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Undetected Melodies: what ballet and classical music might give each other

Scene from Bach Partita (Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein center). Photo: Gene Schiavone

Some years ago, I heard a concert in which the work in the second half was a panoramic symphony, gripping in its almost-documentary sweep. It was preceded by a ballet which, to my mind, never quite got out of gravity’s pull. And it occurred to me to ask if there is a difference between conducting or playing for ballet and other sorts of conducting or playing, since the second half of this concert was so contrastingly effective.

That led me to other thoughts. ‘Am I right in thinking that the classical music critic will cover opera but rarely ballet?’ ‘Is there an unreasonable divide between classical music and dance?’

I also found myself wondering if ballet dancers hear music differently and how that might help a musician. Stravinsky spoke of choreographer George Balanchine finding ‘melodies’ in his music that he himself hadn’t suspected. And I noticed in a video of The Royal Ballet’s rehearsals of Alistair Marriott’s The Unknown Soldier, that leading dancer Matthew Ball counted what sounded to me like a series of 4/4 bars in a way that musicians would not: “And a 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9, and a 1-and 2-3-4-5, and a 1-2-3, and a 1-2-3…’. What was the relationship between these lengths and the phrasing? Do musicians need to care? And, given Stravinsky’s observation about Balanchine, might musicians benefit from acknowledging that the emotional content for the audience occasionally lies in something other than the sounds we normally listen to?

I’ve found that conceptions of ballet conducting itself often relate to the way it supposedly limits the development of a conductor’s repertoire. In a 2006 New York Times article entitled Dance Conducting: Good for the Nerves, if Not the Career, author Roslyn Sulcas quotes James DePreist, then head of conducting and orchestral studies at Juilliard, as saying, ‘If one presumes that one of the goals of becoming a conductor is to deepen your interpretation of the repertory…conducting for ballet does not do that, because it’s about suiting the dance and the demands of the choreographer.’ [1]

I wonder how unrewarding it might be to play this ‘suiting’ role. Or even if it’s a true reflection of the situation. Admittedly Sulcas is quoting DePreist to counter choreographer Peter Martins’ jesting ‘Conductors!…We are at their mercy’, quoted earlier in her article. But I guess if you’re conducting the same works in the pit for weeks and weeks, you may not have time to learn the standard concert repertoire (which is a problem only if standard repertoire is the ultimate satisfaction for a conductor).

But early in my research for this piece I kept coming across statements from the ballet world that refreshed my thinking about music. Australian dance critic Lee Christofis told me about the Queensland Ballet’s founder Charles Lisner helping his dancers ‘find the real shape of the music for the dance’. I loved the phrase and figured that such skill could easily be another tool in a musician’s kitbag. Working with dance must be good for something, I thought, being deliberately provocative.

Anthony Zediker, rehearsal pianist for American Contemporary Ballet and at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance told me that, ‘Playing for dancers forces me to realise that what I’m playing needs to have an element of leading the listener on. When I play for dancers, I need to have an element of groove the dancers can latch onto.’

Ormsby Wilkins, Australian-born Music Director of the New York-based American Ballet Theatre told me that he started out at the Australian Ballet initially as a rehearsal pianist and ‘used to play class every day. And I think over time you get to understand – almost by osmosis – how dancers themselves view music, how they hear it and what they need in terms of rhythm and spring. You need to understand how the dancers need that support. The important thing is to find that balance between obviously wanting the orchestral performance to be of the highest standard within the parameters of what’s going on, onstage. And you never want to lose the orchestra by spending too much time worrying about what’s going on, onstage.’

‘But playing for dance also helps me in how I think about music,’ says Anthony Zediker. ‘If I see a tempo marking at the top of the piece “minuet”, I have a picture of a step and a movement that goes along with that, so I play it a little more dancingly. There’s a lilt to it.

‘I feel very strongly that more classical musicians need to have this experience and this knowledge because, even if you take it all the way back to Bach – his French Suites, his English Suites, his Cellos Suites – so many of the famous pieces that he wrote were inspired by dance.’

Of course, this is talking about impulse, not programmatic portrayal such as you might find in an epic symphony. And ballet repertoire these days ranges to abstract canvasses, so to speak, while incorporating the old Russian-style storybook ballets. But if, as Zediker thinks, musicians could do with more of a sense of movement, how conscious of music are dancers?

‘I think dancers often get so caught up in what they’re doing physically and emotionally that sometimes in performance they disconnect a little bit from the music,’ says Ormsby Wilkins. ‘But there are dancers who always have that sound in their ear. They are listening all the time and being driven by that. ‘

By way of explaining what he means by needing an element that the dancers can connect with and latch onto Zediker says, ‘I actually improvise. If I play Bad Romance, they realise that I’m playing a Lady Gaga tune. They have no choice but to connect to that. It’s a little bit of my attempt to say, “Listen to the music! Listen to what the music’s doing.” If I can play something they actually recognise, it brightens up the room.’

Asked to name a dancer who is particularly musical, Zediker nominates Misty Copeland, principal ballerina of the American Ballet Theatre.

‘She’s always struck me as being naturally at one with the music,’ says Ormsby Wilkins. ‘I’ve conducted her in Swan Lake. You’re doing the White Swan Pas-de-deux which is a violin solo and the violinist – as much as you’ve rehearsed – will phrase sometimes slightly differently, take a little more time here, not so much there, and I’ve noticed always that Misty will go with that phrasing even it’s different from one night to the next. That’s a collaboration.’

As for choreographers, Wilkins compares Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet with John Cranko’s, ‘I always thought – they were both very good storytellers – that Cranko had an ability, in the pas-de-deux in particular, to hear the line of the music really well.’

Surely, I think, developing an ability to discern the musical difference between a Cranko and a MacMillan ballet will help a musician. But in fact I myself can think of an instance where I felt I discovered an eloquence beyond the music. To see Robert Bolle carrying the limp Copeland around at the end of MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and her subtle placements of foot, head or arms moves me more than Prokofiev’s great score ever has on its own. [2] An instance of ‘emotional content…lying in something other than the sounds’?

I’m reminded of something Australian conductor Brett Kelly said to me at the very outset of working on this article, about ‘a perfect world in which there would be an ‘“organic” interdependence between dance and music – with each element bending and stretching to achieve a perfect kind of synthesis.’ He admitted there are ‘[l]ots of possibilities between theory and reality though’, and it strikes me that the degree of collaboration is a sliding scale.

How does it relate to ‘suiting the dance and the demands of the choreographer’? And about that being a reason for not achieving a depth of repertoire?

I think of ABT’s guest violinist Charles Yang getting to play Bach’s great D minor Partita and choreographer Twyla Tharp at one stage asking him to align his own interpretation with that of Jascha Heifetz. When he turned to face the stage he realised that Heifetz’s chordal attack of a passage made more sense than his arpeggios given that Twyla Tharp’s dancers at this stage were jumping.

‘What credence do you give to musicians who might say that playing music for ballet or conducting for ballet inhibits a musician’s or conductor’s expression of their own creativity?’ I ask Lee Christofis. ‘I think that’s a furphy, frankly,’ he says. ‘Conductors and pianists in recitals will adapt music to the needs of the singer.’

Mention of Twyla Tharp’s use of Bach’s Partita in D minor also brings up the issue of ballet using pre-existing repertoire and whether music, that started life on its own, profits from such use.

Ormsby Wilkins mentions Las Hermanas (The Sisters) a ballet based on García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, which he’s just conducted in Sarasota, Florida. ‘It’s a real distillation of a full-evening play down to about 23 minutes, partly because choreographer MacMillan chose a piece of music that was only that long. He chose the Harpsichord Concerto of Swiss composer Frank Martin, who doesn’t get played much these days. Now you would think “What has that got to do with a Spanish subject about a mother who rules over five daughters in her house and declares seven years’ mourning because their father has died?” To me, it worked beautifully. When I watched it, I thought, “This music could have been actually written for the ballet.” And, for the ballet audience, it’s not music that would be particularly appealing. Just generally, it’s not easily digested at first hearing. However, there were people who saw these performances who loved that music.’ Live music benefitted from ballet in this case, I reflect. Frank Martin won adherents he otherwise might not have.

Does ballet benefit from live music? Perhaps dance does not do itself any favors when it uses pre-recorded music even if we can sympathise with its use out of economic necessity. As Roslyn Sulcas says in her New York Times piece: ‘For smaller-scale ballet companies and modern dance troupes, live music is a luxury for special occasions.’

As a musician, though, I feel disappointed if I hear that the company is using pre-recorded music. I realise now that I’m looking forward to a certain give and take between stage and pit. But Lee Christofis sees some advantages: ‘I would argue that dancing to a recording allows you the freedom to dance “through the music” – stretching a phrase, holding a pose longer, for instance, because you’ve absorbed the duration or a musical passage in many rehearsals….Furthermore, using recordings gives a choreographer access to a lot more music than just the standard rep.’ Mind you, this doesn’t counter James DePreist’s assertion in relation to conductors being able to deepen their own repertoire.

‘What we haven’t done,’ says Christofis, ‘is talk about commissioning. I think the music director of a ballet company can flex their muscles and indulge their own creativity and their sense of contribution to the artform (of music, not ballet particularly) by finding interesting contemporary choreographers and current composers who can work together. Gerard Brophy is very interesting to talk to about that. It was his curiosity about what Semele would be like, how the choreography would look, that was part of the impetus for him to accept The Australian Ballet’s commission.’ (Semele was first performed by The Australian Ballet at the Victorian Arts Centre in 2008.)

‘I think composers could really benefit from paying more attention to dance,’ says Anthony Zediker ‘because it will fill their imagination and it will flush out the catalogue of different tempos and feels, metres and images they create so that when they compose it’s not just music for music’s sake but music that could be in collaboration with something else. When I write for dancers I feel so much more engaged,’ he says.

Have I reached any conclusions? That there is a difference between conducting or playing for ballet and other sorts of conducting or playing? Consciousness of dancers’ needs can make a difference. ‘Is there an unreasonable divide between classical music and dance?’ Seems to be a fluid relationship, but perhaps one that deserves closer scrutiny. ‘Do ballet dancers hear music differently?’ Seems they can.

I haven’t discovered why the classical music critic will ‘cover opera but rarely ballet’. One critic I spoke to, Mark Swed, mentioned time constraints. But Lee Christofis says that once upon a time in the UK and Europe music and dance critics would review the same work, ‘especially where new music was involved. I loved reading both in Dance and Dancers published in London into the 1980s.’

The point is we get a whole other world of interpretation through dance. We may not be getting the standard repertoire in a concert setting, but we’re getting a realm of insight into all sorts of different music and sometimes into the standard repertoire (ABT has done nine ballets based on Brahms). We’re also getting a whole lot of different music we might otherwise never have listened to or which might not have even existed.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2019
Gordon Williams is an Australian-born writer on music based in Los Angeles.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/arts/dance/25sulc.html

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AnpPu7j6Dg&t=8860s (from 2’29”01”” mark)


MSO takes inspiration from Beethoven’s legacy in 2020

MSO Season Opening Gala: Beethoven 9, Circa and Cheetham

In 2020, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, taking inspiration from the composer’s legacy to create an artistic program that has innovation and collaboration at its core.

To open the year, and in a first-time collaboration between the MSO and Circa Contemporary Circus, ten world-class circus artists under the direction of Yaron Lifschitz will present Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy) in physical form, blurring the lines between movement, music, dance and theatrics.

On the same night, the Orchestra will also present the world premiere of Dutala (Star-Filled Sky) by MSO 2020 Composer in Residence, Deborah Cheetham AO. Deeply committed to working side by side with First Peoples and increasing Australians’ experiences of Indigenous cultures in meaningful, authentic and creative ways, this MSO commission draws on the soaring spirit of Beethoven’s Ninth, providing a uniquely Indigenous (and Australian) response to one of the world’s most recognisable symphonies.

In June, the MSO will participate in the Beethoven Pastoral Project, a global event led by the United Nations. Expanding on the MSO’s 2019 World Environment Day performance of Dr Allan Zavod’s Environmental Symphony, the MSO’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral, aims to raise awareness and inspire our audience – both in Melbourne and around the world through the concert’s broadcast – to take a stance on climate change.

To end the year, the MSO will present the world premiere of Nine, a co-commission by the MSO and the Philharmonic Society of London, the very group who commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth. Written by MSO Artistic Ambassador and Academy Award®- winning conductor and composer, Tan Dun, Nine provides a truly global perspective on Beethoven’s legacy, building a musical bridge between time and artistic virtuosity.

For the MSO, partnerships and projects such as those above represent the Orchestra’s commitment to the highest standards of artistic excellence, propelling the artform forward and driving significant musical experiences for its diverse and ever growing audiences.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performs opening concert at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre, West HQ

In collaboration with Australian artist David Campbell, the Sydney Symphony will perform the opening concert of the newly built Sydney Coliseum Theatre, West HQ with a festive themed concert.

The holiday season inspired program David Campbell with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Christmas at the Coliseum (12-13 Dec) marks the start of a two-year partnership between the two organisations. The Sydney Symphony will continue to perform several concerts at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre, West HQ over 2020, continuing to share music with broader communities.

“The Sydney Symphony has been performing in Greater Western Sydney and touring New South Wales for more than 87 years, and we are so excited to be taking this next step in bringing the best of orchestral music to more music-lovers at West HQ,” said CEO Emma Dunch.

“Together with the multi-talented David Campbell, conductor Nicholas Buc and the musicians of Orchestra, this inaugural performance signals a new era for music in Greater Western Sydney. West HQ will be a place to gather and celebrate the very best of the nation’s thriving arts and culture scene, and we are delighted to start the next chapter of our public service at this magnificent venue!”

The inaugural performance will feature festive favourites including Silent Night, Sleigh Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as well as showcase of songs from Campbell’s album Baby It’s Christmas, including the titular track, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and When My Heart Finds Christmas.

In 2020, the Sydney Symphony’s performances at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre, West HQ will also feature works from the classical repertoire, drawn from the 2020 concert season in central Sydney and feature the same internationally renowned artists and conductors; chamber music concerts and scores performed live to film round out the first year of the partnership.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra shares Australian arts with the world

MSO Artistic Ambassador Maestro Tan Dun leads the MSO at the 2019 Chinese New Year concert featuring Hanggai. Photo by Daniel Aulsebrook.

At the end of 2018, the MSO secured an international distribution agreement with UNITEL, a leading producer and distributor of classical music for TV, DVD and Blu-Ray, cinema and new media. Starting in Season 2019, a selection of eight MSO concerts were distributed via UNITEL to media outlets throughout Europe, America and Asia. The agreement — which compliments the MSO’s existing radio distribution agreement in Australia with ABC Classic — is for an initial 10-year period (2019–2029). Content shared with UNITEL in 2019 include the MSO’s Chinese New Year concert featuring Tan Dun and Mongolian rock legends, Hanggai; the symphonic premiere of Deborah Cheetham AO’s pivotal, Eumeralla: a war requiem for peace, sung in the dialects of the Gunditjmara people; and Sir Andrew Davis’s critically-acclaimed Stravinsky double-bill, Persephone and The Rite of Spring.

The MSO is the only Australian orchestra to be included in UNITEL’s highly selective stable of the world’s great cultural institutions, artists, festivals and orchestras which includes the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw, Orchestre de Paris and Statskapelle Dresden. For more than half a century UNITEL has been working with the world’s leading artists to capture on film great musical interpretations in landmark productions.

