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Chris Berensen was a seventeen year old pupil in year 11 at Normanhurst Boys High School, and in previous years had done work experience with ABC-FM morning show announcer Guy Noble, and with my colleague Ara Vartoukian, who runs the large North Shore piano dealership of Theme & Variations. He plays piano, organ and cello, but I think his real love might turn out to be harpsichord.
I first met Chris at the rehearsal for the Musica Viva Florilegium concert in November 1999. He’d won an innovative internet baroque composition contest which was a joint project of The British Council, ABC and Musica Viva Australia—part of his prize was an invitation to the open rehearsal to hear his piece performed live. It’s titled A Study of Concerto Grosso, and you can play the 150 second shockwave file from the previous link, as well as download the score of his work directly.
Chris was certainly keen to increase his harpsichord knowledge because the journey from his home in the far north of Sydney on public transport involved two trains and a bus, and took him about two hours each way.
Over the four days available in late May 2000, I think he got a good taste of the many skills involved in harpsichords, as well as running a small business. There were never any idle moments because the sound of Bach or Scarlatti always came from the showroom as he took every opportunity to experience the delights of the diverse instruments here, but it’s probably best if he tells you in his own words about the week:
I had a great time! I worked with Carey in his workshop for four days, where we worked on a keyboard of a new Flemish single from the ground up. I learnt from him some specialized woodworking techniques, harpsichord history and a little bit of harpsichord playing style.
Most of our schools I think run work experience programs like this, usually in year 10, where we discover (unpaid of course!) whether or not we’d like to chase a career in that particular field. Oh oh oh, I remembered just then, Carey also taught me how to tune a harpsichord in a baroque tuning style! That was fun and interesting…
Footnote July 2014: Chris entered first year BMUS at the Sydney Conservatorium as a composition major in 2002, then successfully auditioned to be accepted as a harpsichord major in 2003. For his recital in 2005, he made history as the first student at the Sydney Conservatorium to perform a concerto of his own composition. Prior to his marriage to soprano Hannah in January 2007, Chris kept busy with his own original instrument group La Folia, and entered the MMUS course under scholarship that year. Now, the couple live and work in Leipzig, where Chris is undertaking advanced studies with Nicholas Parle. Details can be found on The Berensens website.
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