At times it has seemed impossible to keep this mixtape under two hours, resulting in a lot of terrific works ending up on the cutting room floor (is Mahler’s third symphony really over an hour and a half?).
In the end, I’ve settled on compiling a playlist of works and recordings that have, at one point or another, had a profound impact on my development as a musician and of which I can’t help but smile (or cry) when I listen to them.
An alumna of the Canberra School of Music, cellist Julia Janiszewski was one of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural Kingsland Residents. A prolific chamber and orchestral musician, Julia has toured internationally with the Childers Street Quartet and the Australian Youth Orchestra, and has been a core member of the Sydney-based Mariner Trio and the Brisbane-based Taimana Ensemble.
In addition to her classical performance, Julia enjoys side-gigging as a freelancer in jazz, folk, and contemporary contexts. She has collaborated with artists such as Benny Maupin, the RAah Project, Darol Anger, Tristan Clarridge, Duncan Wickel and Lena Jonsson.
Julia began her cello studies with Louise King in 2004, at the age of 11, studying subsequently with Matthew Farrell, David Pereira, Julian Smiles, and Meta Weiss. During her conservatorium years, Julia received numerous prizes and awards, including First Class Honours, the Corinna D’Hage String Scholarship, the Basil Jones Sonata Prize, the Margeret Smiles Most Outstanding Instrumentalist prize and the Griffith University Postgraduate Award.
Julia is an established cello teacher of eight years and a strong advocate for outreach and education initiatives in classical music.
First on the playlist is an extraordinary work by Carl Vine that is even more extraordinary to experience live (and even more extraordinary still to perform – this was the piece I chose to cap off my graduating recital from the Sydney Conservatorium and I’ll never forget the experience).
Inner World is a piece for amplified cello and tape (its official instrumentation delightfully evokes a 90s nostalgia; realistically, the piece would be performed today with the backing track from a tablet or laptop hooked into an AV system). The “tape”, as it’s called, is comprised entirely of sounds generated by an acoustic cello and edited by Vine in a digital audio workstation to create an ethereal and often alien palette that compliments – and occasionally wrestles with – the live player onstage. Long-time Canberra audiences will be chuffed to discover that the cellist responsible for every sound in the tape is David Pereira, making this piece an especially significant work in the Australian cello repertoire.
Steven Isserlis’ recording manages to capture the excitement and thrill of a live performance and strengthens the already unique character of the piece with his distinctive gut string sound. If you ever get a chance to see this work live, I highly recommend it; until then, this track is an exemplary demonstration.
One of my more recent discoveries has been the world of folk cello: I attended a folk fiddle camp in Queensland in 2016 and have been hooked ever since, exploring the folk techniques and traditions that have developed in tandem alongside the classical string tradition but have only in recent decades begun to intermingle. This song was one of the first I listened to within that intermingled space, and it’s a favourite that I regularly return to.
Ben Sollee is an American cellist that combines the fidelity of sound and intonation that one identifies with a classical tradition with soulful and powerful vocals. In Letting Go, composed for the 2013 film Killing Season, Sollee exemplifies the versatility of expression and rhythmic power of the cello, transporting listeners to the Appalachian countryside and a golden sunset.
The first movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto is an Everest not just for the player but the listener, clocking in at over 20 minutes and taking up a sizeable portion of this playlist. However, I couldn’t pass it by: in my humble opinion, this movement is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and seems to contain the whole prism of the human experience within it. Moments of triumphant jubilation, of indescribable tenderness, of passionate rage, and glimmers of uncertainty and doubt combine to make a music statement like no other.
This recording takes the crown for the first time I’d ever listened to a work the entire way through with unwavering attention; I think I might’ve been 14 or 15 at the time and only been playing cello for about 3 years (the sum of my musical cultivation at that time was thinking the cello solo in Pirates of the Caribbean was pretty neat). Hilary Hahn plays with virtuosity and expressivity of the highest order, with an orchestra that is sensitive to her every nuance and inflection.
I had the great privilege of performing the orchestral suite to Stravinsky’s Petrushka in the 2014 Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp, and it remains the most defining orchestral experience of my life. The Fourth Tableau is a brilliant kaleidoscope of symphonic colours and textures and is terrific fun to play: when the camp’s conducter Alexandre Bloch told the room of young, impressionable musicians to play the Danse des cochers et des palefreniers as a modern-day house party rave with its “doof doof” rhythm (“turn on the subwoofer”), it was no wonder there was vicarious head banging in the concert.
Included in this playlist is a short segment of the Fourth Tableau (ending on the aforementioned and irresistibly fun Danse des cochers et des palefreniers – seriously, do turn on the subwoofer at 1:25). This recording with Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra does a great job of capturing the joy felt by the musicians as they go absolutely ham, as the kids say.
I’m generally not one for following bands too closely – I tend to gravitate towards individual songs rather than the artists themselves. Punch Brothers are the notable exception: it seems no matter what they produce, I’m interested and invested, and no other contemporary band has affected my musical development quite the same way. Combining impeccable instrumental technique with a highly cultivated musical sensibility, they push against the boundaries of progressive bluegrass/folk in a way that is at once both intellectual and emotional. Some listeners might recognise mandolin player Chris Thile from his excellent recording of the Bach Violin Partitas and Sonatas.