The MSO’s agreement with UNITEL supports the organisation’s international strategy to reach global audiences through multi-platform engagement which promotes Australian arts and expertise to the world. Additional international priorities include tours (most recently to the USA); annual learning and skills exchange programs, such as the partnership with the Government of the Special Region of Yogyakarta; and the development of co-commissions and artistic collaborations. Earlier this year, the MSO won the 2019 AustCham Australia-China Business Award for Business Innovation, Creative Industries and the Digital Economy. This award recognised excellence and innovation in forging meaningful connections and partnerships with China, and for the MSO’s ongoing commitment to developing artists and audiences.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on tour

Simon Lord, Director of Artistic Planning and Pinchas Zukerman

Recently, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Principal Artistic Partner, the violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman, returned home after a two week tour to China and South Korea. Since returning, many of us at the ASO have been reflecting on what it takes to tour a symphony orchestra internationally. Where lay the challenges and what are the benefits?


Touring a symphony orchestra of seventy musicians plus is an expensive undertaking and, logistically, a complex business. This trip was no exception and it was several years in the making. The initial spark of an idea came from conversations in 2017 at a conference in Guangzhou which Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello attended. Not having toured internationally for over a decade, ASO jumped at concert invitations from the Beijing Music Festival and the Tongyeong Concert Hall in South Korea. And so began the long discourse about dates, artists, repertoire, contracts and logistics. Things began to fall into place. Pinchas Zukerman’s absurdly busy diary had a window of opportunity which aligned with our potential concert date in Beijing. Then, with the expert help of our tour promoter, Liu Kotow International Management, other concerts came into the diary for Zhuhai and Shanghai. Seeking to raise the significant funds for this trip was a huge, and at times, seemingly impossible, mountain to scale. But climb the mountain we did, and, with support from the Government of South Australia, BHP and the generosity of several private donors, we were suddenly boarding the plane for the eight-hour flight to Guangzhou.


The musical benefits resulting from orchestral touring are many and various. Normally, for financial and practical reasons, most professional symphony orchestras’ schedules are limited to two or three performances per week. This allows little time for true immersion in the music. However, including the concerts in Adelaide last week, our musicians and Pinchas Zukerman performed the same repertoire eight times over a two-week period.  Through repeated performances in different concert venues, for different audiences, in different time zones, in sunshine or in rain, the ASO’s reading of Elgar’s Enigma Variations deepened immeasurably. This may be music which many performers and listeners regard as familiar, but orchestral touring breathes new life and fresh meaning into old friendships. Also, over the last two weeks, the ASO played in unfamiliar concert halls ranging from the good to the great. The hall is the orchestra’s instrument. Performing in different spaces presents new challenges as musicians’ listening skills are honed and performance strategies refined. Sonically, the orchestra matures.

Shanghai’s Symphony Hall is one of the great concert halls of the world. It was built in 2014, has 1200 seats and is home to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. The room is an intimate, exquisite space which boasts exemplary acoustics combining clarity, warmth and depth. Whilst the strong dynamic passages in the Finale of Enigma never sounded forced, the real revelation was in the pianissimos which uncovered previously unheard details. For the ASO’s third encore of the night our strings played the Larghetto from Elgar’s Serenade which ended in golden silence. As Pinchas Zukerman commented after the concert, many orchestral musicians never have the opportunity to experience such musical alchemy. This was a rare privilege.


And what benefits are there to be reaped away from the concert platform? In these times of uneasy global politics, cultural diplomacy is increasingly valuable in cultivating people-to-people connections. It may well be a cliché, but music is a universal language. In September, just before the ASO arrived in South Korea, the Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma played J.S. Bach’s solo Cello Suites in the country’s demilitarized zone at Paju, Gyeonggi Province near the North Korean border. Yo-Yo Ma proclaims that music can ‘build bridges, not walls.’

Performing music on the world stage away from home does build international bridges, but it also builds bridges within the orchestra. It develops an ensemble’s personality and builds its confidence. In Beijing, the ASO shared the platform with the virtuosic Gustav Mahler Chamber Orchestra and, in Shanghai, we rubbed shoulders with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. In such celebrated company, the ASO presented itself not only as a formidable ensemble but also as a powerful advocate for our state and country.


And there is an intrinsic social value. Taken out of its comfort zone, the whole ASO team embraced this adventure together. Whether it was scaling the Great Wall of China, rejoicing in the sublime beauty of Mozart and Elgar in Shanghai, or sharing a late night post-concert banquet of challenging crustacean delights in Beijing, these were formative, memorable times. Of course, even with the best laid plans, stuff happened: passports were mislaid, travel fatigue set in and one tricky outdoor performance venue presented some unwelcome surprises. However, with mutual understanding, flexibility and a bit of humour, the show went on and our tour went off. It is hard to attach a metrical value to the manifold social, cultural and political benefits of the ASO’s trip to China and Korea, but its artistic legacy will be lasting as, ultimately, we will hear it in the music-making for years to come.

Simon Lord: Director, Artistic Planning – Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Shirin Lim wowing the younger audience at the Beijing Music Festival

Queensland Symphony Orchestra supports young composers

Compose – Symphony for Tomorrow connects secondary school students with professional composers and performers, providing opportunities to improve students’ knowledge and skills in composition for orchestra. The program aims to strengthen ties between young people in schools and the QSO and encourages them in their aspirations to become composers.

Students from Brisbane Boys’ College, Mansfield State High School, and Brisbane State High School attended workshops with QSO cellist and composer Craig Allister Young before having their music performed by the full orchestra conducted by Gordon Hamilton in a public performance. Brisbane State High School students also worked on their song writing skills with musician Tyrone Noonan.

Brisbane Boys’ College student Sebastian Lingane was awarded a Certificate of Distinction giving him future mentoring opportunities and potential performance of a composition with QSO.

“When I first heard my piece played by the orchestra it was amazing to hear the piece come alive! Getting to work with Queensland Symphony Orchestra was an incredible opportunity.”  Stacey Weir, Mansfield State High School.

“The great thing about working with these students is they’re not biased by life experiences and other music, they’re hearing things for the first time. It’s great to hear them love music and start to create in this art form.”  Craig Allister Young, Program Director

QSO will develop the program further in 2020 and beyond, expanding to more schools and students across the State.

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s Northern Engagement Strategy

TSO maintains its commitment to being an orchestra for all Tasmanians with a Northern Engagement Strategy.

In 2020 the TSO will focus on deepening its engagement with Northern Tasmania through a structured, multiplatform program. Considering all key organisational areas from artistic presence, audience enjoyment and development through to community engagement, capacity building, learning resourcing and input into Northern Tasmania’s thriving local music activity, the TSO’s Northern Engagement Strategy will take the orchestra’s already active presence in the region to the next level, and represent its commitment to connecting with the whole state.

The TSO presents an annual concert season in Launceston parallel to its Hobart season, and the 2020 season will be the most varied yet. In response to a wide-ranging survey of both core Launceston-based TSO customers and a cross section of the broader community in Launceston, the TSO is presenting a family concert and popular programming including a ‘Last Night of the Proms’ performance and programs of Strauss and Mozart representing more traditional repertoire. The highly successful ‘TSO Live Sessions’ – aimed at developing new audiences – will debut in Launceston with a performance at the newly renovated Star Theatre.

In a landmark move, TSO will present only one free outdoor ‘Symphony under the Stars’ concert in 2020, to be performed in Launceston on February 22, with the Hobart version of the popular event indefinitely on hold. This move signifies the TSO’s commitment to Northern Tasmania, and funds formerly allocated to the Hobart performance will be utilised for activities in the North West.

In July TSO senior management visited Burnie and Devonport for a research mission, consulting widely with local leaders in community music and education, as well as focus groups with TSO customers. Thorough consideration of all aspects of the TSO’s contact with North West Tasmania considered concert offerings, regularity and customer experience, as well as community engagement, social needs and educational input.

A multitude of learnings informed a Northern Engagement Strategy, adopted by all levels of the organisation, to commence in 2020. A key tenet of this strategy is a new residency model for North West Tasmania, which will be piloted in 2020 ahead of a 3-year rollout. Consisting of masterclasses, workshops, value-adding to the buoyant local community music ecosystem and addressing areas challenged by socio-economic disadvantage and lack of music education resources, the TSO has identified the most meaningful ways to utilize its resources in the region, reinforcing one of its key strategic objectives: to be an orchestra for all Tasmanians.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s exciting opportunity for emerging conductors

Carlo Antonioli and Thaddeus Huang

Every year the West Australian Symphony Orchestra nurtures a new generation of young and emerging artists, assisting them in finding their pathway into the profession and helping to secure a bright future for music in Australia.

WASO will invite West Australian-based musicians to be part of the inaugural Emerging Conductors program in 2020 as part of the Young & Emerging Artist program which identifies, supports and promotes talented young Australian musicians.

The program will provide a rare opportunity for up to four talented aspiring conductors to gain coveted experience in 2020 working with WASO’s Assistant Conductor Thaddeus Huang and gaining access to WASO rehearsals and concerts.

Successful applicants will enjoy masterclasses with Thaddeus, be offered access to WASO concerts and rehearsals and attend and observe the Assistant Conductor’s workshops with Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and the orchestra. Participants will also attend information sessions with the orchestra’s Artistic Planning team to gain experience, insight and understanding of the workings of a professional orchestra.

This exciting opportunity also marks the beginning of Thaddeus’ year as Assistant Conductor for WASO, joining Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser Asher Fisch with WASO for an exciting 2020 season.

“It’s a huge honour, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to begin this next step in my career than with the beautiful musicians of WASO. I’m absolutely thrilled for the opportunity to work with Asher and can’t wait to join the rich music culture of Perth (and see our country’s best beaches for the first time!)” – Thaddeus Huang.

Successful applicants of the Emerging Conductors program will gain invaluable experience that could lead to a very rewarding conducting career.

SSI services and products 2020

In response to a changing arts ecology, Symphony Services International (SSI) has restructured to ensure relevance into the future and to create efficiencies for its Member orchestras – the six state symphony orchestras. From 2020, SSI will offer key services to orchestral music organisations and artists within the small to medium sector as well as for its Member and Associate orchestras.

Services offered to the general public on this website will remain available for the same excellent prices.

If you have a query about any of these services, please use the relevant links to contact staff.

Expression of interest: CSO Arts Leadership Position


Reports to CEO
Part-time position based in Canberra
Salary $80,000–$90,000 plus super, pro rata

An opportunity has arisen for a creative, motivated and inspiring arts professional to join the CSO as part of its artistic leadership team. Working in collaboration with an internationally engaged artistic advisor and conductors, this new Canberra-based role will be focused on planning and delivering a coherent artistic vision across the CSO’s suite of programs for the next stage of the organisation’s development.

Learn more

SSO shares more experiences with music-lovers in regional communities

Photo: Brooke Tunbridge

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra continues its commitment to providing regional communities with access to music through its latest partnership with the Sydney Coliseum Theatre at West HQ, Rooty Hill.

Launching a three-year residency, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will share the best of live orchestral music with the Greater Western Sydney community. Kicking off in December 2019, musicians of the orchestra will feature alongside Australian artist David Campbell in festive-themed performances as part of the venue’s opening week.

Other performances at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre will include live symphonic favourites of the classical repertoire with internationally renowned guest conductors and artists, new ways to experience blockbuster movies with live orchestra, and special concerts featuring great Australian artists.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has an extensive history of sharing music with regional communities, performing in Greater Western Sydney and touring New South Wales for more than 81 years. The partnership with the Sydney Coliseum Theatre recognises and celebrates the thriving arts and culture scene, and continues the orchestra’s dedication to sharing experiences with music-lovers in this part of Sydney.

Through a partnership established in 2018 with the State Library of New South Wales, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has now livestreamed six concerts from the Sydney Opera House to regional libraries and conservatoria across the state, bringing communities the opportunity to experience music of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the same time it is experienced by audiences in the Concert Hall.

In 2020, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will double its regional performances, and bring its popular Family Events – concerts designed to engage young minds in music – to Chatswood Concourse.

A broader spread: Repertoire in US orchestral seasons next year

Disney Hall. Photo: Carol Highsmith. Source: United States Library of Congress.

2019-20 seasons are about to begin in the States so I thought I’d browse US orchestral brochures to see what I might want to go to. I once joked to the artistic administrator of an Australian orchestra that devising orchestral programs could be done with three spinning-wheels labelled ‘overture’, ‘concerto’, and ‘symphony’, each containing 25 standard works. But maybe that was a particularly dark period, or I was in a particularly dark mood, and things have changed.

I guess I’m most interested in repertoire since that’s where the face of the field alters. And I can’t pretend to have produced a scientific paper. This really is, still, just ‘a letter from America’.

I’ve often considered the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s the most enticing programs (which is handy since I live 20 minutes from Disney Hall). Next season doesn’t disappoint. For the orchestra’s centenary, the current and two former Music Directors Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen feature in programs that play to their strengths. Dudamel will conduct Beethoven’s Ninth (I guess you can’t overlook it) but it will be paired with a new work by Mexican composer, Gabriela Ortiz. Salonen conducts programs covering music of the Weimer Republic which includes a collaboration with director Simon McBurney and his brother Gerard on music-theatre by Hindemith (Murderer, the Hope of Women) and Kurt Weill (The Seven Deadly Sins). Mehta will conduct Mahler’s Second. For the Centennial Birthday gala, there’s even a newly-commissioned work ‘for three conductors’ from Daniel Bjarnason (and Lutosławski’s Fourth Symphony, a Philharmonic commission, which was premiered in 1993 and, incidentally, performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra soon after, in 1994.)

New star, Susanna Mälkki will conduct four programs. Dudamel and jazz legend Herbie Hancock co-curate a series called Power to the People!, which includes Terence Blanchard’s music for the films of Spike Lee, and the West Coast premiere of a Philharmonic commission, another music-theatre piece called Place, by Pulitzer Prize-nominee Ted Hearne. It’s part of the Green Umbrella contemporary music series. Even when programs veer toward the conservative there is often something to spice them up. Dudamel will conduct Dvořák’s last three symphonies paired with another composer who drew on the folkmusic of his homeland, America’s Charles Ives. Oh – did I forget? – they’re also doing Schoenberg’s hyper-cantata Gurrelieder. Given Mehta’s presentation of Mahler’s massive Resurrection Symphony early in the season, I guess the LA Phil is heeding Sam Goldwyn’s maxim ‘to start with an earthquake and build to a climax’ (though in terms of lived life, I’m glad we’ve gotten past that recent fortnight of constant tremors where I felt the apartment was more like a houseboat on Broken Bay.)

There is one orchestra in the US that has done more than any other to build repertoire and that is the Boston Symphony, on the other side of the country or ‘back East’, as older Californians say. From the orchestra which gave the 20th century Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, comes rather more commissions than usual. They’ll be doing works by, among others, Betsy Jolas, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee, Arturs Maskats and, in a program celebrating African-American composers, Uri Caine (The Passion of Octavius Catto), though that’s not a commission. As well, as Tony Fogg Boston Symphony Director of Artistic Planning told Brian McCreath on WCRB: ‘We’re on the home stretch of our Shostakovich symphony project’. They’ll be performing Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony and Symphonies Nos. 12 and No.2, a symphony the BSO has never done before! I suppose Shostakovich cycles have become de rigeur in the past 30 years (the repertoire edges forward), but the BSO has also extended celebrated composer Thomas Adès’s partnership and climaxes their three-year alliance with Leipzig’s Gewandhausorchester with a program that features soloists from both orchestras and demonstrates the combined strength of both ensembles while leaning away from ‘the specific tradition of either’.

STRAUSS Festive Prelude
HAYDN Sinfonia concertante (two soloists from each orchestra)

SCHOENBERG Transfigured Night
SCRIABIN Poem of Ecstasy

These sorts of partnerships and residencies might be a feature of northern hemisphere traffic. In Australia, orchestras go up to Asia.

