In Conversation: Laura Barton

In Conversation: Laura Barton

Making music to change the world. 

Laura Barton
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Laura Barton

Making music to change the world. 

You'll be conducting Safe and Sound - A Benefit for the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis. Can you tell me about how the project came to be and why you think music has the power to change lives? 

This project is the brain child of my wonderful colleagues, Kyla and Tiffany. Through the ANAM community of staff, students, and supporters, they realised that we have the power to truly make a difference if we put our minds to it. This is a great initiative which so many people have already got behind, and it's so far shaping up to be an amazing concert and a powerful evening.

Music is truly a universal language, that transcends all other barriers such as race, religion, and political beliefs. Because of this, it's an important tool in bringing people together who might not otherwise think they have anything in common. It also affects emotions - sad music makes you feel sad, etc. This empathetic sharing of emotion can be incredibly powerful in forming connections with people. Performing and sharing music with others makes me feel closer to them like we have a bond formed through this shared experience. If we use music to feel others' emotions, it's a step towards understanding them, and understanding enables us to better communicate and assist.

The programming of a performance is one of the most important steps in the planning process - how did you choose the repertoire for this project and what meaning does each piece hold in the broader context of the evening's purpose?

The main works I'm involved with in this concert are the Hindemith and the Shostakovich. These are both men who were persecuted because of their political views as well as their compositional style. Hindemith himself was forced to flee Germany after the rise of the Nazi party, and a ban was placed on performances of his works. Although the Kammermusik 1 is mostly a light hearted work, it is Hindemith's personal experiences and wider social and cultural context that has driven us to include him in this performance. Shostakovich's iconic 8th Quartet is an autobiographical work and shows a picture of both his entire life and his situation at the time of writing. The work is dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war", a heading that included himself. This resonates deeply with the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

What initially drew you to the baton and podium? Has your background as a violinist performing both as a soloist and in ensembles influenced your conducting style in any way?

My passion with the violin has always been orchestral playing, and during my university study, I became really interested in the concept of the orchestra as an instrument. As a conductor, you don't just get to play one instrument; you wave your arms and this incredible sound comes out. I definitely feel that having had a lot of experience playing in an orchestra has influenced my conducting and rehearsal techniques. Watching other conductors, you learn what works and what doesn't and can adopt that.

When you're leading an ensemble, how do you make sure you're being as efficient as possible in preparing works for performance, particularly when you have limited time available to rehearse?

I always aim to be as prepared as I possibly can before we get to the first rehearsal. This involves listening to lots of different interpretations, studying the score, chatting to my musicians to learn their thoughts and concerns, and playing through the music myself at the piano. I also have to rely on my colleagues to prepare their own parts so that we don't have to spend rehearsal time learning notes, which is especially important with limited time. It's essential for me to have a clear idea in my head of what I want to achieve in each session before we start. This means that I can focus on passages that are difficult both technically and musically challenging and hopefully navigate them as quickly as possible.

For musicians young and old with an interest in using their talents to help others and raise awareness, do you have any ideas about how to get started in creating an important project like this one?

I feel like a lot of people want to contribute to a worthy cause like this, but don't know how, or don't want to give to an organisation who will take profits for themselves. By talking to friends and colleagues, creating an idea like this one, it only takes a couple of people to get organised and put something together. So many people have jumped at the chance to be involved and help out, and I'm sure that we'll get a great audience. This is an easy conduit for people to give aid, and in a situation where we know where the funds come from and where they'll go.

Safe and Sound - A Benefit for the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis is on Friday 21st July at 7:30pm. More information available on the ANAM website