Melbourne Cup Masthead

Dvořák: The Harry Potter of classical music

Jolene Laverty

There’s a long list of things that can be difficult to do when you have young kids.

Getting a full night’s sleep, getting to work without cereal in your hair, having a tidy house, and so on. Fairly high on that list would have to be ‘perform classical music at an elite level’ (or do anything at an elite level, really). Which is what makes Berlin’s Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt and Indira Koch (pictured) exceptional.

Schmidt and Koch are two of Germany’s finest instrumentalists. Their first-class ranking as musicians is made all the more extraordinary when one learns a little more about their personal lives. Both Schmidt and Koch are not only instrumentalists at the top of their game, they are also married and raise four children together (yes four, that’s not a typo).

The whole family are currently in Australia at the invitation of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Dr Nicholas Milton AM, who has invited both Schmidt and Koch from Berlin to perform as the soloists for the CSO’s ActewAGL Llewellyn Series, which Milton himself will conduct on August 17 and 18.

So, who are these impossible people?

Having had his dream to be a double bass player quashed by his very sensible parents when he was seven years old, Wolfgang Schmidt chose the next biggest stringed leviathan as his rebound instrument, and has gone on to be one of the world’s greatest cellists. His performance has received praise from some of classical music’s most recognisable names, including YoYo Ma who said “Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt proved himself to be a cellist of impeccable technique, poise and taste”. Roger Moore (aka James Bond) thanked him personally for his ‘wonderful music’.

Indira Koch plays violin, and has won many prestigious awards, including the New York International Artists Award and the International Music Competition “Città di Stresa”. She regularly performs around the globe, and has been a feature artist at music festivals in Japan, India, Switzerland, and South Africa. Together, the husband and wife duo tour the world with their four children (still not a typo) to headline some of the best music festivals around today.


The Schmidt and Koch family

Not surprisingly, the skill set with which Schmidt and Koch perform began in their own childhood, through positive exposure to live classical music. Schmidt describes the impact that one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century had on him as a seven-year-old boy.

“I remember that I listened to (Mstislav Leopoldovich “Slava” Rostropovich) performance of Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto… I had just started playing the cello, went backstage and wanted to get an autograph. He touched my head and said ‘You will be a great cellist!’. I refused to wash my hair for over a week! When my parents finally gave me a haircut, they put the hair in an envelope and I still have it”.

The last time they checked, the Bureau of Statistics found that over 20% of ACT kids learned a musical instrument.

An interesting follow-up study would be to look at the most successful techniques that parents and teachers employ to get their kids practicing. Indira Koch knows that these days it’s a lot more difficult to attract a kid’s attention, and so practicing should always be connected to fun. “Even for us, it is a challenge to have our kids practice on a regular basis. We try not to make it stressful, or seem like work. We also expose them to a lot of different types of music.”

Taking your teenager to a Canberra Symphony Orchestra event is not only a stellar way to bond with them far away from the distractions of digital technologies, it is also a wonderful chance to share with them that irreplaceable thrill that can only come from seeing live symphony music played by first-class musicians.

Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt

Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt

The upcoming ActewAGL Llewellyn Series presents an opportunity to deepen the love for classical music. Three pieces will be performed, beginning with one of the 19th century’s most influential operas. Nicholas Milton describes the opening of Weber’s Overture as “extraordinary and mysterious; but the dramatic tension quickly builds, unleashing the fire and drama of electric excitement.”

This piece could do for classical music what the Harry Potter books did for reading! This is then followed by Brahms’ unique Double Concerto, which introduces Schmidt and Koch to the stage with the orchestra. The Double Concerto has the cello and violin sometimes merge to become one voice, singing in soulful unison; at other times, they speak together in a duet of indescribable tenderness. The ActewAGL Llewellyn Series concert concludes with a symphony that was is one composed by the great Dvořák, and is considered one of his best- the seventh symphony.

Wolfgang Schmidt and Indira Koch will be in the foyer of Llewellyn Hall to meet their audience and fans, which is a fabulous opportunity to introduce your teenager to these celebrities of classical music. Just imagine, Wolfgang might pat your child’s hair, and they too could go on to be among the world’s greatest performers! Or at the very least, they might be a little more committed to practising their instrument.

the essentials 

What: The CSO ActewAGL Llewellyn Series – Dvořák
When: Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 August at 7.30pm
Where: Llewellyn Hall, Australian National University, Acton
More information and tickets: Click here:


Jolene Laverty

Jolene Laverty was born and raised in Darwin, but has lived in Canberra for most of her adult life. She spent close to twenty years in radio, which took her to the copper outback of Port Augusta to the sparkling aquamarine waves of the Whitsundays. Today she is a member of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra*, ANU student, wife of a high-school teacher/rock-musician, and mother to three children who were each born in a different decade. *not allowed on stage. More about the Author

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