I also looked at the programs of some of the other big orchestras. You could expect that the New York Philharmonic under Jaap van Zweden would do special things. Their brochure says, ‘One of the most beloved and revered composers, Gustav Mahler took the subway to work at the New York Philharmonic, where he served as the tenth Music Director between 1909 and 1911. This season, the Philharmonic invites New Yorkers to get acquainted with their fellow straphanger through Mahler’s New York, featuring his first two symphonies, the one-night-only Mahler Grooves concert, a walking tour of Mahler’s New York, and more.’ In some ways, Mahler’s New York is just a rubric to cover a bundle of regular concert formats, but 2019 also sees the beginning of Project 19, where works have been commissioned from 19 women composers to mark the centenary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the US constitution: ‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.’ Among composers in the 2019 instalment of this project are Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Reid, Pulitzer Prize-nominee Tania Léon, Nina C. Young, Joan La Barbara, and Nicole Lizée.

It feels to me that the Chicago Symphony is the only one of the orchestras I’ve canvassed so far to really headline the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. They’re performing all nine symphonies, sometimes in ‘all-Beethoven’ concerts that I dare say will sell well. At first I thought Cleveland looked conservative – Schubert’s Third Symphony paired with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Act I – but then, looked closer: Mahler’s Fifth paired with a work by Olga Neuwirth, Brahms’ Third Symphony balanced with Thomas Adès’s Piano Concerto (and it’s the Bach suite that is not part of the Friday morning repeat concert), and John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, which was written to commemorate the lives lost on 9/11, is paired with Mahler’s Fourth and its child’s glimpse of heaven. The orchestra will perform works by Mary Lou Williams, George Antheil, William Grant Still, Ernst Krenek, and Erwin Schulhoff, among others. The Cleveland Orchestra is even playing a work by Michael Tilson Thomas, better known as the most recent Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.

People in the US often think of their orchestras in tiers. There’s the big five (or six or seven, I’ve always found it expands and contracts depending on where you’re standing or who you’re talking to) and then argument about where the others fit.

I had an expectation of finding more conservative programs in smaller centres but must admit that as far as I went on this survey, I didn’t do so well in confirming my prejudices. The Buffalo Philharmonic celebrates JoAnn Falletta’s 20th anniversary as music director in a season which sees them performing the Violin Concerto of Danny Elfman (of Batman and The Simpsons fame), and a co-pro with the Irish Classical Theatre on Midsummer Night’s Dream. Occasionally the Houston Symphony Orchestra offers more conservative line-ups as compared to, say, Los Angeles or Boston but even there I notice that there are slight tweaks to the repertoire – Stravinsky’s rarely-performed Scherzo fantastique to flesh out an all-Stravinsky  program for example, or Mexican composer Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonía india to provide a more unusual addition to an Americana program of Gershwin and Copland. Even a program called Mendelssohn & Mahler brings together rarer works from both these composers – Mahler’s song-cycle Das klagende Lied in the first half followed by Mendelssohn’s Goethe setting, The First Walpurgis Night in the second. And, once again, there are composers I’ve never heard of – Gillaume Connesson, Jimmy López Bellido, Outi Tarkiainen.

The Kansas City Symphony’s opening weekend looks par-for-the-course – Sibelius’s Finlandia, Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and Smetana’s ‘Blaník’ from My Country, but then there’s the world premiere of Daniel Kellogg’s The Golden Spike, one of two Kansas City Symphony commissions for the season. Not all programs exhibit the sort of sophisticated concept you find with bigger orchestras, but there’s still a broadening of the repertoire. And then there is mention of Beethoven. ‘Beginning January 2020,’ writes Kansas City Music Director Michael Stern, ‘we’re celebrating 250 years of Beethoven!’ I see a Beethoven work in each program from then (even as short as the Romance in G) but interleaved with interesting commentary such as Louis Andriessen’s work for orchestra and ice-cream vendor’s bell, The nine symphonies of Beethoven and Kevin Puts’ Inspiring Beethoven. The Orchestra also celebrates the 100th anniversary of Stern’s father, Isaac.

Apart from the quite spectacular commissioning of the big orchestras and the great variety of works on offer, a lot of the seasons look very similar to what Australian orchestras would present, with operas in concert (Cleveland will do Alban Berg’s Lulu, in association with a host of Cleveland institutions; Houston will do John Adams’ El Niño) and films with live orchestras. The Kansas City Symphony is presenting Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Mary Poppins, and Pirates of the Caribbean, the Colorado Symphony is doing live screenings of Fantasia, The Goonies, Love Actually and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. American orchestras have always had a healthy attitude to popular repertoire and world music. I note that in LA, subscribers are invited to Ravi Shankar’s 100th anniversary by his daughters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones.

But, as I wrote, some of the orchestras have incredible commissioning programs. The BSO’s commissioning history has informed an opening gala which avoids Beethoven’s Ninth or half a dozen more-obvious opening statements. Dutch duo-pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen perform Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto. This is followed by Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy – okay, it was a sketch for the Ninth. But then a new work from Eric Nathan, and ending with Poulenc’s Gloria, another BSO commission from an earlier time. The whole affair is a demonstration of the orchestra (Nathan’s piece is a ‘concerto for orchestra’), its history and its resources in, say the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. ‘It touches on our great tradition of performing French repertoire,’ says Tony Fogg in that KCRB interview, ‘our wonderful history of commissions.’ Plus, he mentions that ‘Beethoven’s name is the name that stands above the proscenium of Symphony Hall, so it [the concert] really does speak to many dimensions of the orchestra.’

Composers (left to right): Nicole Lizée, Daniel Kellogg, Gabriela Ortiz


But who are all these composers I’ve mentioned? To touch on a few: Betsy Jolas was born in Paris in 1926 into a family whose circle of friends included Hemingway and Matisse. She studied in the US and back in France with Milhaud and Messiaen. Although familiar with the work of Boulez and Stockhausen her work has been tempered by her ‘passion for the voice and its expressive qualities’ according to Groves’ Dictionary of Music and Musicians which also says, ‘Another distinctive feature of Jolas’ music which crystallized during the 1960s was her approach to rhythm and metre. Taking her inspiration from both Debussy and Lassus, she “unlearnt” the traditional musical demarcation of time into strong and regular beats.’ Eric Nathan is the New England Philharmonic’s Composer-in-Residence. ‘The music of young American composer Eric Nathan would seem to be as diverse as it is arresting,’ says San Francisco critic, Joshua Kosman reviewing Nathan’s disc, Multitude, Solitude. Tania Léon is a Cuban-American composer who also conducts and plays. She was the first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. ‘With her involvement as musical director for The Wiz on Broadway, Godspell and the music theatre works of Robert Wilson during the late 1970s and early 80s,’ says Groves, ‘León’s compositional style absorbed American influences such as jazz and gospel. In the 1980s she began to incorporate textual and rhythmic elements from her African and Cuban cultural heritage alongside contemporary classical techniques…’ Jimmy Lopez Bellido is the Houston Symphony’s Composer-in-Residence. But then there’s Gabriela Ortiz, Daniel Bjarnason, Uri Caine, Ellen Reid, Daniel Kellogg… A digest of next-year’s commissioned composers could be a separate survey.

Basically, orchestras have broadened their options these days. Of course, America is a well-populated diverse country and American orchestral offerings may reflect a broader spread, but maybe orchestral offerings are altogether better these days. I might have to give my spinning wheels one last spin and then chuck ‘em.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2019


Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Appalachian Spring

In April the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra used Aaron Copland’s ballet score Appalachian Spring as a catalyst for creating a new music-and-dance work under the guidance of internationally acclaimed Creative Director and guest artist Paul Rissmann, choreographer Carlie Angel and three ASO mentors.

Over the six days of the project 20 secondary students (14 music, 6 dance) from South Australia worked intensively toward creating a new performance piece in response to Copland’s masterpiece. The addition of dancers this year to choreograph and perform to the music that is composed during the week is an element that has not been included in any of these projects in Adelaide in the past.

The work was showcased by the ASO alongside Copland’s original ballet score in a concert on the evening of Thursday 18 April in Elder Hall.

The ASO believes investment in pre/primary school-aged children is crucial and our structured learning programs offer children positive and inspiring experiences with the arts at an early age.

The ASO’s family and learning program in 2019 includes Who Needs a Conductor anyway?, Dreams of Air and Flight, Teachers Symposium, The Bush Concert, Appalachian Spring Project, Rehearsals Unwrapped, Little Maestros, Earth Wind and Fire and Giddy Goat.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra celebrates international Make Music Day

Egyptian-Australian oud player Joseph Tawardros

On Friday 21 June at 7pm, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will celebrate international Make Music Day with a free, global livestream of its Music of the Oud concert, featuring Egyptian-Australian oud (Egyptian lute) player Joseph Tawardros, live from the Sydney Opera House.

Originally launched in 1982 as Fête de la Musique in France, Make Music Day is an annual global event which sees music-lovers in more than 1,000 cities in 120 countries come together to celebrate music. In 2018, the SSO led the nation’s first international Make Music Day event with a free global livestream of its Verdi’s Requiem concert, experienced by people in over 70 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, France and Japan.

The Music of the Oud livestream will be available via the Sydney Symphony Orchestra website for music-lovers around the world to join in with Australia’s celebration of music.

In partnership with the State Library of New South Wales, the livestream will also be shared in regional libraries across the state. Communities who would otherwise be unable to enjoy music with the Orchestra will be able to experience live symphonic music in real-time alongside audiences in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

The Music of the Oud livestream is one of several ways that the SSO is ensuring that regional communities have access to music. In addition to its annual regional New South Wales tours in which the SSO travels and performs in regional towns, the Orchestra recently announced a three-year partnership with the soon-to-be opened West HQ Sydney Coliseum Theatre in Rooty Hill, New South Wales. The Orchestra’s commitment to performing at the newly launched arts space will offer Greater Western Sydney the opportunity to experience live symphonic music, and allow musicians and audiences to forge greater connections through music.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra visits regional Queensland

Photography by Photopia Studio

Delivering on its commitment to bring quality music education and concert experiences to regional Queensland, 14 musicians from Queensland Symphony Orchestra visited Gladstone during May to perform with more than 300 local high school and primary school students in the GEM Community Concert.

This was QSO’s eighth year performing in Gladstone and the fifth Community Concert at the Gladstone Entertainment and Convention Centre. In an exciting debut, it was the first year the event has included the High School Percussion Ensemble and the Primary School Choral Ensemble, which involved students from 11 local primary schools.

Featuring in the free showcase concert at the Gladstone Entertainment and Convention Centre was the Combined Primary Schools Choral Ensemble, Gladstone String Ensemble and Combined High School Percussion Ensemble, Concert Band and Symphonic Band.

A highlight of this sold-out concert was the Orchestra’s performance of an arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero, featuring all the musicians as soloists.

Photography by Photopia Studio

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s landmark Australian music project

This February, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra undertook a major and historically significant Australian music recording project, a double CD recording of the orchestral works of the Olympic gold-medal-winning oarsman, noted pianist, deeply gifted composer and WWI soldier Frederick Septimus Kelly (1881-1916), who has been described as ‘Australia’s most important cultural loss of the Great War’. This will be the first time his orchestral and large-scale works will be heard.

The upcoming release will feature seven world premiere recordings as well as the TSO’s recording of Kelly’s Elegy for Rupert Brooke, a piece which since its recent rediscovery has been widely acknowledged as a masterwork and performed around the world.

Four of the works were written during his war service — the Elegy for Rupert Brooke in the trenches at Gallipoli, the two Preludes during his training in the UK and subsequent voyage to Gallipoli on the troopship Grantully Castle, and the Somme Lament which was written two weeks before his death at the Battle of the Somme on 13 November 1916.

Two other works date from the eve of war: his orchestral version of his song Aghadoe dates from 1914 and his Monograph 16 was written in 1913, premiered in 1914, and revised until 1916 — his diaries record that he played it often during the war whenever he could find a piano.

The TSO recording is conducted by Benjamin Northey and features Christina Wilson (soprano) and Andrew Goodwin (tenor). It was produced with funding assistance from the ANZAC Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and will be launched in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne in November, with a performance from a TSO ensemble at the Canberra event.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra helps keep the Noongar language alive

WASO in Karijini – Photo supplied by WASO

Koorlangka is described as ‘a modern take on ancient music’, with all songs performed in Noongar language. A one-hour suite of lullabies and traditional stories exploring the theme of children and legacy, these thought-provoking and beautiful works delighted everyone in their debut at the 2019 Karijini Experience.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s string quartet of Assistant Concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith, Principal 2nd Violin Zak Rowntree, Elliot O’Brien (viola) and Nick Metcalfe (cello) performed alongside writers Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. Russell Holmes (piano), was additionally responsible for the exquisite arrangements of the works. Many of these songs were inspired by the visit made by Gina and Guy to last year’s Karijini Experience.

Koorlangka was performed again on Monday 3rd June at the Denmark Festival of Voice, continuing WASO’s delivery of beautiful music to regional areas of Western Australia.

Koorlangka will be further developed and performed as part of a variety of programs with WASO’s Education Chamber Orchestra in October and November, and then in a full symphony orchestra performance as part of the 2020 Perth Festival.

We would love to share more of our journey alongside the evolution of Koorlangka and the exciting developments across chamber and full orchestra performances. Stay up to date with all of our activities by joining our SymphonEnews list here or follow us on Facebook.

Opera in the Gorge – Photo by Base Imagery

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.

2018 Annual Report

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Versatile And Mobile: Hallmarks Of Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s success

MONA/Rémi Chauvin

Orchestras like to be known and loved by the communities they serve. Happily, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is held dear by the people of Tasmania. Statewide surveys routinely demonstrate that nearly 90% of Tasmanians take pride in their symphony orchestra.

While not necessarily large by Australian standards, the state of Tasmania nevertheless poses significant geographical challenges to an orchestra keen to make a statewide imprint. The 47-piece TSO offers an annual concert season in the capital city of Hobart (featuring a standard repertoire of symphonies, concertos and the like), a more compact season in the smaller city of Launceston in the north of the state, and one-off concerts dotted around Tasmania.

In February this year, a chamber orchestra drawn from the TSO performed in the small communities of Longley (pop.234) and Triabunna (pop.875). Part of the TSO’s Live Sessions series of concerts – an innovation born in 2016 whereby an eclectic repertoire (Baroque to bluegrass) is played in non-traditional venues such as pubs, barns and sheds – the concerts reached capacity and wildly appreciative audiences. The Longley concert (which attracted an audience more than twice the size of the entire village!) was staged in a hotel beer garden; the Triabunna concert in a cavernous, decommissioned woodchip mill. Data collected from both concerts indicates that more than 60% of the audience was new to the TSO.

The orchestra went ‘on the road’ in March with performances of Peter and the Wolf in Launceston, Scottsdale (pop.2,373) and Franklin (pop.373). Once again, audiences turned out in force. The Peter and the Wolf concerts in Launceston and Scottsdale formed part of this year’s Ten Days on the Island festival. Ever versatile, the TSO welcomes opportunities to collaborate with organisations such as Ten Days. In January, the TSO performed in this year’s Mona Foma festival in Launceston (photo above), cementing still further the orchestra’s ongoing association with the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), in Hobart.

For more information, visit tso.com.au

To ‘have a piece of my true self onstage’ – diversity in recent opera and orchestral music

J’Nai Bridges as Kasturbai in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Satyagraha.” (Photo: Cory Weaver / LA Opera)

My inspiration for this article came from a blog on the Los Angeles Opera website headed Seven Black Opera Singers Who Are Currently Dominating The Game. The blog cited folk such as mezzo J’Nai Bridges seen recently in LA Opera’s Satyagraha, Russell Thomas who has recently finished a season as Titus in Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, and bass Morris Robinson, the former gridiron lineman who played the Grand Inquisitor in LAO’s Don Carlo last September.

The blog also mentioned Taylor Raven, Janai Brugger, Lawrence Brownlee, Pretty Yende, and John Holiday, and could have added Issachah Savage, who sang in Verdi’s Requiem in Melbourne last week, and others. Then I thought of Hispanic singers such as Ana María Martínez and the Korean-American soprano, Kathleen Kim.

