Brett Dean on his journey from Berlin Phil violist to full-time composer

clipboard_image

The Australian violist and composer on taking career risks and the unique insights that came from playing the viola in an world-class orchestra

I learnt the violin initially, but was taught by a violist in Brisbane called Elizabeth Morgan. She was my teacher for close to ten years and noticed at some stage that my character might be a good fit for the viola. She was absolutely on the money.

I felt more at home in the middle of a texture than on top of it. Later, while playing in the Berlin Philharmonic I had the feeling of being ‘in the engine room’, observing everything going on around me. Although I’d enjoyed pursuing my viola studies from a solo perspective, I felt most complete playing chamber music and then in the orchestra in Berlin – an experience that taught me so much about composing.

Germans like to use the English phrase ‘learning by doing’, and that’s exactly what was happening; I never studied composition, but in the midst of the orchestra I could hear what worked and why. Perhaps being a violist…

You are moments away from reading great content from The Strad

Register for FREE or Sign in to continue reading this article

Strad product montage

By registering you get:

  • Selected articles from the current issue of The Strad every month
  • Access to our ever-growing archive of features from past issues of The Strad
  • Our weekly e-newsletters with news, views and videos from the string world
  • To be part of the discussion by commenting on articles 
  • The latest exclusive offers from The Strad