“Maybe the violin chose me,” muses Mary. ‘I’m a romantic at heart and quite sensitive. Growing up in New Zealand gave me a great love of the natural landscape, and I always felt this link between romantic music on the violin, and the natural world. I love the singing sound of the instrument too, so my choice reflects all these things.”
Mary grew up in Kaikoura, a small coastal town in the South Island dwarfed by spectacular mountains. Both her mother and her grandmother (who’d accompanied silent movies) played the piano. “There was always music at family occasions and I just picked up the piano because I was surrounded by pianists! In fact I grew up playing all the Beethoven Symphonies and Mozart Overtures with my sisters in arrangements for piano duet. Years later when I played them with the orchestra I thought ‘oh that’s how that was meant to go!’ But looking back it was an important part of my development.” The violin became the focus of her life when she was twelve. “I heard it and just fell in love with it.”
New Zealand’s National Youth Orchestra was a big influence in Mary’s teens. “I was about 15 when I got into the NYO and a regular member for six years. John Hopkins was my inspiration as he was for countless professionals in our orchestras. He encouraged us all to take up music and to come over to Melbourne for master-classes.”
The highlight of her years with the NYO was a six-week tour to China, Japan and England in 1975. Her partner on the fourth desk of the First Violins was Wilma Smith. “We were at University together in Auckland and I remember thinking what a great presence she had. She was always someone who would go a long way.”
Mary gained her Masters in Violin Performance at Auckland University, did two years further studies in New York and then passed an audition to join the West Australian Symphony where she stayed for seven years.
She’s played in the Second Violin Section of the MSO since 1989. “It’s something I tell people with great pride. It’s a really strong section with good leadership. We’re bang in the middle of this powerful force of musicians. I call it the beating heart of the orchestra.” She particularly enjoys the high standards of conductors the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra works with these days. “I remember when Osmo Vänska came and conducted Sibelius; music he obviously communicates from his heart.” Does she ever get emotionally involved? “Oh yes, very! I’ve had tears rolling down my cheeks in many of the Romantic things we’ve done.”
Aside from her musical adventures, Mary takes every opportunity to pursue her other passions – bushwalking and sailing. “One of the most amazing things I have done in my life is to crew on a 40-foot yacht from Melbourne to New Zealand! It took 14 days and we had some pretty rough weather, but on the last moonlit night we sighted land and sailed into Cape Reinga on the northwest tip of New Zealand just as the sun came up. I love being out in the elements, it’s a spiritual thing. I need it for my soul, like music.”
Were your parents/siblings musical?
Music came to me through my mother and maternal grandparents – one was a professional pianist, the other a conductor.
When was the last time you attended a concert as part of the audience?
Of the MSO? Last performance of Messiah. If I’m rostered off I like to go, it’s a tradition. Also chamber music/ quartet concerts.
What is your favourite piece of music?
Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.. I performed it early on in an International Youth Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abaddo in 1975!
When you do have time off, how do you relax?
Where do I start?! Travelling with my artist husband to all the big Art Fairs of the world – Venice, London, New York.
What are your other interests?
Bushwalking in New Zealand, sailing and playing bridge.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
A mountain climber.