Not long after seeing that blog, I read an interview with incoming Australia Council CEO, Adrian Collette which headlined the sentiment that ‘arts companies that ignore diversity are “out of touch”’.[1] It made me want to dig a little deeper into how America is going in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and think about how it might be relevant to the situation in Australia.


At first I assumed that opera was streaks ahead of orchestral music in this area. That was partly a result of having seen several of those singers onstage, and Kim in a stunning YouTube video that I forwarded to just about everyone I know where she sings ‘I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung’ from Nixon in China.[2]

And I could instantly think of ‘diverse’ subject matter in recent US opera – Yardbird, about Bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker, Anthony Davis’s forthcoming Central Park Five, about the five non-white youths whose wrongful convictions for a 1989 rape were vacated in 2002 (but not before Donald Trump famously took out newspaper ads calling for the death penalty). I thought of the Bright Sheng/David Henry Hwang adaptation of the greatest Chinese novel, The Dream of the Red Chamber, and even of Pacific Opera Group’s April co-production (with Houston’s Opera in the Heights) of Madam Butterfly in Japanese and English, the languages the characters would actually have spoken. If American opera automatically dramatises American stories, I thought, American opera will be diverse.

I even had a feeling that I’d read somewhere an explanation for the greater involvement of African-Americans in opera as opposed to instrumental music, crediting church and school choir for the gravitation toward operatic singing. When I interviewed soprano Malesha Jessie Taylor she told me that what got her interested was attending a public high school in Claremont, California, where she sang in the madrigal choir, chamber choir and musical theater chorus. ‘I loved to sing already. That was just natural talent. And I learned that I had a good voice for singing classical music. My choir director gave me my first aria and I started taking lessons and did Elijah and that was my introduction.’ Since then Malesha has created ‘Guerilla Opera’ in Brooklyn and San Diego, performed the role of Annie in Porgy and Bess in the Francesca Zambello filmed production with San Francisco Opera, and appeared with the Boston Pops, American Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Pacific Symphony, among others. (Her TEDx talk What Do You See? gives an account of her project to free people from the notion that African-American people don’t sing opera.[3])

So, with those impressions, I phoned Jesse Rosen, the CEO of the New York-based League of American Orchestras, the American orchestras’ peak advocacy body, to get a sense of what US orchestras are doing in this field. For a start I found myself revising my presumption that opera is streaks ahead. The League’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (‘EDI’) Center provides resources designed to help orchestral administrators better understand and create deeper connections with their community. But there were two concrete initiatives in particular I started to discuss – the National Alliance for Audition Support whereby applicants gain assistance to attend auditions, and the Catalyst program.

Talking to Jesse Rosen

I asked Jesse how Audition Support came about. ‘We held a lot of meetings’, he said, ‘and one of the questions we were asking was “What are some of the barriers to greater diversity in US orchestras?” and practically the first thing everyone said was “the cost of auditioning”. Then following the cost was the need for mentoring and coaching and following closely on the heels of that was the need for preparation and time to prepare because many people who are auditioning are freelance musicians and need to take every job that’s offered to them which makes it very difficult to prepare. That led us to think, “Well we could defray the cost of auditioning, and there’s no shortage of people who can provide mentorship and coaching.” That really was the premise – let’s try to remove those barriers, with no illusions that this was the entire scope of what needs to be done. And it’s an appropriate place for orchestras to invest because we have an interest in having a robust talent pool, whereas working at the level of early childhood education is a little bit to the side of the core work of orchestras.’

The National Alliance for Audition Support is an initiative of the League, the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy and the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization that is ‘the lead program administrator and fiscal agent for the Alliance’. An organisation ‘transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts’, the Sphinx Organization, founded by violinist Aaron Dworkin and headed by Afa S. Dworkin, President and Artistic Director, provides a range of programs from access to music education in locations such as Detroit and Flint, Michigan; partnering with Curtis and Juilliard to provide a summer chamber music and solo performance camp for 11 to 17 year olds; a symphony orchestra comprising top Black and Latinx performers from around the country…The list goes on. The Sphinx Organization is worth a story in its own right[4].

But I also wanted to ask Jesse Rosen about Catalyst. ‘The idea here was to provide support to orchestras so that they could retain practitioners who help organisations develop their own internal culture. There are many other processes beside auditions that are relevant to achieving equitable workplaces, for example board recruitment, staff recruitment, staff retention. We did two major research studies a couple of years ago – one qualitative and one quantitative. And the qualitative research looked at the experience of Fellows from African-American and Hispanic backgrounds who played in symphony orchestras over a 40-year period. Most had very unsatisfying experiences, which made us realise that you have to work on the cultural environment and the extent to which an organisation can be inclusive.[5] Also we heard from many musicians that they continued to experience bias in the audition-process – that’s kind of what led us to wanting to, in addition to the audition programs, support our members through developing their own internal cultures.’

Talking about board structure reminded me of a point that Malesha had made about Non-profit organisations’ boards needing to reflect their communities, of which more later. But first I was caught up on what Jesse Rosen meant by ‘continued to experience bias in the audition-process’. I thought auditions were conducted behind screens so auditors couldn’t see who’s playing.

‘Screens are not used uniformly,’ he said, ‘and they also are not used uniformly throughout the process. Some orchestras use them but they take them down at some point in the process. So that’s where bias can play a role’.

Of course, bringing up the word ‘auditions’ raises a red flag for some, suggesting that EDI means ‘filling quotas’ rather than improving access.

‘I think one of the points of tension’, said Jesse, ‘is that conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion often get conflated with affirmative action. People hear these words and there’s a presumption that the processes by which the incumbent musicians arrived at their jobs is now going to be turned upside down and that people are going to start getting into the orchestra for reasons other than their quality.

‘Those are beliefs that are tough to counter. People call me up and ask why orchestras are paying so much attention to diversity. They say, “Orchestras work on a meritocracy. We hold auditions and we pick the best people.” There is a belief that we have a perfect system and if the best is predominantly white that’s somebody else’s problem.’

Malesha Jessie outlined a scenario in which the development of diverse repertoire, for example, could be impeded by the lack of diversity on a board. ‘If the board is not diverse, then the staff will not be diverse, and if the staff are not diverse then the repertoire won’t be diverse. If the repertoire is not diverse, then the audience will not be diverse. I see it going in that order. The Development Director has to be a connector and know where the money is and who to talk to, and if they keep going to the same 16 guys, then they’re going to do the same stuff because if someone wants to give you $50,000 they usually earmark it for something. So the Development team has to be innovative in their thinking and willing to make that outreach. But the board has to support that.’ The more we talked and the more I researched moreover, I started to come round to the idea that board diversity and other initiatives should not just be measures, but constitutional change.

I asked Jesse Rosen if shortfalls in achieving diversity came down to repertoire because people are playing pretty much a ‘whitefellas’’ canon. Admittedly, I was playing devil’s advocate because, as thatviolakid says in The 74 Million article, ‘Why do people automatically assume that black musicians play jazz or create hip-hop?’ [6] But even there…

Always Beethoven’s Ninth?

JR: ‘I think orchestras are beginning to move in a positive direction, insofar as there is greater appetite simply to get past the tried and true. We’re seeing more work being programmed by living composers, dead composers whose work is less well-known, and more attention being paid to works by women composers and composers of colour. This is a conversation that is definitely happening. At the League we have a program where we commission three women composers every year and that’s been doing really well. To some degree this subsumes race and introduces other questions – the familiar v. unfamiliar and the general reluctance in orchestral programming to take chances on music that hasn’t already demonstrated that it has a strong audience following but, as I said, things are beginning to change.’

GW: Does opera have an advantage in that it has story as a focus for the music?

JR: ‘Text makes a difference. You have the opportunity through language to create instantly topical quality to your work. But there are still many, many opportunities for orchestras with old music and new, imagined in different contexts.’

Jesse mentioned a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth that he heard in Soweto, South Africa. ‘When you hear the Beethoven Ninth Symphony in that setting, it has incredible power. So just by where you play a piece and who you play it for you can achieve real connection.’ He mentioned a forthcoming Tallahassee performance (which has now taken place) of Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, whose text comes from the last words spoken by seven black men (Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Eric Garner) killed by police or security. It was paired with Beethoven’s Ninth and in between was a dialogue, facilitated by Village Square, between Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil and Symphony board-members Byron Greene and Patrick Slevin about the ideas expressed in Thompson’s piece. After the concert the audience and performers were invited to ‘break bread’ together. ‘Orchestras have great capacity for connecting with issues of today,’ said Rosen.

I felt a bit bemused because my most recent article for The Podium had asked why Beethoven’s Ninth is always chosen when classical music wants to make a political point[7], but here was a good example of what can be done by careful curation.

So how is opera doing?

In researching this piece I was struck by a report of South African soprano Pretty Yende speaking Zulu during Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment at the Met[8]. There’s a spot in Laurent Pelly’s production where the heroine Marie launches into improvised monologue. In rehearsal Yende instinctively broke into Zulu. You can hear this on YouTube (listen closely for Zulu’s characteristic clicks)[9]. In performance it is reportedly a powerful moment. But what struck me most about The New York Times’ article on this was Yende’s statement that ‘I never thought of having this kind of possibility to be able to literally have a piece of my true self onstage.’

I phoned Brandon Gryde, Opera America’s Washington-based Director of Government Affairs, who established their EDI position.

BG: ‘One of the challenges that can come up [is] you do have members of congress who have a belief that there are charitable organisations that are more deserving of being tax-free and relying on certain tax incentives, organisations that do direct and social services. So we do a lot of story-telling around the fact that while we represent a certain type of art-form – our members consist of all different-sized organisations with budgets over $50 million to budgets that are less than $100,000 – those organisations are doing a lot of work in addition to creating opera. They’re also doing a lot of work on education, they’re working with senior citizens, they’re working to register voters, they’re doing a lot of things that are using the art-form to make the community healthier and more vibrant.’

GW: So what are some of your programs?

BG: ‘A couple of years ago we received funding from the National Endowment under their “Our Town” grants to fund our Civic Action Group. The idea was to pull together opera companies that were doing best practice work in their communities not centred around selling additional tickets or creating future subscribers. It was really about the role of opera companies and becoming good neighbors. We learned a lot from those convenings and were actually able to publish reports about how opera companies have used the relationship with other organisations to develop their future work. We’ve been approaching this as: the relationships should lead the development of work rather than vice-versa. So, instead of playing Porgy and Bess in your season and then reaching out to an African-American community, work should come out of that relationship. It’s actually led toward Opera America’s own investment in developing our civic practice funds.’

GW: Could you tell us a bit about your ALAANA network which, I understand, stands for African, Latin, Asian, Arab and Native American? You’ve got a steering committee?

BG: ‘Part of the focus of that network is to think about ways we can move the needle toward a more racial-equitable field. These individuals are representative of a variety of different positions within opera – trustees, costume design, artistic leadership, educational and community engagement. We really wanted a wide breadth of experience and [our] two meetings so far have given us a lot of meat to think through in terms of our own planning – things like the pipeline for administrative leadership, conversations around marketing to communities of colour.’

I wanted to know about Opera America’s IDEA Opera Grant Program, launched in January.[10] Under this scheme two grants will be awarded annually to composer-librettist teams to advance their work ‘through workshops, readings or other developmental activities.’ The scheme (‘IDEA’ stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) came about through work with the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation who have strong interests in supporting composers and librettists of colour.

BG: ‘This was actually something that we had been talking about for the last couple of years – how do we put money toward supporting composers and librettists of colour? And it just so happened that we were able to develop a relationship with somebody who had a similar mission.’

Brandon continues, ‘Internally within our organisation as well as providing support for the field, we have facilitated some conversations among our staff around our own organisational culture. What can we do to address biases that we are bringing into our work and how do we create something new?’

GW: What’s an example of something you’ve identified which you’ve altered, then?

BG: ‘Payment of interns.’

Oh, I thought, that may not sound like much to Australians, but knowing how prevalent and pervasive free interning is in the US, I realised it was significant. As Brandon said, ‘Some people have the means to be interns for many years without any pay and Opera America has made a commitment to provide some type of salary to our internships which increases the opportunity for people to be able to work within the opera field.’ He added, ‘We’ve looked at where we post jobs. And we’ve also just been looking at some of our own biases that we bring to opera as an artform. So we have ongoing conversations around what it means to produce inherited repertoire that might have misogynistic stories, what does it mean to have produced works in the canon that have racially-insensitive stereotypes in them?’

GW: You also work for Dance/USA?

BG: ‘I’ve also had the privilege of watching Dance/USA as a service organisation work on a lot of equity and justice issues. It’s a little bit different in that with dance you have so many different types of genres. Some dance companies have been doing this work for decades. Some were actually founded on addressing issues of equity and justice, other companies are still learning about it, whereas with opera we’re sort of starting at the same point. We’re able to uniformly work together to find some common visions and goals for achieving change in the field.’

But it does sound like EDI in US dance would be another fruitful subject for a future article.

Enriching musical styles through new stories?

I think of how one of the principal benefits that diversity offers our artform is the enrichment of repertoire. If opera, for example, is drama articulated by music, one hopes that the infusion of new musical styles will enrich music’s ability to tell new stories. It’s hard for me to judge how successful this can be when I haven’t seen every opera produced in the US in the relatively recent past but certainly the CD of Anthony Davis’s X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X reveals a classical piece that allows space for jazz to swing, and from what I’ve seen on YouTube, José Martínez and Leonard Foglia’s 2010 mariachi opera, Cruzar la cara de la luna, seems to have successfully brought a new melodic style to opera.

I understand the complexities in creating new work across disciplines and culture. And in Australia creating diversity in repertoire can mean working with Aboriginal people who live very remotely and whose priorities are very traditional. I think of Jandamarra (2014)[11], Ooldea (2006)[12] and Journey to Horseshoe Bend (2003)[13]. When I was arranging for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to perform Richard Mills’ Earth Poem/Sky Poem with dancers from Elcho Island in 1998[14], I was advised that the performers might prioritise Indigenous ceremonies such as ‘sorry business’ (funeral rites) over a concert down south and, if I wasn’t sensitive to this possibility, the best-laid concert preparations could be voided. I therefore drafted Symphony Australia’s contract with the Galpu Dancers without naming specific personnel, obliging the group only to bring one didjeridu player of the dhuwa moiety, one didjeridu player of the yirritja moiety, ‘one (1) singer of the dhuwa moiety, one (1) singer of the yirritja moiety.’ I wasn’t completely sure who would turn up but knew that in this instance I could trust that the tribal repertoire was shared widely on Galiwin’ku.

These are some of the steps we need to take to ensure a diverse culture, and surely the result is worth it if we’re to continue to be vital to the diverse community that is our reality. We also have to realise that the number of people who want to perform opera and classical music is larger and more diverse than we think, and even as I write that I realise that we shouldn’t even be thinking that’s it’s not naturally diverse. As Malesha Jessie Taylor says, ‘I know I look like Whitney Houston but I sing opera because that is where I have a natural talent and gift. My gift determines my repertoire, not my ethnicity.’

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2019


[1] New Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette says arts companies that ignore diversity are ‘out of touch’, Michaela Boland, ABCNews, 19 Feb, 2019 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-18/new-australia-council-ceo-adrian-collette-interview/10820074

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL4WpdoG6Ok&list=RDUL4WpdoG6Ok&start_radio=1&ab_channel=TheGreeneSpaceatWNYC%26WQXR

[3] What Do You See? Malesha Jessie Taylor, TEDx Chula Vista, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlS7CSefeUM&ab_channel=TEDxTalks

[4] http://www.sphinxmusic.org/

[5] Forty Years of Fellowships: A Study of Orchestras’ Efforts to include African-American and Latino Musicians, Nick Rabkin and Monica Hairston O’Connell, League of American Orchestras, 2016. https://americanorchestras.org/knowledge-research-innovation/diversity-studies.html

These Fellowships were programs intended to ‘help young musicians make the transition into careers in professional orchestras’. Twenty five orchestras had such programs; 11 were diversity-oriented, and this report looked at programs that offered opportunities to young Latino and African-American musicians who had completed their formal training, and become immersed in the day-to-day activities of the orchestras…’

[6] ‘Why Do People Automatically Assume Black Musicians Play Jazz?’: Atlanta Symphony Talent Program Nurtures Young Classical Musicians of Color, the74million.org, Feb 2, 2019


– and this account of Azira Hill’s efforts to increase African-American participation in classical music to a level that reflects the population in Atlanta, a majority black city:


[7] In her TED talk referenced above, Malesha Jessie Taylor talks about Mozart, Beethoven and Bach being the same three composers who always instantly come to mind when classical music is mentioned; then demonstrates music written by someone else.