It’s All Part of the Plan is by no means my favourite song of the Punch Brothers; truth be told, I would’ve happily put any of their tracks in this playlist. I settled on this one because it is a very eloquent example of the band’s appeal to both the head and the heart: it feels very intuitive despite the time signature of 5/4 and a key centre that shifts almost imperceptibly throughout the song.
I played the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata during my second year of study at the Canberra School of Music during an emotionally turbulent year: I had been struggling with serious playing-related injuries that prompted a complete revision of my technique (to say nothing of the doubts they cast on my dreams to be a professional musician), and the School was in the middle of one of its most significant financial challenges in which the value of classical music was questioned at every corner. Needless to say, it wasn’t a climate that engendered much faith in the music industry, and I look back on that time as largely one of listlessness and hopelessness. I have this sonata to thank for being the reason to smile through it all: it was picked up as a passion project between me and a pianist friend, and we workshopped it over the course of 7 months and performed it many times.
Torleif Thedéen is one of the finest cellists of his generation, and this 1988 recording with pianist Roland Pöntinen is a personal favourite of mine. I love the fourth movement for its radiant joy, but it was necessary to include on this playlist the utterly sublime third movement which is Rachmaninoff at his finest.
The second movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto is on this playlist for a highly personal reason that will remain personal; it suffices to say that this is a transcendent movement that in another, more ideal universe would’ve been the capstone of the entire concerto (Barber was compelled by his patron to add the flashy third movement – while fun, I think it’s not as effective an ending).
Hilary Hahn delivers a delicate expression to the movement that is tender (but never saccharine) and drives the pace forward in moments where others might languish, saving her full outpouring for the big moments.
If you ask me to name the greatest musical genius alive today, I would without hesitation say Jacob Collier. I’m yet to find another musician that has such a complete understanding of every technical element (rhythm, harmony, melody, intonation, instrumentation, audio engineering, you name it) whilst retaining a child-like wonder and joy for all music, from the great Western classical works to the ethnomusical traditions of Morrocan Gnawa music. In the words of YouTuber Adam Neely, “[Jacob Collier] is obnoxiously good at music”. Most insultingly, he’s only 26.
Whilst Collier’s music can sometimes be impenetrably technical, Djesse Vol. 1 is at least definably “progressive funk”. With the Love in My Heart is a delight to listen to, and to listen to often: there are so many small details that reward repeated engagement, and it’s a go-to of mine for road trips. If your subwoofer is still on from Petrushka, keep an ear out for 1:41.
Paul Stanhope’s Dolcissimo Uscignolo (translating to “sweetest nightingale”) was one of the first contemporary Australian chamber works I performed during my final year at the Sydney Conservatorium with two dear friends, and what an experience that was: it’s an exciting work with a plethora of extended techniques that are emblematic of contemporary classical (at one point, the pianist has to reach into the belly of their instrument and pluck the strings directly). Whilst it has driving, dissonant passages with angular rhythms, there is also a beauty that belies its inspiration from the Montiverdi work of the same name. The ending in particular is bittersweet and melancholy, keeping the players and listeners in a suspended and mesmerised silence for long after the last note has sounded.
The extensive title of this movement translates to “Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian mode”. It was written as a prayer of thanks after Beethoven recovered from a serious illness that he had feared was fatal, and is a timeless expression of gratitude, faith, and hope.
The Goldner String Quartet’s recordings of the Beethoven cycle remains one of the greatest cultural achievements of this country: recorded live in 2008, it never fails to astonish to hear the applause at the end of each work to remind you that these weren’t judiciously stitched in an editing booth after multiple takes, but that the perfect ensemble and perfect expression was a product of that moment in time from Australia’s finest.
I close out my playlist with this movement, apt as it is for our place in history, as a prayer for a world that needs healing: not just from the horrors of the pandemic, but from the threat of climate change and the dangers to democracy in a post-truth internet age. Beethoven, in all his ineffable genius, reminds us that hope springs eternal.
My name is Julia Janiszewski, and I am a Canberra based cellist. I was one of the inaugural Kingsland Resident Artists, and now enjoy working with the CSO as a member of the cello section.
Both my brother and sister started playing violin through our primary school’s string program – I wasn’t interested, as the violin was too squeaky for me! But then my siblings came back from an evening of busking with a hat full of coins each and I was thrilled at the prospect of making money, so picked up the violin the very next day.
A few months later, after my mum catching me practicing the violin like a cello (holding it between the knees) on multiple occasions, I was given my own cello as a present and haven’t looked back since.
An author, a filmmaker, or a historian. I love story-telling and love any work that has an element of personal craft to it.
Best gigs are the ones with great friends in a great acoustic playing timeless repertoire (it also helps if the hors d’oeuvres are good).
Worst gigs are the outdoor ones with armies of flies and extreme weather events.
I have a special fondness for the Wesley Music Centre here in Canberra: lots of great memories as both a performer and a member of the audience.
The family and friends who have been there through the best and worst of times.
Don’t sweat the small stuff; every experience is a formative one, even the bad (heck, especially the bad).
If I had to choose, I’d say cat, but I love both cats and dogs very much and dream of the day I can have five of each.
Currently working my way through British pianist Stephen Hough’s book “Rough Ideas”, and enjoying it very much. It’s a fascinating insight into one of the most thoughtful and intelligent minds in classical music today.
I’m an avid gamer, and am the biggest Dungeons and Dragons nerd you will ever meet.