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Melbourne Symphony Orchestra celebrates First Nations

Composer, writer and soprano, Deborah Cheetham AO received a standing ovation at the MSO’s symphonic premiere of Eumeralla: A war requiem for peace. Photo: Laura Manariti

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is deeply committed to working side by side with Traditional Owners and increasing Australians’ experience of Indigenous cultures through meaningful, authentic and creative engagement. In 2019, the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, the company is undertaking a number of exciting projects which have language at their core.

Eumeralla: A war requiem for peace is a new work which tells the story of the Eumeralla Resistance War (1840–1863), a period in Victoria’s history which until now has been widely unknown. Written and composed by acclaimed Yorta Yorta soprano, composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera, Deborah Cheetham AO, Eumeralla is sung entirely in the ancient dialects of the Gunditjmara people. The concert also featured 19 original paintings by Gunditjmara artist Thomas Day, commissioned to accompany the performance and lend a visual telling of the Eumeralla story. Eumeralla’s symphonic premiere took place on Saturday 15 June 2019 and attracted a capacity, sold-out audience of 2,350 people, with 60% purchasing their first ticket to the MSO.

Making connections with Traditional Owners through its annual regional touring program, the MSO is also undertaking a unique project which will see the development of a musical Acknowledgement of Country for each of the 11 official Indigenous language groups of Victoria. Believed to be the first project of its kind in Australia, the MSO is currently working with Aboriginal Cooperatives or Traditional Owner representatives in each Victorian region to make a translation of their Acknowledgement of Country text. In partnership with Short Black Opera, the MSO will deliver a series of on-Country workshops with indigenous communities to develop a musical framework for the text. From this, Deborah will develop the musical composition. Once complete, the MSO will gift the sheet music and a recording of each musical Acknowledgement of Country back to each community. These compositions will have their on-Country premiere during the company’s regional tour in October and November 2019. The MSO is extremely grateful to the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Commonwealth Government through the Australian National Commission for UNESCO for their support of this important project.

Further projects are in development for 2020.

Artwork by Gunditjimara artist Thomas Day. Thomas’s works appeared in the symphonic premiere of Eumeralla: A war requiem for peace on Saturday 15 June 2019.