[8] ‘A Top Soprano Brings Some Zulu to the Met Opera. And It Clicks’, Michael Cooper, The New York Times, Feb 22, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/22/arts/music/pretty-yende-la-fille-du-regiment-met-opera.html

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ubtk472g2l8&feature=youtu.be

[10] Press release. January 2019 : https://www.operaamerica.org/Content/About/PressRoom/2019/IDEA%20Grant%20Announcement%20PR_final.pdf

[11] http://www.jandamarra.com.au/singForTheCountry.html

[12] https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/t/21660

[13] https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/work/schultz-andrew-journey-to-horseshoe-bend-op-64

[14] in a concert which also saw the premiere of the first work for symphony orchestra written by indigenous musicians. Music is our Culture by Jardine Kiwat, Jayson Rotumah, Kerry McKenzie and Jensen Warusam with Chester Schultz was commissioned by Symphony Australia for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Goodear website launched!

Now with more than 70 orchestras and organisations around the world using the Goodear Acoustic Shield, we’re proud to launch a new website which showcases this revolutionary WHS product.

The website is packed with images of the shield as well as useful new features such as product specifications, a list of users, interviews, testimonials, FAQs and one-click functionality to easily contact us and share information about the shield with others on social media.

Hearing protection for children involved in music making is just as important as for professional musicians and so we’ve included a dedicated page to introduce the Goodear Acoustic Shield to schools and universities.

The Goodear website serves as the new portal for Symphony Services International’s product range and you’ll find links to our other products: Goodear Editions, Goodear Notes and Goodear Surtitles.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback about the new Goodear website so please visit and discover it now!

QSO collaborates with the Townsville community orchestra

In 2018, Queensland Symphony Orchestra received funding from Arts Queensland to enable it to collaborate with the Townsville community orchestra, Barrier Reef Orchestra, in the performance of Stage and Screen, conducted by Richard Davis.

With repertoire from composers such as Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Mozart, and of course the legendary John Williams, this was a stimulating evening for both orchestra and audience.

Richard Davis travelled to Townsville two weeks before the performance to work on style, tempos and technique with the local musicians.  In the final week, Davis again directed rehearsals and was joined by a group of principal players to attend final rehearsals and direct tutorial sessions. The program was very well received by audience and community musicians alike, with a great turnout at the Townsville Civic Theatre. This model of connecting with local communities is one the Orchestra aims to introduce into other Queensland communities in coming years.

2018 was a wonderfully positive year of performances and regional touring with more than 20,000 people attending regional performances and education activities and over 15,000 people attending free performances. 17,254 school students participated in regional activities and 10,553 people attended education activities, community events and performances in Brisbane.

When music matters – the political image of an orchestra

The Christmas Truce of 1914 depicted in Kevin Puts’ opera, Silent Night


I’ve been wondering how much classical music is suitable for political occasions. One Friday evening in July 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted world leaders of the G20 to a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. Why? Partly because Beethoven’s Ninth is an important artifact of German history, but also, according to a German government spokesman quoted by CNN at the time, because its last movement, the choral setting of German poet Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 Ode to Joy, is ‘a hymn to humanity, peace and international understanding’. Leaving aside the fact that Beethoven’s Ninth has been co-opted by regimes of various stripes (its tune, but tune only, formed the basis of Rhodesia’s national anthem for a few years), my first reaction on hearing of this political use this was, ‘Always Beethoven’s Ninth?’

Off the top of my head, I thought of Leonard Bernstein conducting the ‘Ninth’ in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989 and substituting ‘Friede’ (freedom) for ‘Freude’ (joy), or Chinese students broadcasting it from Tiananmen Square. As Natalie Nougayrède wrote in The Guardian on 8 May last year, ‘It was no coincidence that the music [French president-elect] Emmanuel Macron chose to accompany him, as he walked in victory through the Louvre esplanade on Sunday night, was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the official anthem of the European Union.’

In 1936, Pablo Casals and his Barcelona musicians insisted on continuing with their rehearsal of the ‘Ode to Joy’ when they heard that fascist troops were closing in on them. You could say that the Ninth’s stature has been forged in the crucible of war. But I wonder if Beethoven’s Ninth is the limit of classical music’s ability to participate in political discourse?

I can’t help contrasting this situation with what seems to apply in popular music. Given my vintage, I think of the wealth of music and musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez associated with an anti-Vietnam War stance in the 1960s. I think of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. And Live-Aid. Were any symphony orchestras invited to take part in those mega-events? What would they have played? These days there’s the whole phenomenon of political hip-hop venturing into subjects such as domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, or the Iraq war. I even recently saw old video of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr singing the 1927 hit Me and My Shadow on TV and wondered if the producers of that show in the 1960s were making a subtle point about Civil Rights as Sinatra and Davis followed each other playfully across stage, reversing direction at the ends of phrases so that first Davis followed Sinatra, then Sinatra followed Davis.

It has made me wonder if there is much of a political dimension to classical music. But of course there is.

Just about every program note written on Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony mentions how the US premiere was fought over by America’s musical luminaries and how Arturo Toscanini beat all his fellow-contenders by conducting the NBC Orchestra in a radio broadcast from New York in July 1942 (all good for Allied PR in the war effort), and how the work was performed in August1942 by starving musicians in a Leningrad under siege (even more of a morale-booster). I’m not sure how successful you’d be in persuading a visiting Head of State to sit through Shostakovich’s Seventh these days, but in his essay, When Serious Music Mattered, Richard Taruskin conveyed a vivid sense of how Soviet citizens in the 1970s, his fellow-students at Moscow Conservatory, hungered for the music of Shostakovich – and not just the Seventh. It seems to have allowed them to tap censored and dangerous feelings.

In an October 2018 interview in The Guardian headed: ‘I want my art to matter. I want it to be of use’, American composer John Luther Adams said he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral piece, Become Ocean as ‘a meditation on the deep and mysterious tides of existence. Life on Earth first emerged from the sea. And as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may literally become ocean.’ So there’s an ecological slant to Adams’ work but I wonder if an audience would know what’s going on in all that powerful orchestral ebbing and flowing without the title?

Do we always need words? I wonder if that might be the advantage enjoyed by popular music, which seems to disdain ‘instrumentals’. These questions came up again for me when I read Anne Midgette’s survey of all the memorial concerts taking place around Washington this November, 100 years after the cessation of hostilities in World War I. There you did not find multiple renditions of the Ninth, but the National Symphony Orchestra performed Britten’s War Requiem which uses the words of Wilfred Owen who was killed during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise canal in France on 4 November, 1918, a week before the signing of the Armistice. The Washington National Opera presented Silent Night, Kevin Puts’ adaptation of the 2005 film Joyeux Noël which told of the Christmas Day truce in 1914 which temporarily stopped the shooting. True, the New Orchestra of Washington presented a concert which contained Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin… But you have to be told that this purely orchestral work memorialises friends of Ravel who died in battle if you want to experience the sadness.

In his 1977 book, Music Society Education Christopher Small bemoaned the constant recourse to standard classical repertoire in concerts meant to welcome visiting heads of state, occasions when you might think points could be made. You could avoid Beethoven’s Ninth, I suppose, if you took foreign dignitaries to the opera, to say Fidelio, Rheingold or Silent Night. ‘I have come to the conclusion,’ said director Phelim McDermott, director of LA Opera’s recent production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, ‘that it is perhaps only through an epic form like opera that we can communicate the complexity of ideas behind such a thing as [Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance].’ But actually Small would have argued against the idea that only music with words can carry a point. He saw implicit societal meaning in Absolute classical music. This may be a crude summation of his and other commentators’ observations but here goes: the impulse of a symphonic movement to overcome dissonant key areas and push through to a climax is blatantly aspirational. Sonata form is a musical tribute to the idea of progress. But that’s what makes Debussy’s music and Minimalism so revolutionary. The music of Debussy and of Steve Reich or Philip Glass is music that basks in the moment, transitional rather than constructive, subsisting rather than imperializing. But I would think you’d have to be pretty well-versed in musical grammar and semiotics to get all this.

I can think of one piece of clearly political but wordless Absolute music. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was composed while Messiaen was an inmate in a prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag VIII-A, in Görlitz Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). The first performance took place in 1941 on ‘an upright piano that was extremely out-of-tune, whose keys intermittently stuck’. It appears that the performance touched inmates and guards alike as an expression of their common humanity. It’s interesting to consider the extent to which the surrounding conditions guaranteed this response. I’m sure I’ve sat in audiences for whom the story behind the work remained unknown. Not everybody reads program notes and yet in those halls…well, as the saying goes, you could have heard a pin drop. Were people physically communing with the excruciatingly intense concentration that this work demands from its players? A performance of part of the Quartet for the End of Time was featured in one of the episodes of Mozart in the Jungle, the Amazon series about life in a fictional US orchestra, the New York Symphony. The musicians went out to perform at Riker’s Island, New York’s main jail complex in the Bronx. As one of the Rikers’ prisoners told untappedcities.com, ‘I just closed my eyes and I was letting the instruments just come to me and I just felt free like that, you know? It was just…it was just…a different type of feeling…’ But the show set the performance in a prison, emulating the original performance conditions. At least for the viewing audience at home, the context might have conditioned their reactions.

I had lunch near UCLA with an up-and-coming musicologist, Ryan Shiotsuki, who told me that he welcomes this discussion of politics in classical music. ‘It’s well overdue.’ But he pointed out that the dimensions of the discussion are so much broader than we think. We can’t ignore what the music is like ‘as sound’. And ‘you cannot ignore the execution of that particular music’s performance, the intention of its rhetoric, the nature of its context, and the impact that that might have on an audience. Mravinsky’s Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony accentuates some of the extremes already on display in the music. Shostakovich’s ending is already a stretched out heroic finale that seems to beat you over the head with its eighth notes in the strings, but Mravinsky plays them even slower, like a forced smile. Compare that with Bernstein’s very fast paced ending.’

But Ryan’s reminder of music ‘as sound’ persuades me as to one of the main reasons why it might be ‘always Beethoven’s Ninth’. Because Beethoven’s Ninth is at the same time stunning music. It’s inspiring even if you only have a general idea of the meaning the words supply. Undoubtedly also, millions of people love political rap without feeling the slightest urge to join MoveOn.org or Black Lives Matter. And as the Hollywood producer, Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said, ‘Messages are for Western Union.’ Didacticism turns people off.

So should symphony orchestra administrators jump through hoops to find alternatives to Beethoven’s Ninth when they want to make a musically-enjoyable point? And if the ‘Ode to Joy’ can so easily be co-opted, are orchestras checkmated when they want to make a political contribution? On the night that I saw Satyagraha at LA Opera, Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra played at Disney Hall, ‘an extraordinary concert of solutions’, said Los Angeles Times’ critic, Mark Swed. The actual programming could be read as a message of sorts: Strauss’s Don Quixote followed by Tchaikovsky’s Fifth – an idealistic fool who tilts at windmills followed by one of classical music’s clearest examples of a victory structure in Tchaikovsky’s last movement. (Barenboim’s encore, apparently, was the Mastersingers Overture of Wagner, a composer banned in Israel, one of four states where Barenboim is a citizen). But you had to look also at the stage where Israelis and Palestinians and Syrians and Iranians played in ensemble, a deliberate combination. The larger point was that these people, for all their differences, were playing together.

This strikes me as classical music’s strongest political statement, outside of context and regardless of text or tones. I think back to Mozart in the Jungle and the picture the series’ writers paint there of life behind the orchestral scenes. None of us needs to watch that show to know that in an orchestra you have people of all types, all political persuasions, recluses, bon vivants, introverts, extroverts; people who are not talking to each other, people who are married or were once married, people who were once married but still talk to each other; people whose grandparents fled Hungary in 1956 or whose parents fled Chile in 1973 or Saigon in 1975 or people who are too young to know what on earth I’m talking about (you fill in the blanks). And yet, they’ll all bury their differences and their own egos to deliver a stunning performance, under a conductor they’ve agreed to follow. Isn’t an orchestra in and of itself, every time it produces a successful concert, the image of a diverse society working toward a common goal? It should be said that that’s pretty effective politics.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2018

Sydney Symphony Orchestra celebrates life of Richard Gill with free tribute concert

On 17 November, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, joined by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Chamber Choir and the Conservatorium High School Chamber Choir, celebrated the life of the late music educator Richard Gill with a free concert open to the public at the Sydney Opera House.

Together with Kim Williams, Australian media executive, a former student and lifelong friend of Richard Gill, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra presented Richard Gill: Celebration of a Life, a tribute concert featuring speeches by Richard’s children, Claire and Anthony Gill; Sir Jonathan Mills, composer and former Director of the Edinburgh International Festival; Australian director and actor John Bell; recently appointed Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette; and former Sydney Symphony Managing Director, Mary Vallentine.

In a program that reflected Richard’s own passions for particular areas of repertoire, the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Chamber Choir and the Conservatorium High School Chamber Choir each performed pieces in remembrance of him. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s heartfelt performance of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was led by Nicholas Carter, current Principal Conductor with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, previously Associate Conductor of the Sydney Symphony and former student of Richard Gill. The concert culminated with the entire audience uniting to sing the hymn Jerusalem.

In 2018, the Orchestra shared several livestreams direct from the Sydney Opera House, including its performances of Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony No.9. In a nod to Richard’s passion for sharing music, a free livestream of Richard Gill: Celebration of a Life was made available via the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and ABC Classic FM websites, allowing those who were unable to be in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall to join the audience in paying tribute.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra collaborates with Barrier Reef Orchestra for Stage & Screen

Photo: Cam Leitch

Queensland Symphony Orchestra was pleased to collaborate with Townsville’s community Barrier Reef Orchestra for its Stage & Screen concert, conducted by Richard Davis.

With repertoire by composers such as Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Mozart and of course the legendary John Williams, this was a stimulating evening for both orchestra and audience.

Richard Davis travelled to Townsville two weeks before the performance to work on style, tempos and technique with the local musicians.  In the final week, Davis again directed rehearsals and was joined by a group of principal players who attended final rehearsals and directed tutorial sessions. The program was very well received by audience and community musicians alike, with a great turnout at the Townsville Civic Theatre.

This model of connecting with local communities is one we aim to introduce into other Queensland communities in coming years.

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra moves out of the concert hall and into the pub

TSO Live Sessions at Hobart Brewing Company, Macquarie Point, Hobart

Since August 2016 the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has actively expanded its audience base with an initiative known as TSO Live Sessions, concerts which target younger ticket buyers with little or no history of attending orchestral concerts. ‘Out of the concert hall and into the pub’ is one of the slogans that has been used to sell the series. As it suggests, TSO Live Sessions take place in micro-breweries, beer gardens and other non-traditional venues.

Given space limitations at the venues, Live Sessions ensembles typically consist of a string orchestra of 12-16 players with an additional woodwind or percussion musician. The repertoire is wide-ranging – from Bach to Bartók, Britten, Gershwin, Piazzolla, Sculthorpe, Kats-Chernin, Koehne, klezmer and bluegrass.

