Max Riebl seamlessly leaps from classical to contemporary styles

Listening to the bewitching contemporary-classical crossover talents of countertenor Max Riebl might cause anybody to lose track of time – his is a unique and captivating talent. 

For years he’s performed on the classical concert stage donning tails and tuxedos, touring his critically acclaimed show Hard To Handel. Now, with pianist Adam Cook, Riebl returns to Melbourne to continue his fearless pursuit of merging the vibrancy of pop music with the mastery of classical.

Appearing at Chapel Summer Sessions in February, Riebl has moulded a successful career for himself by merging his love for contemporary pop with his classical training, making him the perfect addition to the Summer Sessions lineup. His ingenuity is half the reason contemporary audiences are drawn to his performances. 

“It’s broadened [to] a totally different audience,” says Riebl. “I think it’s because we’re doing the classical thing in a really unique way, but adding to it a very Baroque take on contemporary music – something people haven’t really heard before.

“We were both quite tired of the way you have to present things in the classical world, and performing in spaces like Chapel Off Chapel where you can use sound and lighting and be really relaxed with the audience, is great.”

Everybody Riebl knows likes Baroque music, he says, even those who aren’t used to it, they’re just not given a chance to see it. Having performed in concert halls the world over, Riebl of course wouldn’t break out a little Morrissey in those venues, instead, keeping repertoire from Henry Purcell and J.S. Bach reserved purely for those occasions. 

Of course, Riebl executes those arias just as beautifully as he does his own renditions of Dusty Springfield, Kate Bush, Thom Yorke and London Grammar to name a few, when he’s inserted into a more relaxed environment. “I’ve heard classical crossover albums that haven’t worked,” says Riebl, “I think it’s because they’re too deeply set in their ways and don’t have an idea of how to be cool about it, to just be genuine.

“They try to be what they think contemporary artists should be and I think we’re just being ourselves, very much just sitting down and finding pieces that relate. It’s not like we’re putting on a karaoke performance.”

Riebl’s mission is to make people come to him – not try to please people forcefully, but to enter his world with as natural a state of intrigue as possible. Since 2011 when he began performing professionally, Riebl attests he’s not the black sheep either side of the fence, instead, he’s a chameleon, adapting himself to different genres and his environment. 

“When we were growing up we had so many different musical influences and I was interested in all of them. It came naturally to switch in and out of different characters,” Riebl says.

“I see different musical things as acting different roles. They’re not unrelated so I find it very natural making the switch between them.”

Looking at Riebl’s social media, you’ll find it’s full of nothing but touring announcements. Gracing the country with appearances for the bulk of the year, Riebl would agree there’s not so much a resurgence of interest in the fusion of music he performs, but a demand, and an ever-growing interest. “I’m carving out a home here,” he says, “But I still need to be able to find peace, like what this particular thing is. People need to be able to recognise what it is.

“It’s great doing those kind of shows here because I can be much more relaxed and I know the demographic.

“I’ve got great hopes for Australia. There are so many great musicians here and there’s a terrific variation in audiences.”

Max Riebl comes to Chapel Off Chapel for Chapel Summer Sessions on Saturday February 16. Tickets available via the venue website.