You No More; Respighi: Il tramonto; Golijov: Lua Descolorida
Concert 3 Sunday 23rd 12pm: Schubert’s Trout Quintet, tangos by Piazolla and a duet for cello and bass by Rossini served with lunch.
Tickets can be purchased at the door but are nearly sold out so probably better to pre-purchase at the Darlington Post Office or Mundaring Bendigo Bank Ph: 92956411.