As an initiative to reach a new audience, TSO Live Sessions have been phenomenally successful: 60% of ticket buyers are new to the TSO and 100% would recommend TSO Live Sessions to a friend.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra – musically mindful of employee wellbeing

Music is vital to our health and well-being, so let’s not forget those who bring music to life – from musicians to our behind-the-scenes staff, West Australian Symphony Orchestra is committed to bringing extraordinary music to the Western Australian community and their health and wellbeing is just as important to us as the performances they share with audiences.

WASO has a wide range of initiatives to support the physical and mental wellbeing of orchestra and administration staff. Our Human Resources team collaborates with many organisations, including Star Physio who assist musicians with their physical wellbeing and provide ergonomic assessments to administration staff.

On Friday 16 November WASO and Perth Concert Hall employees wore their favourite Australian music t-shirts as part of Ausmusic T-shirt Day, a new initiative by Support Act who raise funds for artists and music workers experiencing financial hardship, ill health, injury or mental health issues. WASO is delighted to encourage and highlight services such as the Wellness Helpline, which is especially important for many gig workers (short-term, casual employees) who may be unable to access the full range of support services and benefits offered to full-time employees.

By supporting our employees and colleagues holistically WASO is creating a happy and healthy workplace.

As WASO’s Human Resources Coordinator Narelle Coghill points out: ’We believe that by raising the profile for healthy workplaces and working to address mental ill health early on, we are creating stability and support that is important for our company to succeed.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra plays for all Victorians

This year the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has travelled to nine regional centres (Geelong, Wangaratta, Shepparton, Hamilton, Warrnambool, Mildura, Warragul, Bendigo and Ballarat) giving a total of 20 performances and 26 workshops for over 11,000 people.

Highlights of the MSO’s regional engagement in 2018 include:

  • A welcome return to Mildura after 25 years saw the MSO perform to a capacity audience in June.
  • Some audience members drove up to 300km to attend a concert. One MSO fan who attended the Hamilton performance drove 250km to Warrnambool the following night to see the concert again.
  • MSO cellist Rohan de Korte gave a free ‘pop-up’ performance for MSO patrons at a restaurant in Shepparton following the cancellation of the concert due to storm damage to the venue.
  • Primary schools in Wangaratta, Shepparton, Hamilton, Warrnambool and Camperdown enjoyed pre-tour workshops introducing children to the instruments of the orchestra. Pre-tour master classes in secondary schools gave young instrumentalists a deep dive into musicality and Alexander Technique, and an MSO string quartet performed to a capacity yoga class in Hamilton.
  • The MSO performance in Warragul was the opening event for the newly refurbished West Gippsland Arts Centre on 1 November 2018.
  • Most audience comments referred to the value of seeing the MSO in their town:
    • Please come back more often! It’s hard for us to get to Melbourne.
    • Grateful for chance to hear MSO perform outside of Melbourne.
    • Always a wonderful experience. Wait all year for this! Thank you.
    • Thank you for coming this far.
  • In a letter to the Hamilton Spectator (‘Another Triumph for the MSO’, Saturday 27/10/2018), Peter Flinn of Dunkeld wrote ‘Hamilton has been fortunate to host the MSO on its regional tour of Victoria for many years…There is no doubt that the MSO can hold its own with the top orchestras of the world…It is often said that classical music concerts are favoured mostly by an older age cohort. However I was pleased to note a good number of young people attending the recent performance.’

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra pops up in Parliament House

Following an invitation from the Parliamentary Friends of Orchestral Music group, Symphony Services Australia secured members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for four pop-up performances in Parliament House in late November.

Musicians Emma Perkins, Gillian Braithwaite, Rosemary McGowran and David Sharp performed works by Elgar, Vivaldi, Graeme Koehne, Coldplay and The Beatles in the Marble Foyer and Queen’s Terrace Café.

Demonstrating the can-do attitude for which Australia’s symphony orchestras are famous, the performers enjoyed sharing their skills with audiences ranging from pre-schoolers to MPs and Senators. All were equally enthralled by the beautiful music and professional performances.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony for Tomorrow project showcased at Cairns Festival

Original compositions by secondary school students were performed recently in Babinda and Trinity Beach as part of Cairns Festival’s Suburban Satellites program. The works were created under the direction of QSO cellist Craig Allister Young, and songwriters Donna Dyson and Tyrone Noonan.

For the Symphony for Tomorrow project students were invited to collaborate on writing music that reflected issues relevant to their world. The project involved students from seven Cairns high schools and Indigenous choir Nite Vision, which performed the works alongside eight members of Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The students also performed the title song as part of QSO’s Superheroes! performance at Munro Martin Parklands on Saturday 1 September in front of an audience of 2,000 people.

‘I was completely blown away by the articulate and powerful nature of the songs,’ said Ros Pappalardo from Cairns Festival. ‘Being a songwriter and teacher myself, I am aware of the legacy that this work is going to leave on the community.’

Changes in artistic leadership and management at the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

2018 has been a period of organisational change for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, with both Chief Conductor and Managing Director concluding their longstanding roles with the organisation.

The TSO’s current Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Marko Letonja, will come to the end of his seven-year tenure at the end of 2018. His successor will be acclaimed Norwegian Conductor Eivind Aadland, who will commence in the 2020 season. The interim 2019 season will feature a formidable range of celebrated international conductors, as well as several performances from the TSO’s Principal Guest Conductor, Johannes Fritzsch. Aadland will conduct one concert in August 2019 and will oversee the creation of the 2020 program.

The TSO will continue a strong relationship with Letonja, who was recently named the orchestra’s inaugural Conductor Laureate, a three-year engagement which will see Letonja spending at least three weeks in Tasmania annually where he will conduct orchestral performances as well as the renowned Opera in Concert series he was instrumental in initiating.

The TSO’s Managing Director, Nicholas Heyward, announced in February that he will step down at the end of 2018. During his 17-year tenure his considerable achievements have included the stewardship of the TSO through its divestment from the ABC, the introduction of the TSO Foundation, and cementing the TSO’s reputation as a leading orchestral exponent of Australian music by means of consistent programming of Australian composers, regular commissioning of new Australian works, and a lengthy recording catalogue. His contribution will be celebrated through the Heyward Prize, a competition open to Australian composers resident in Tasmania.

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra on tour with Mozart and Beethoven

A world- class orchestra, deeply engaged in the community, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra has been inspiring and enriching the lives of West Australians from the centre of Perth to the furthest corners of the state since 1928.

To celebrate WASO’s 90th Anniversary the full orchestra will hit the road in November to present sublime, dramatic and exhilarating music by two of the most loved composers of all time in Geraldton and Kalgoorlie. The concert will highlight WASO’s acclaimed Concertmaster Laurence Jackson as soloist and conclude with everybody’s favourite 5th symphony.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 is probably the most popular and recognisable classical music composition in the world. Even those who might claim never to have experienced an orchestral work would have been exposed to ’the Fifth’ – especially the opening four-note motif – in contemporary popular music (Electric Light Orchestra’s adaptation of the Chuck Berry hit ’Roll Over Beethoven’), film (Saturday Night Fever, Fantasia 2000), television (theme song for ’Judge Judy’, opening sequence of Doctor Who ’Before the Flood’) and even video games (Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp).

But to experience the entire Symphony No.5 live from the stage in all its orchestral glory, as Beethoven intended, is something else entirely.

See the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in action!

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra takes The Bush Concert to China

On 23 and 24 August an ensemble of eight musicians from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra took part in the 34th Harbin Summer Music Festival in China. On the program was The Bush Concert, an ASO-commissioned work for young people based on the book of the same name by Australian author Helga Visser. The story, about how music can bring communities together, parallels the ASO’s own endeavours to foster musical links with the community of Harbin which, like Adelaide, is a UNESCO City of Music.

The Bush Concert was developed in 2015 for the ASO’s Learning program by Adelaide composer Mark Ferguson, whose wife, Susan Ferguson, presented the show – and in this instance learnt to do so in Mandarin!


Focus on Australia-Singapore relationship bears fruit for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Photo: Tim O’Connor

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has signed a significant four-year partnership with the Singapore Symphony Group that will lead to joint orchestral performances, collaborations, exchange and concerts in both countries.

Witnessing the signing of the MoU in Melbourne, Minister for Communications and the Arts Senator Mitch Fifield welcomed the partnership as significant for both nations: ‘This new connection with Singapore between the MSO and the Singapore Symphony Group arose out of formal talks on arts and culture over the past three years. It gives Australian musicians the opportunity to collaborate with international peers and reach a broader audience in the region. Partnerships such as these are vital to strengthening and growing Australia’s arts and culture sector’

The relationship between Australia and Singapore was formalised with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Arts and Culture in June 2015 and the establishment of the Australia-Singapore Arts Group to help identify and facilitate opportunities for cultural exchange and relationship-building.

MSO Managing Director Sophie Galaise said the partnership is significant for the cultural sectors of both countries: ‘Our shared mission is to inspire and engage audiences worldwide. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is proud to enter into this partnership with the Singapore Symphony Group.’

Chng Hak‑Peng, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Symphony Group, said the SSG is committed to nurturing talent and enriching our communities, commenting: ‘We are excited about this opportunity to share music-making and knowledge with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.’

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra leads Australia’s flagship event in international Make Music Day

Photo: Daniela Testa

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra led Australia’s flagship event in this year’s international Make Music Day with a free global livestream of its Verdi’s Requiem concert, direct from the Sydney Opera House. Held annually on 21 June, Make Music Day is a celebration of music involving 800 cities in 120 countries.

Alongside the audience in the Concert Hall, the livestream was watched simultaneously by people in 41 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and France. To ensure the music was shared as widely as possible, the SSO made the footage available for a further 24 hours, allowing people around Australia and the world to experience the event.

The livestream was enjoyed by communities in regional NSW through a partnership with the State Library of New South Wales and its public library network. Audiences from Armidale to Wagga Wagga gathered in their local libraries to share in the festivities. The livestream was also broadcast on a giant screen in Sydney Olympic Park, and to music students across the NSW Regional Conservatorium network.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra – creating new work and new audiences

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) takes seriously its mission of playing music that moves people. In recent years ASO has been reaching out to its communities in new and exciting ways, including through commissioning work especially for young people and co-creating projects with artists for audiences of today and tomorrow.

Two landmark commissioning projects have resulted, both based on picture books. The Bush Concert, by Australian author Helga Visser, was brought to life by Adelaide composer Mark Ferguson. The work, premiered in Adelaide in 2015, was performed in full orchestral version by the SSO in 2017. It was translated into Mandarin last year and had its international debut when an ensemble of eight ASO musicians took part in the 34th China Harbin Summer Music Festival.

In June 2018, What do you do with an idea?, composed by London-based Paul Rissmann and based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same name by Kobi Yamada, saw its World Premiere at the ASO’s Festival of Learning. The work received rave audience and critical reviews, labelled “an uplifting exploration of creativity and imagination” by the Adelaide Advertiser in June 2018.

At the same time, co-created projects – The Petrushka Project (2016), In Flight (2017) and The Pierrot Project (2018) – have seen young music students compose new music under the guidance of educator Paul Rissmann, and then give a concert during which they sit alongside the ASO and perform their new creation.

Antony Ernst in Copenhagen

The last article I wrote for this publication was about my then-new position as head of production and artistic planning at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg. Almost seven years later I have moved on, and in January started as Orchestra Director of the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen. Then, I was looking forward to coming to grips with the state subsidised structure and its effect on programming. Now, although programming remains part of the job, the stakes are higher and the challenges of a different calibre.

Perhaps a bit of context is called for: Copenhagen is home to three main orchestras. The main symphonic orchestra is that of the Danish Radio, now called the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. It is based in the brand new concert hall (Koncerthus) and of course has a large broadcasting and recording program. There is also the Copenhagen Philharmonic, which with fewer resources and subsidies has reinvented itself as the ‘open to anything’ orchestra, doing outreach, commercial and corporate gigs, and accompanying touring opera and ballet as well as traditional symphony concerts. This is based in the Tivoli concert hall, and these days lives a relatively precarious existence. Several other ensembles have been dissolved in recent rounds of cuts.

For its part, the Royal Danish Orchestra (Det Kongelige Kapel) claims, not without cause, to be the oldest orchestra in the world. It started as King Christian’s trumpet corps in 1448 and has been a continuous part of the Danish musical establishment ever since. It is now the orchestra attached to the Royal Theatre, and plays for the opera and the ballet, as well as maintaining a concert series of its own when the orchestra and the venue can be made available. Physically, it is based in the new Opera which was opened in 2005, but also plays regularly at the Gamle Scene (Old Stage), the historical theatre in the centre of Copenhagen where most of the ballets are performed.

I should mention that the Royal Danish Orchestra, like a football team, gives each Kapelmusiker (the official title of one of its members) a unique number. Our recently recruited concertmaster is Kapelmusiker Nr 1069. There are several second generation members of the orchestra (even one third generation member) and the devotion and loyalty that the orchestra evokes among its members are striking. Age itself is no guarantee of quality, but it so happens that the orchestra can be considered one of Europe’s best kept secrets. I’m new enough to the position that it doesn’t feel like blowing my own trumpet (so to speak) to claim that this is an absolutely first class band. A recently released live recording of Bruckner 8 under Hartmut Haenchen should convince, if I do not.

If you look at the news of the last few years, however, you will mainly find reference to budget cuts and controversy. This is the orchestra which in 2015, when faced with a 10% reduction of its forces, instead voted unanimously to take a 10% pay cut and keep their colleagues. It was an extraordinary gesture which is a genuine expression of the fierce solidarity which the musicians have to each other and to their ensemble. The orchestra, given what it has been through and the way that it has dealt with it, is a very tightly knit group with a lot of pride but somewhat battered self esteem. Individually (and I have made a point of having a one-on-one meeting with each orchestra member) they are deeply committed, positive, enthusiastic about the ensemble they belong to, and about their colleagues. As a group, they are wary and bruised, hoping for better but fearing the worst. This gap between the individual and group mentality is striking, but reassuring – it shows that if the group can be reassured, then the positive qualities of the individuals will come through even more.

The budget cuts of which this was a part took their toll on the administration too – there have been reductions, resignations and a lot of churn in recent years. To give a bit of background, the Danish government has been making reductions of its overall budget by 2% every few years. This isn’t targeting the arts specifically – it is an overall budget reduction exercised equally across the public sector, and in fact the first major pushback understandably came from the health and education sectors. The decisions as to how to implement the cuts made at government level is left to the discretion of the various agencies affected. The Royal Theatre (that is, ballet, opera, orchestra and drama) has had to find ways to exercise and deal with these cuts, which has not been easy on the organisation, as the theatre is almost entirely government funded. There are a number of generous charitable foundations which provide tagged project funding to the theatre, but one of the consequences of living in a Scandinavian social democracy is that private patronage and corporate sponsorship are rather rare – people tend to feel, understandably enough, that they have already paid for the Royal Theatre with their rather high taxes.

I have arrived as part of a change which brings in a new head of the opera, a new chorus master and, as it so happens now, a new intendant. The budget pressure is not reduced, but there is a sense that a new team may have a different approach to tackling it. It was telling that when I asked the head of the opera (during one of our phone calls early in the application recruitment process) how the orchestra would feel about having a non-Dane in this position, he replied that the orchestra was clear that they wanted someone from outside the Danish cultural fishbowl – like any country with a smallish population (Denmark has 5.7 million), there are a limited number of available and experienced locals at any given moment. The idea was to change things rather than to run in the same tracks.

Arriving into a situation of change of course requires a different approach from arriving in a stable situation: instead of learning about the status quo with a view to integrating yourself into it, you learn about it with the awareness that some things will need to change, and the question is which things, and how they will change. It would be premature to try to be more concrete about these – I am now in the middle of a strategic planning process with the theatre and the musicians which will clarify these issues in the coming months. It adds an extra level of analytical responsibility to what is already a sharp learning curve, the more precipitous slopes of which I have been traversing since I arrived.

