Located in the inner-city suburb of Brunswick, Tempo Rubato is Melbourne’s newest and hottest destination for live classical music! Although the venue and bar only opened its doors on the 2nd of June, it has already garnered the attention of audiences and dogs alike (more on that later!). classikON’s Phillipa recently spoke to Tempo Rubato’s Georgina Lewis about the venue’s values and “vibe”, its role in supporting The Piano Project, and Matthew Fagan and Nicholas Young’s upcoming performance of España El Vito – The Spirit of Spain and Tango at Tempo Rubato.
classikON: Tell me a bit about how and why Tempo Rubato came to be.
Georgina: Tempo Rubato was founded and directed by Georgina Imberger. Although a doctor by trade, she lived overseas for a time and whilst there, was struck by how accessible classical music is in Europe. We’re very lucky in Melbourne compared to a lot of the rest of Australia, but still there’s almost a stigma about having to be in a concert hall and pay a lot of money in order to attend classical concerts. So she had a dream to open a classical music venue which would not only break down these barriers, but also welcome people of less privileged backgrounds. This is also the ethos behind her charity, The Piano Project, which sponsors free piano lessons for kids who have recently migrated to Melbourne. Georgina started running recitals around Melbourne in off-beat locations to raise money to pay the kids’ piano teachers. As a way of combining the desire to make music more accessible and to get a bit more financial sustainability for The Piano Project, she undertook the massive project of renovating the warehouse where Tempo Rubato is now located.
Can you tell me a bit about the “vibe” of Tempo Rubato? What can audiences expect of the “Tempo Rubato experience” when they go to see a performance?
The biggest aim for us is to be a place where people can feel welcome, no matter what their background is. We’re in a back street in Brunswick, and people sometimes just wander in off the street because they just happen to be going past and wonder what’s going on! As you walk in, there’s a bar – so people can just come in for a drink, which they do. In the back is our performance space, which is a very raw space – not a lot has been done to get rid of that gritty warehouse feel. This is a nice homage to the history of the building, which has had a variety of functions in the past: it was a tool library, and then an artist hub, which hosted big raves! Some people pop in and tell us that they recorded their first album here. We’ve tried to keep that really Brunswick feel about the venue.
Often at concerts I like just sitting at the back and people-watching: we really do get diverse crowds. Obviously, it can always be more diverse, but we have people of all ages, dressed in all kinds of ways. People have said it reminds them a bit of Berlin or New York – obviously as a venue, you really love those kinds of comments!
The feel is pretty laid back: people are free to wander in and out during the performance, and at Friday concerts, get a drink if they want to – that’s what we’re going for. We have dogs here sometimes too, which is awesome!
Let’s talk about Matthew Fagan and Nicholas Young’s upcoming performance at Tempo Rubato, “The Spirit of Spain & Tango”. Why should people attend?
Matthew Fagan is one of the most virtuosic and highly regarded guitarists in Australia, and I’m really looking forward to hearing him play! Nicholas Young is an incredible pianist, who actually gave our opening concert here, which was really special! He’s been such an amazing support and advocate for what we’re doing. These two are sure to create some magic together, given each of their musicianship, passion for what they do, and charismatic stage presence.
This duo will be just incredible – there’s not a lot going around like this. They’re both classically trained, but have then taken on this new genre and made this music completely their own with their arrangements of masterpieces by the likes of Isaac Albeniz, Manuel de Falla, Astor Piazzolla, Chick Corea and more… I’m really looking forward to it! I think particularly in this space, it will really come to life: it’s historically music of the streets, music for people to dance to, and this place is the kind of place where the audience probably could get up and dance if they wanted. I think it will be a really unique pairing – both in the sense of Matthew with Nicholas, and then the music with the venue. People will be able to feel like it’s a celebration, and kick back and have a really exciting night!
As we discussed earlier, Tempo Rubato helps to fund The Piano Project (all profits made go to the charity) – can you tell me a bit more about the program?
I’m lucky enough to teach with The Piano Project as well, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years. I’ve had some really beautiful students over the time I’ve worked with The Piano Project, and the thing I’m always struck by, as cliché as it is, is the way that music really does speak to everyone, no matter what their background might be. I’ve been amazed at how the kids respond to piano music – some of them might not have grown up with any exposure to piano music, depending on which country in which they grew up, but you can see the delight in their face when they start to realise they can play something quite complex with hands together, and that it sounds quite good! They’re always fascinated by the mechanism of the piano as well, and love looking inside at the physical moving parts that create the instrument’s beautiful sound.
One particular girl I was working with had a very natural musical skill. Her ability to express herself through language at times seemed compromised by the trauma she’d possibly undergone before leaving her home. But the minute she would sit at the piano, she would just find her flow: she would sing, and she learnt some nursery rhymes which she would sing and play. At the piano, it was like she was a completely different person. She just loved it, and would say at the end of lessons, “my heart is happy now”. Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to her because she moved to a different school, but I think I can say that those moments for her would have been a very safe time in a chapter of her life that would have been full of changes. For me, that’s the most meaningful side of the teaching.
I’ve also had kids who have really just taken it on, and really developed quickly, investing the time to practise piano at school in between lessons. They would surprise me every week with a new skill they’d learnt, or section of the piece they had hands together! It’s always amazing to see the motivation that they have when they’re given the opportunity to excel at something.
You can catch Matthew Fagan and Nicholas Young’s España El Vito – The Spirit of Spain and Tango at Tempo Rubato on Saturday 7th September at 7:30pm. The bar will be open from 6:30pm, with all of the venue’s profits helping to support the wonderful work of The Piano Project.