Skip to content

Centre for Stories

Hans Hug

"I didn't expect to experience such a difference in the culture of our two countries. Initially, in Australia, I was euphoric as everything had this lovely pioneering spirit of mateship and equality."

Generations of migrants have shaped the face of Fremantle, especially post Second World War when many Italians made their home in Australia. But as times change so too do populations and now a new wave of migrants are making their presence felt in the port city.Swiss Musician, Hans Hug, is the creator and director of the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra in which he plays the cello. Hans studied music in Florence where he met his Australian born girlfriend, and they later married in Switzerland. Hans migrated to Perth in 1988 with his wife and young daughter and settled in Fremantle. His love of music and the cello inspired Hans to persuade other musicians to join him in forming a band which later developed into the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra.

My wife Natalie and I settled in Fremantle in 1988 after first travelling around Australia meeting many of her relatives. Basically, I was following Natalie. She had left Perth at the age of eight with her family to Canada in 1967 as they were opposed to the Vietnam war. We met in Florence in 1979 where she was studying Italian and where I was also studying, following my military service. So when she returned to Toronto I visited her. The following year she came to Switzerland and we got married. Our daughter was born a year later. Natalie missed her family, of course, as they are very close. Therefore our plan was to come to Australia to live. It was a difficult decision for me as I come from an old Swiss family and it took time to get used to the idea. Because Natalie’s family lives in Fremantle, there never was another option about where to settle.

I didn’t expect to experience such a difference in the culture of our two countries. Initially, in Australia, I was euphoric as everything had this lovely pioneering spirit of mateship and equality.

But now I feel middle management and politicians have wreaked havoc with the stand on immigration, the treatment of refugees and lack of climate action. These are, I think, not only a stain but pure shame on this potentially wonderful country. But I am optimistic—there is more political awareness in these areas which is always a good sign for a change for the better.

For Hans, music and playing the cello has always been a very important part of his life.

Music is a big part of my life—although setting up an orchestra was never an intention of mine when I first arrived here. However, because I was used to playing in a professional orchestra in Switzerland and because there was no professional chamber orchestra in Western Australia at that time, I started up the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra (FCO). I co-founded a semi-professional orchestra in 2000, but as president I was knifed in the back too many times. So, in 2005 when Bob Sommerville suggested I organise a concert with guitarist Milica Illic, Rebecca Vouyoucalos and Grace Ah-Quee—who were two professional musicians with whom I did wedding gigs—I acted on his advice. The inaugural concert was a great success, so I kept going. It is a huge unpaid commitment as I do all jobs myself—marketing, recruitment, sheet music, programmes, finance, funding application—on top of a daily job, being with my family and practicing the cello. My reward is making great music.

Contacting and attracting musicians to the FCO was made easier by the Fremantle Herald and my wife Natalie who works there. The paper advertised the first concert. I had played chamber music with the really nice and fantastic Olivier-Philippe Cunéo, a conductor and violinist. He agreed to conduct for me and once Rebecca Glorie—who is one of the best violinists in Western Australia—agreed to play, other musicians signed up for the concert. We gather talented young professionals—advanced UWA and WAAPA students, ex-students, WASO casuals and freelancers. As far as I know, we are the only chamber orchestra providing performance experience to these budding musos, fitting in their time between WAYMA and WASO.

The Fremantle Chamber Orchestra mid-performance. Photograph by Roel Loopers

Photo: Roel Loopers

For every concert, I have to recruit a new orchestra—as I cannot pay musicians on an ongoing basis because of lack of funding. Actually, we have very little funding, so we often have a very small orchestra. We can only pay musicians a fraction of what the musician union rates are. Fortunately, there are private and corporate donors—but we are unique in that we exist on 90% ticket sales. We rehearse 3-4 nights in the week leading up to concerts.

Running an orchestra is never without its dramas. I remember one particularly disastrous event. A pianist from the eastern states contacted me because she wanted to perform with us. We agreed to this and informed her that she would perform Beethoven’s piano concerto “The Emperor”. A day before the concert, I went to the airport to pick her up but she wasn’t there. I had already paid her for the performance so she could buy the ticket. So, finally, I went to the Qantas desk to inquire. They weren’t allowed to say who was on the plane, but they told me she wasn’t on the plane and hadn’t bought the ticket. So, overnight we had to change the programme. We managed, of course, but even so, it was extremely inconvenient and very costly for us.

Although running the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra has been difficult at times, it has not been without it’s blessings. Hans reflected on the many inspiring people he has worked with over the years, one of which, is Dutch violinist Rudolf Koelman.

I consider myself very fortunate to have such a good and talented friend, Rudolf Koelman. Rudi is one of the world’s best violinists—if not the best—yet, he isn’t very famous. I met Rudolph in the early 1980s when I was studying at the conservatory of Luzern, Switzerland. I was walking through the underpass in front of the train station and heard this violin being played—how I had never heard a violin being played before. It was Rudolf, and he was busking. I pulled out a five Franc coin and threw it into his case. After that we became best friends.

Rudolf comes to Fremantle once a year to play with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra. He lifts the already decent standard of the orchestra to a much higher, international standard.

Rudolf is the winner of the prestigious Edison Classic Music Award 2010, the only violinist ever who recorded live all Paganini Capricci—the pinnacle of violin playing. Rudi has the ability to touch your innermost feeling from the first to the last note: you are blown away, taken on a journey of indescribable beauty. Rudolf comes to Fremantle once a year to play with the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra. He lifts the already decent standard of the orchestra to a much higher, international standard. The live recordings with him are stunning and have furthered FCO enormously by being broadcast on Radio ABC national Classic FM.

As every musician knows, the bigger the musical instrument, the harder it is to transport. Hans shares a jolly story of his experience bringing a cello through Australian customs.

Sometimes it can be a nightmare transporting a cello overseas. I have two cellos: the one I have played most of my life, which is a good cello, very straight forward—the more you work it, the more prominent it sounds. But about 15 years ago, I inherited my father’s beautiful Italian Cello. It is an amazing instrument, effortlessly prominent with amazing depth and clarity, but temperamental to play. When I transported the cello to Australia, I had a case specially built around it so it wouldn’t get damaged. It was made of wood, so of course I had it treated before bringing it into Australia. When I arrived at the airport check-in they refused to accept this package, the weight wasn’t the problem but the dimensions were. In the end they accepted it, but the next problem was on arrival in Australia. Customs wanted to know what the instrument was and how much it was worth. I satisfied immigration and waved the certificate of treatment of the wood in front of them before finally getting through.

Copyright © 2019 Hans Hug

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Back to Top