All this is in the context of a personal cultural change: when we left Strasbourg just after New Year, my wife and children went back to Australia as part of our plan to ease the transition. The kids, who have lived in France for the last six and a half years, got their first full Australian summer (up until now the only period we had had time to go to Australia in was the northern summer, ie southern winter); they got to spend a solid block of time with grandparents, family and friends; we stayed on the right side of visa regulations (as our French residence permits were contingent on my now expired contract there); and, not least of all, their first impression of Copenhagen would be in April rather than January. My first impressions of Copenhagen had been in November and December for the interviews and early visits, and now I arrived in January to start work in earnest. January is dark and cold – if you bike to work, as most Copenhageners do, there are days on which, upon arrival, you will not feel your face any more. The harbour froze over (although the locals tell me this is unusual). On the other hand, there is always a fresh sea breeze, and having grown up by the ocean and after almost seven years spent a long way inland, even a freezing sea breeze is a relief.

It may sound strange but one of the first thoughts to run through my head about Copenhagen was ‘we have now left the bounds of the Roman Empire’. Strasbourg started as a Roman camp, and in some indefinable way, the mentality of formerly Roman Europe is still evident: there is a sense of the superiority of the institutions of the state and their procedures. There is a feeling that the groups or factions with which you are affiliated are profoundly important, and your being seen to adhere is significant. There is a cultural precedent of the ‘elsewhereness’ of decision-making, which means that hierarchy and cabinet-style decision-making is the default model. None of this is criticism – it’s simply an observation of what seems to me to be an underlying residue of the Roman Empire (somewhat potentiated, in the case of France, by Louix XIV and Napoleon).

In Denmark we are well beyond the limes (frontiers) of Rome. The cultural residue here is of Germanic and Norse laws and institutions, most of which are determined by the historically dominant struggle against the elements and outside groups. In practical terms this means decision-making by consultation and consensus – something which comes down directly from the Vikings. It means that the state is the framework within which we operate rather than the mechanism by which we do it. It means ‘hereness’ of decision-making which involves communal and personal responsibility. It means that the wellbeing of parties affected by a decision is an integral part of the decision-making process. Although it is closer to what I grew up with – after all, the struggle against the elements is an inherent part of Australian culture too, albeit different elements – it’s still a new and different way of working.

A parenthesis – Denmark is very aware of being a small country and a minority culture. This, it is safe to say, is not the case with France. For example, the French (and I do not reproach them for this) expected axiomatically that I speak French. In some cases it was two years before I even found out that one of my colleagues could actually speak English. In Denmark I have found myself in a meeting of 18 people of whom I was the only non-Danish person, and they have without any preamble started the meeting in English. I have actually had to insist on parts of meetings being held in Danish because otherwise how am I going to learn?

And learning Danish is a curious challenge. Although the Danes don’t expect people to learn the language (small culture, remember?), it is of course far preferable to do so. And yet, although Danish may be conceived as a midway point between German and Norwegian, with many common roots with English (remember who settled most of England in the 9th century?), the spoken language still has an even more arbitrary relation to its spoken form than French does. It means that reading Danish is relatively uncomplicated, but speaking and understanding it are another ballgame entirely. It adds a peculiar terror to house hunting when you can’t even be confident of pronouncing the name of the suburb properly. The suburb of Rødovre, pronounced something like ‘Ghreuthour’, is a case in point. At least, I say to myself, it’s not Finnish.

Denmark being a small country and culture has other effects. One is quite familiar from the Australian and New Zealand cultural scene – there is a concern about the nature and content of Danish culture. Who will promote Danish singers and musicians, or Danish conductors and composers, if not the Danes? With the Danish government coalition currently including a nationalist party, this has been given a higher profile in recent years. As with Australia and New Zealand, a lot of the great Danish artists have the predominant part of their career elsewhere; but (again like Australia and New Zealand) many make an effort to stay in contact with their roots. From Europe, however, the Danes can go home by train…

For our part, we’ve now found somewhere to live, downsizing along the way (rent doesn’t go as far in Copenhagen as it does in most places); we’ve found a school for the kids and we’ve managed the work permit/visa/healthcare card obstacle course. This, it has to be said, is very streamlined and hi-tech compared to the French system. We have bikes – this is essential. We now know that where the Eskimo have 20 words for snow, the Danes apparently have 15 for yoghurt. And on a professional level, as I settle in to the privilege and responsibility of guiding a great Danish institution through the shoals and into clear water beyond, I’m in the curious but satisfying position of feeling that all of the various byways and jumps in my career to date somehow retrospectively make sense, as in order to fulfil the tremendous potential of this orchestra I need to bring to bear the skills I’ve accumulated across 20 years of opera and orchestras. It’s nice to be useful.

Antony Ernst, © 2018

Photo by Anton Karatkevich on Unsplash

Brandenburg Orchestra will celebrate 30 years of baroque music making

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra will celebrate 30 years of baroque music making in 2019. From two inaugural concerts at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, Australia’s national baroque orchestra today maintains a busy performance schedule of 70 plus engagements across the country each year. The Brandenburg, as it is affectionately known, has provided specialist education and career paths for scores of Australian musicians devoted to period performance practice.

Perhaps unknown to the public, the Brandenburg owns the largest collection of baroque music scores in the Southern Hemisphere, including manuscripts of works never performed in the modern age. In an exciting 30th anniversary initiative, the extensive collection of manuscripts and scores which are currently stored in the orchestra’s head office will be digitally preserved and catalogued, and eventually archived in climate controlled conditions.

The library project is one of many which the Brandenburg will undertake in 2019 during a year-long celebration of all things baroque and Brandenburg. The 30th anniversary season will be marked by daring new artistic collaborations, performances of some of the greatest baroque works, and appearances by several of the world’s most in-demand guest soloists.

Sounds of the Bush

Woolshed concert, Photo: Susanne James

Some years ago, I saw a yellowing piece of paper in an artist’s itinerary file in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s archives. It’s hard to remember it verbatim now, but the gist of this note from an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) employee to the agent of a stellar European artist was, ‘Yes, recitals in Wonthaggi , Wagga Wagga and Warracknabeal really are part of the deal.’ Back then – the 1950s – the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was deeply committed to country tours, presenting their international artists beyond the populated eastern coast. David Garrett, in an article for a Sydney Symphony Opera House program, also mentions the first visit of the ABC’s ‘New South Wales Orchestra’ to Wollongong, Katoomba, Orange and Bathurst in 1938 in honour of the State’s 150th anniversary. The Bathurst press, says Garrett, ‘was excited by “the first occasion on which a symphony orchestra has given a recital so far west [159 kms, 98 miles] of Sydney”.’

Australia’s major performing arts organisations still travel to regional Australia. All the state orchestras (Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony Orchestras) travelled beyond their city limits last year. This year, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will, in fact, celebrate 80 years of regional touring by replicating the 1938 event with concerts in Wollongong (again), Nowra and Mittagong.

Musica Viva’s 2018 program includes tours of artists such as Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska to Yass and Orange, and the Sydney Chamber Choir to Armidale, Coffs Harbour and Grafton. They will tour the Mission Songs Project, an initiative to revive contemporary Australian Indigenous songs once sung on ‘missions, state run settlements and native camps’, to Grafton, Nowra, and Gunnedah. Musica Viva In Schools also tours to regional areas nationally, from southern Tasmania to Croker Island in the Torres Strait.

Then there are groups like the ACO Collective (the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s regional ensemble, under the direction of Pekka Kuusisto) which travels this year to West Australian cities such as Kalgoorlie and Bunbury (remote West Australian towns are also on the itinerary of the West Australian Symphony’s WASO On the Road). And the Australian Chamber Orchestra has other regional initiatives, such as a partnership with the Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir, based in Cairns, Far North Queensland.

Opera Australia will tour Madam Butterfly to places such as Ballarat, Dubbo, Mildura and Murwillimbah, ‘along with a children’s chorus, drawn from local communities’. And so far, we’re only talking about music. There are tours by the major theatre and dance companies. When you think about the size of regional Australia – a population spread very, very thinly over an area the size of Europe or America’s ‘lower 48’ – these are major commitments from city-based companies. Check out the website of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) if you want to see an interactive map of how each federal electorate has been represented.[1]

But the idea for this article came to me in 2017 while visiting friends in the ‘New England’ city of Armidale in sheep and cattle grazing country 379 kms (235 miles) from Sydney in northern inland NSW. I was charmed by Armidale (population: 23,352), which I’d never visited before. Green by Australian standards, it had that Victorian-era look of old Australian cities – broad streets bordered by large pubs and public buildings fringed with wrought-iron lace balconies. It boasts lovely countryside with rolling hills but also some pretty spectacular gorges nearby (such as Dangars, which I noticed from the plane coming in). But the streets were emptier than I expected and I also noted that the Sydney Opera House or Queensland Performing Arts Centre are both seven hours’ drive away. What is it like to be a classical music aficionado and live there, where you can’t just go to a show any time you like?

Susanne James was Education Manager at the Sydney Symphony (1992-1995) and later founding Director of Sydney Conservatorium’s Open Academy. She and her husband, Malcolm McClintock, a painter I met in Melbourne in 1973, lived in Armidale from 2011-17 when she became director of the New England Conservatorium.

Robert (‘Bob’) Clarke was Chief Executive of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (1995-2004). Originally a Cammeray boy (from Sydney’s north shore), he went to school in Armidale, and he and his wife, Anne, lived in Armidale for about six years 30 years ago when Bob was a local accountant. They have recently moved back to the New England city.

I asked Susanne why people live there. ‘You can have a good life. There are a lot of people who have had a university education, say at the University of New England (UNE) in their 20s, and they make the decision to leave the city so they can have a good lifestyle, send their children to good schools, buy real estate for a reasonable price and have a property with a large garden and grow vegetables.’

Her husband Malcolm interjects from the background, ‘And live out of town and have horses.’

‘Dogs and chooks. And that’s a really healthy lifestyle,’ adds Susanne. ‘They can live much cheaper here and with that money go overseas once or twice a year. And a lot of those people can go to Sydney very easily. We know people who will get in a minibus to Sydney and see two operas over a weekend, go to some good restaurants and then come back again. That gives them flexibility.’

‘What exists in a place like this,’ says Bob Clarke, ‘is enthusiasm. There’s a high level.’ He talks of all the organisations people can join ‘because they want to. It’s not a job. It’s all voluntary. And there’s a great huge deal of satisfaction when a project is finished.’

As to whether Susanne and Malcolm often made the drive to Sydney, ‘We found the drive incredibly exhausting,’ she says. ‘And if you want to go the coast it’s a three-hour drive – over a beautiful range on the way to Coffs Harbour, mind you.’ Bob Clarke makes the point that Armidale is serviced several times daily from Sydney and ‘it’s a prop-jet, not a wind-up thing like a Sopwith Camel.’

GW: So you rely on touring companies to bring the entertainment to you?

SJ: ‘We get the ACO Collective. We will get Opera Australia’s touring opera every second year or so. And that is a really good little production. We would get the Sydney International Piano Competition winner every four years and maybe the runner-up on the following year. So they’re the sort of professional productions we would get coming into town, but the reason these things happen is because you will either have a regional conservatorium where there is the funding and infrastructure and staffing to be able to mount these productions and to take on the financial risk. Or a group of enthusiastic volunteers. And that’s how the touring model of, say, Musica Viva works.’

‘Musica Viva gets a tick in my opinion,’ says Bob Clarke, of the 70 years-old Sydney-based chamber music society that tours not only international and local artists to Australia’s major capital cities but also regional areas as well. And Musica Viva even does touring to much more remote destinations. Trish Ludgate, who was Musica Viva’s CountryWide and Export Manager from 1983-2003 has written of the logistics of early tours to outback places like Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra, and the Pilbara – ‘the jigsaw pieces needed to be laid on a very big table.’[2] She also picked up little practical hints like not relying on a map to work out how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, but asking a local. In fact, one of the ingredients for successful touring that Susanne mentioned to me in writing this piece is the importance of having someone on the ground as a contact point.

As someone who worked for Australian orchestras when they operated as a network in the old ABC days, I was interested in what Susanne said about the NSW Regional Conservatorium network: ‘There are 17 Regional Conservatoriums in NSW,’ she says. ‘So the New England Conservatorium (NECOM) where I used to be the director is considered a non-tertiary community conservatorium and tasked with being a hub of providing music education experiences and concerts to schools particularly and to the community.’ A glance at NECOM’s most recent newsletter, from the new director, Russell Bauer, reveals the sorts of things they’re doing: the string department helping local students work toward the Armidale Eisteddfod; Australian Music Examinations Board exams; an annual Music Day for Year 10 students from all over the New England region; Night Tours of the Newling Building, the historic old teachers’ college building where NECOM is located; also, a float in the Autumn Festival parade! The Conservatorium reaches some 5,500 students across the New England region and some 5,000 people through concert performances.

‘And’, continues Susanne, ‘every Regional Conservatorium gets funding from the state departments of education and the arts, and arts funding is aimed particularly at concert-going. It gives money to Regional Conservatoriums to bring up professional musicians and to create music concerts for their town. Part of that funding would be used for bringing up city-based groups.’

But clearly there is a lot of local activity if the regional conservatorium is helping students work toward an eisteddfod, and there are Armidale Youth Orchestras, a local Bach festival and, outside of music, organisations like ADFAS (the Armidale Decorative and Fine Arts Society), a French film festival… This squares with my experience when I lived in Alice Springs, smack bang in the middle of Australia. You might think there is nothing to do there after work but go to the pub, but you could go out every night if you wanted to – to the Society for Growing Australian Plants one night, Big Band Tuesday, or Totem Theatre the next night…

‘I’m on the board of the New England Regional Arts Museum,’ says Bob Clarke. ‘I’m on the finance committee, I’m on the fund-raising committee. And there’s a good cross-section of things to do, if you want.’ Susanne speaks of the opportunity to do really creative things like putting on concerts in heritage-listed buildings, such as woolsheds. Malcolm ended up being president of the New England Art Society.

And people really do want to muck in. ‘We would get Opera Australia’s touring group every two years or so,’ says Susanne. ‘We’d have to guarantee a fee and – and this is the big part – we’d have to provide a staff to build sets and bump in and bump out. We had eight guys for The Marriage of Figaro in 2016. That is massive. You’ve got to start at seven in the morning. You finish at one o’clock. And then as soon as the opera is finished at ten-thirty, all of those people come back and bump out until 2 o’clock in the morning. And that’s what regional people have to do to get the opera.’

But we know we’re not getting the B team, points out Susanne. And we get to hear specially-commissioned works.

But international standards? ‘I go to the Met’s live broadcasts at the local cinema, the Belgrave,’ says Bob.

GW: ‘At 10am? Is it too early for a Choc Top?’

BC: ‘How could you possibly go to the cinema and not get a Choc Top?’

‘You get ABC Classic-FM, too, don’t you?’ I ask, referring to Australia’s principal classical music station, broadcast over the entire continent.

‘Yes,’ says Bob with a tone that suggests he’s shaking his head at my question, ‘and we have television.’

But what are the disadvantages? After a bit of a pause, Susanne says, ‘A lot of regional towns in NSW do have very small populations and struggle to maintain or sustain a good restaurant/café industry. There are clubs, RSLs, the ‘Servies’ [Returned Servicemen’s League clubs], but there are people who go to those and people who don’t. So you will find that the café culture is improving – particularly in the daytime – but at night and over the weekends they’ll close, so there’s not the good quality eating and dining out that you would automatically get in the city.’

Which reminds me that not all country regions are the same. On the north coast of NSW (‘the Northern Rivers’) where a bunch of similarly-sized towns sit relatively close together and form a network, you can have breakfast in Alstonville, lunch in Bangalow and dinner in Lismore. So, when you say ‘the country’ not all regions share the same demographic characteristics.

