Live at Yours began when nothing was open. “The Opera House was closed, all the theatres were closed,” says Vladimir via video call just before Eleanor Lyons, his wife and co-founder of the classical music series, pops her head into the corner of the screen to say hi. She pops back out again because she has a much more important call to take this morning with the director of Opera Australia.
Back then, it was just the two of them—both acclaimed performers with Vladimir on the piano and Eleanor’s blazing opera voice filling a 50sqm space. They ended up doing 45 of these intimate concerts which started in their own home. “It just went nuts,” Vladimir says, “because people were craving some live music.” Then, their friends who are artists started getting in touch and asking, ‘Could you organise one for us, can we do one of these?'”
And so, Live at Yours grew to include more artists and spread from concerts in living rooms to regional tours, where it was often the first to open up halls and venues the day after restrictions were lifted. It’s also providing musicians with actual performance work at a time when our arts sector has been decimated: “Bach to Bolling will play 11 concerts in 10 days this May!”
Focusing on personal and intimate experiences, Live at Yours remains small and mobile despite now including three other music series in its offering: Live at Mecca, Live at The Independent and Live at The Great.
They’ve also retained the same format of being in someone’s home—of being in a 19th or 20th Century salon—because the informality is much more conducive to giving more, to creating experiences, and tearing down the stigma around classical music.
“We talk to the audience, we get the audience to ask the artists questions, we get them involved, express their feelings, what they liked, what they didn’t like. Obviously, at the bigger scale concerts like the synagogue, we can’t do too many, but at the Independent we really love it.” It’s in these atmospheres that Chopin played, among friends and contemporaries—not in huge concert halls.
Every Live at Yours concert has a host to conduct proceedings and to tell stories—I learn that we have idealised concepts of people like Mozart because the man could very well be cancelled. But part of what audiences should also expect is the unexpected.
Like in the salons of old where music proliferated, surprise guest performers are frequent and are usually young up-and-comers. They join the headline acts at Live at Yours which are not big mainstream names, but rather virtuosos. They are the “finest artists, world-class,” says Vladimir. And, aside from giving Australian artists performance work, this is what Live at Yours prides itself on.
“Our goal is to always have the finest musicians. For example, Suyeon Kang, if we see that she’s coming to Sydney, we invite her. Konstantin Shamray already played two programmes for LAY…” he trails off. “We try and focus on people we admire and people we think have something special to say musically.” How does he get them on board? “I just call and invite them, they’re colleagues after all.”
Edward Neeman was a huge discovery for Vladimir. A quiet and modest pianist living in Canberra, Edward was accompanying Kristian Winther when Vladimir got to experience his astonishing ability. Inspired by Edward’s playing, it was a wonderful feeling to be able to present a lesser-known virtuoso to an appreciative audience.
Similarly, Vladimir just had to ask acclaimed Italian cellist Umberto Clerici to perform at The Great Synagogue because he thought it would be an incredible evening. To entice the cellist he asked, “What do you want to do? You have a carte blanche.”
The response: “I’d love to play the Rachmaninoff sonata with (pianist) Konstantin. If you can make that happen…”. These two artists, he says, are possibly the finest musicians—not just the top technicians of their instrument, but the finest musicians—in Australia “and now they’re coming together for the first time at the Great Synagogue. Not at Angel Place Concert Hall or the Opera House, but in a more intimate, homely environment.”
Like the majority of other Live at Yours concerts, the program for Umberto Clerici and Konstantin Shamray at The Great has not yet been finalised. The performance is just one week away. Everyone, he says, knows a couple of the pieces that they’ll play, but they’re still deciding on a few others.
This is possible with such gifted musicians, but the reasoning behind it all is simple: “With traditional presenters…you plan two years ahead and—I know this as a conductor, you come to do this piece and urghh. This was so two years ago, I don’t feel this right now.”
Subsequently, the programmes at Live at Yours are flexible and the artists have the final word. If they’re not feeling the piece at the time, they’re allowed to change because “it’s so important to stay fresh, to keep improvising, to be real with what you feel.” This passion comes across at any of Live at Yours’ concerts that have also filled art galleries and historic buildings in Sydney.
It’s important to react to how the audience feels the music, Vladimir adds. To play off of that. So, sometimes they change the order or add a piece. Everyone, though, always has fun—especially in between the music.
When asked what makes Live at Yours special, Vladimir says that it’s “all our audiences feel engaged, because we connect with them. We can see their faces, they can see our faces. Artists have a drink with them.”
Classical music, he says, doesn’t need to be pimped out. What it needs is intimate experiences, “ones where you can feel things very closely” and where it is delivered sincerely by incredible artists in locations closer to the people. If that happens, anyone can enjoy it, including children who he feels suffer from watered-down versions of the classics.
Birds chirp in the background and there’s an extra warmth to Vladimir’s voice when speaking of the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. Unlike Mecca Coffee which is surrounded by warehouses and distilleries, perfect for the hipster and cool crowd drinking natural wine, or The Great Synagogue that’s absolutely stunning but holds only four performances a year, the Independent Theatre is old-world charm.
With its original features, the heritage-listed theatre is like stepping into a venue in Europe where smaller concert halls in every corner of the city are the norm. It’s been redeveloped so the acoustics are phenomenal and probably why it’s home to a Steinway D grand piano—the best a concert hall can get.
Although it does seat 290 people, the seats rise up dramatically and the audience looks down on the stage which is illuminated by the theatre’s lights to exaggerate the focus on the artists.
He recommends anyone who hasn’t been to the Independent Theatre to visit it at least once. There are also fine cakes by French Patisserie Madame and Yves at their Sunday afternoon Live at The Independent performances. And, they’re free.
Although two international stars will be making appearances at a few of Live at Yours’ upcoming concerts, the focus is primarily on Australian musicians—either those already living here or those coming home, which is no small number since many of our top artists go to Europe.
It’s vital for them to get paid performing work that isn’t teaching, he remarks, and these intimate performances have proven key with a number finding ongoing work as a result of their performances at Billich Gallery or elsewhere.
Live at Yours has no ambition to be big. Rather, it just wants to grow the appreciation of classical music in Australia. They would like to see it spread further afield, into more areas and eventually across New South Wales—perhaps even Australia. And, “if more people did it in different states, we could retain more top-level artists here.”
That would be a win for us all.