Bob Clarke lists other downsides. ‘There is a city-country divide. You become very conscious of that when you move back to the bush – the state government, for example, wanting to pull down and rebuild the Sydney Olympic stadium when the football stadium here is a row of benches slowly rotting into the ground. I don’t miss the fact that I can’t subscribe to an entire season and going down to Sydney is a fair whack of money. The groups could visit more often. But that’s a dollar issue. In a sense, up here you’re stuck with a “like it or lump it” sort of thing. But that’s the other thing about living in the bush; you accept your compromises. On the other hand if you go to a performance here it’s a social gathering – you know half the audience – and that adds to the experience.’

My wife and I have found, since living in America, that small towns are really enlivened by having a university in their midst (think Chapel Hill, Princeton, San Luis Obispo) and I’m mindful of the fact that UNE once had an ensemble of international standard, the New England Ensemble, which served as a nucleus or catalyst for musical standards in the city. That group doesn’t exist anymore but there still seems to be a lot of homegrown groups producing their own native crops. And the city-based groups look like they’re still going to keep going out to the bush. Long may they do so. As David Garrett commented on that New South Wales Symphony Orchestra’s 1938 visit to the regions, ‘If even one light went on in a youthful head, hearing and seeing an orchestra for the first time – perhaps as the Overture to Tannhäuser reached “a climax of massive brilliance” – then the experiment was surely worthwhile.’

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2018

[1] AMPAG touring Map

[2] Trish Ludgate, article for the Musica Viva Storybook, Celebrating 70 Years of Music

Armidale in the spring from North Hill. Source: Wikimedia. Photo: Terry Cooke

Young conductors hone their skills with TSO

Aspiring conductor Alexander Rodrigues works with the TSO

Conducting is a mysterious profession, and Australia’s orchestras have had some success in teaching young musicians the skills required. Symphony Australia’s national training program was handed back to the six symphony orchestras last year, and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra now leads the way in training aspiring Australian conductors from all over the country.

Over 9 days in late January, the TSO welcomed 11 up-and-coming conductors, all aged in their 20s and 30s, to the inaugural Australian Conducting Academy Summer School. This joint venture between the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the University of Tasmania saw participants work with acclaimed conductor Johannes Fritzsch in Hobart. Taking a holistic approach to the art of conducting, course participants attended yoga classes as well as participating in workshops with a mime artist in order to fully grasp the finer points of gestural communication. Artistic Administrators from Australia and New Zealand observed the final days of the course with the aim of identifying potential orchestral leaders of the future. TSO is proud to be investing in the artistic future of the symphony orchestras through the annual Conducting Academy.

WASO’s Music for the Ages

Classical music has long been recognised for its ability to heal and soothe. Australia’s symphony orchestras have regularly engaged in programs that support the elderly and unwell in their communities.

In 2018 WASO introduced a new program – Music for the Ages – to its Community Outreach portfolio. This program provides engaging performances across the Aged Care and Healthcare sectors, and encourages a lifelong journey with WASO’s music and musicians. WASO launched this program as part of the Amana Living Arts Festival and delivered chamber music performances across three Amana Living villages throughout February and March.

Studies highlight the ongoing benefit and enjoyment that engagement with the arts can have on a participant’s health and social wellbeing. Partnering with Amana Living has enabled WASO to reach new audiences who cannot access traditional classical music performances. Audiences enjoyed the selection of classical pieces, well-known tunes as well as arrangements of opera arias and popular songs. Many joined the WASO musicians in song, and appreciated the opportunity to meet and talk to the musicians in a homely setting.

ASO celebrates diverse cultures and traditions

Photo: Claudio Raschella.

To welcome the Year of the Dog, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Festival Centre presented a Chinese New Year concert in February that united cultures through the power of music. Including popular masterworks and traditional Chinese favourites, the event featured renowned artists conducted by Jason Lai. Pianist sensation Warren Lee made his Adelaide debut and Yafen, an award-winning Chinese folk soprano, hit the high notes as she brought her traditional Chinese fine arts to the stage.

With more than 100 artists on stage, talented Australian didjeridu virtuoso William Barton joined a troupe of eight drummers from the Shanghai Empireast Culture Group. This was the first time a symphonic Chinese New Year concert of this scale was held in Adelaide.

Also on the program was the Australian Premiere of a specially commissioned cross-cultural work, Rooster Fanfare, which premiered at the historic AFL Port Adelaide match in Shanghai in May last year. Written by Australian composer Sean O’Boyle, it celebrates the coming together of Australian and Chinese musical cultures.

With this special presentation, ASO contributed to uniting different cultures through the power of music. ASO takes pride in recognising and celebrating diversity and encourages cultural awareness through music.

MSO and young dancers with Down syndrome explore music, movement and expression

In late 2017 the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra embarked on a creative collaboration with e.motion21, an innovative charity that provides dance, fitness and performance programs for children and young adults with Down syndrome.

The pilot program saw 24 dancers join a selection of MSO musicians for a workshop and presentation. See some of the fun below.

The workshop included a series of activities incorporating music, movement and the themes of earth, air, fire and water with which the participants experimented and explored their individual expression.

“The exchange of ideas was extraordinary,” said one parent of a 14-year-old dancer. “[My daughter] has never worked with live, classical music so closely before. It was thrilling to see her express herself with such freedom and joy.”

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is committed to providing accessible performances and workshops for all Victorians and looks forward to the evolution of this collaboration.

SSO Celebrates 80 Years of Regional Touring

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s commitment to regional touring stretches back almost as far as the Orchestra’s founding. This year the Orchestra celebrates an amazing 80 years of regional touring in New South Wales by returning to where it all began: Wollongong.

Following in the footsteps of the SSO musicians pictured here on the first regional tour in 1938, this May more than 50 SSO musicians will travel by bus to Nowra, Wollongong and Mittagong to perform for enthusiastic audiences of all ages. There may be fewer pipes and Homburg hats these days (and a stronger gender balance) but the SSO’s passion and commitment to sharing exceptional musical experiences with the community right across NSW remains unchanged.

This year’s tour will feature the Overture from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Elgar’s Sea Pictures and Beethoven’s epic Fifth Symphony for audiences.

In addition, as part of the SSO’s commitment to learning and engagement in the community, the Orchestra will perform fun, interactive schools concerts at each of the centres on the tour, with heavily subsidised tickets for students, and the facility for some schools to attend free of charge.

Photo: Tim Walsh

Here’s to another 80 years of music-making!

QSO supports young talent from regional Queensland

Not everyone lives in a capital city and can attend regular concerts by their state’s symphony orchestra. But the six Australian symphony orchestras do everything possible to ensure all Australians are given the opportunity to enjoy fine music.

Ten-year-old Grant Dolbel from Chinchilla first met Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s David Montgomery (Section Principal Percussion) when the Orchestra traveled to the region in October 2016 for the Chinchilla Miles Roma Initiative. Grant plays drums with the Chinchilla Concert Band, which collaborated with the Orchestra on this visit. David Montgomery played with Grant and thought he was extraordinary for his age.

As a result, Grant now travels nearly 300km to Brisbane for a three-hour lesson with David every three weeks (accompanied on the four hour drive by his parents Amy and Wayne). Grant’s older brother plays the trombone, and also participated in the Chinchilla program.

The Chinchilla Miles Roma (CMR) Initiative is an innovative partnership between Principal Partner Australia Pacific LNG. Through programs such as this, the Orchestra demonstrates its commitment to including patrons from outside Brisbane in its concerts, workshops and opportunities.

Goodear – New Stock, New Editions, New Website


We’re delighted to announce we’ve received a new shipment of Goodear Acoustic Shields. As Symphony Services International’s flagship product, the Goodear Acoustic Shield has established itself as the most widely used product among orchestras to protect players from hearing loss. From the sturdy and lightweight plywood core to the EVA foam casing’s sound absorbing properties, this new batch has been rigorously tested by the National Acoustic Laboratories to ensure the shield’s effectiveness in reducing harmful noise levels. Learn more about the shield at Symphony Services International’s website.

Now numbering almost 90 titles, Goodear Editions continues to make previously difficult to obtain scores and parts available to orchestras and ensembles all over the world. Ranking among our best selling items are popular classics of early 20th-century symphonic repertoire such as Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet: Suite No. 2. Our catalogue also features many Baroque and Classical vocal works, some previously unpublished, with two of our most requested editions being by Vivaldi – “Vedrò con mio diletto” from his opera Giustino and the charming aria “Zefiretti, che sussurrate”. Among our new publications this year, we offer a selection of lesser known small orchestral works including Johann Strauss’ Rettungs-Jubel-Marsch, the Overture from Marschner’s Der Vampyr, and Martucci’s Notturno. Browse through the full range of Goodear Editions, many available in both digital and print format, at the Goodear online shop.

Our biggest news about the Goodear line is that we’re currently working on a brand new website to showcase our products. With new images, a fresh design and updated information, visitors to the site will find it easier than ever to discover the entire Goodear product range – Goodear Acoustics, Goodear Editions, Goodear Notes, and Goodear Surtitles. We plan to launch the site in early 2018 and we invite you to visit the site’s homepage to request to be informed about the launch of the new site.

2017: Opera Australia Orchestra’s 50th anniversary year

The Opera Australia Orchestra is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. Formed in 1967 as the Sydney Elizabethan Trust Orchestra to be the performance partner of Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet, it was known for many years as the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. Now called the Opera Australia Orchestra, it has earned an international reputation as an expert orchestra of the highest calibre. With over 300 performances of more than 20 productions of opera, ballet, musical theatre and concerts, it is also Australia’s busiest orchestra. Performing under some of the world’s finest conductors, the core orchestra is supported by excellent seasonal and freelance musicians.

The seven-month closure for renovations of the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre in 2017 has provided the orchestra with the opportunity to perform in a range of diverse venues including the Sydney Town Hall, the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall and the Capitol Theatre

Recent highlights include concert performances of Wagner’s Parsifal with Jonas Kaufmann, conducted by Pinchas Steinberg; Gala concerts in Melbourne and Sydney with Anna Netrebko; Massenet’s Thaïs; and Verdi’s Requiem performed with the Opera Australia Chorus. The Orchestra also featured in the sixth season of the now iconic Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, set on a stage on Sydney Harbour. For the Australian Ballet, recent highlights include the acclaimed production of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, and Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland conducted by Nicolette Fraillon.

Opera Australia returns to the Sydney Opera House in 2018 with highly anticipated productions including The Nose by Dmitri Shostakovitch, Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Australian composer Brian Howard’s chamber opera Metamorphosis.

Just a Fad? – Film Screenings with Live Orchestra

TThe Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performs Jeff Beal’s score for The General. Photo: Jamie Pham. Courtesy Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Have film screenings with live orchestra really been around so long? Jon Burlingame writing in Variety in 2013[1], cites a 1987 live screening of Eisenstein and Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the ‘light bulb’ moment when Steven Linder of IMG Artists realised these could be a thing.

Thirty years! Is it long enough to prove that ‘Live Screenings’ are not a fad? Of course, music and film have been united for quite some time. Live music – usually a pianist or organist – used to accompany Silent Films. And even in the early days of Sound, Charlie Chaplin favoured music over dialogue in, say, a movie like The Kid, although by now we’re talking about music fixed to the permanent soundtrack. The point is what potential does this phenomenon have for any sort of development that will be useful for orchestras?

By one reading of history, Classical music has struggled for audiences in the period when films rose to prominence. But suddenly, re-emphasising the link between music and movies through live performance has seemingly given classical music a new lease on life, providing orchestras with audiences they could once only dream of.

Over the past 30 years, the phenomenon has certainly not stood still. Even a decade or so ago ‘the methodology was incredibly unformed really,’ says Brett Kelly of his experiences conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: ‘I had a separate video feed with literally a clock-face in the corner of the screen and I would get a 30 second countdown to the beginning of each cue, and then the clock would just turn. I actually had to pace everything with this clock-face so I would know if I was a second ahead or a second behind and then basically modulate the tempo to arrive at certain hit points. One cue ran continuously for more than 13 minutes.’

The technology for conducting music live to movies has become more complex since those pioneering days but preparing music for a live screening is still incredibly time-consuming and involves novel musical skills. I met up with Mae Crosby, a former professional orchestral musician who now works for the Los Angeles-based Epilogue Media, a boutique media and technology company that in addition to working in all forms of audio post production creates and adapts existing technology to assist the conductor and musicians with film and music synchronisation during the preparation and performance of live film concerts. Most recently they were the technical directors for the preparation and playback of the Star Wars Trilogy with the New York Philharmonic.

For ‘cases where no-one knew that a film was going to end up being done live’, Epilogue produces tempo maps, click tracks, a reliable score that actually matches the locked film (the absolutely final edit), and essentially a conductor video so they can see everything that’s going on.

GW: ‘Tempo maps’? What are they?’

MC: ‘Essentially they are a digital representation of the speed and beat patterns of the music. They can be used during the composition process to transfer information about the music to the written musical parts and to the recordist for the click so that the music stays synchronised with the film. Because of film and music editing, the music that was recorded does not always match exactly what is in the released film so we use tempo maps in reverse. We create them from the music tracks in the final film to make new written parts and ultimately to give the musicians at the live concerts an audible click during tightly synchronised moments between film and score.’

Then Mae and the people in her team have to work out which of the numerous cues for each passage of music actually made it into the film and how they match with the score. ‘So you have 1M1 which is “the first music cue in reel one” [called ‘reels’ because they used to physically be reels]. We sit there with the original written score in front of us and say, “Okay run 1M1” and then things like, “This is clearly not bar 17. Can we figure out what’s going on?” So you reconstruct the edits basically.’

GW: ‘So in order to do the live concert, you reconstruct a new score based on the finished film which is different from what the composer provided in the first place?’

MC: ‘It is what the composer provided; it’s just that their recorded music gets edited to match the ongoing edits in the film which in the digital age can happen almost up until the release date. As a result, the original written music parts prepared for the recording sessions are no longer usable.’

‘It doesn’t get re-orchestrated though?’

‘Well, oftentimes film scores are specialty scores that might have non-Western instruments or eight French horns or woodwind players who double on multiple instruments which isn’t the way a standard symphony orchestra is constructed.’

‘So you prepare a regular orchestral score out of a studio score?’

‘Our team doesn’t do that usually. That’s the music prep house because they have professional orchestrators – but that’s also why it takes so long. It can be a three-month process.’

‘Which has got to be worthwhile.’

‘I think that’s why you just tend to see the big films.’

And actually, if you look at some of the movies that have been given this treatment, you do tend to see just the big popular blockbusters. For example, what was being presented around the world on 1 December, this year?[2] Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life… Of course, that’s not counting concerts such as James Newton Howard – Three Decades of Music for Hollywood, or A Night at the Movies: A Celebration of Star Wars composer John Williams.

And there’s got to be enough music to make it worthwhile to have an orchestra sitting there. Composer, Patrick Morganelli, whom I spoke to in connection with future developments, told me the story of the production house that was delighted to discover a whole trove of Dimitri Tiomkin’s music that had never made it into the theatrical release of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life [3]. The Live Screening phenomenon could clearly have the added benefit of reviving a whole lot of music that would otherwise have remained unheard.

Patrick Morganell. Photo: Anna Webber

Morganelli’s own special project is a work he wrote for Opera Theater Oregon called Hercules vs Vampires. It’s essentially an operatic re-dubbing of a 1960s sword-and-sandal flick, Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World, which starred bodybuilder Reg Park and English actor, Christopher Lee as the villain, King Lico.

Morganelli removed the film’s original score but the opera necessarily retains Bava’s plot. Hercules discovers that his lover, Princess Deianira, has lost her mind. Her only hope is the Stone of Forgetfulness in Hades. So Hercules and his companions set out on a dangerous quest for the stone, unaware that King Lico, the girl’s guardian, actually covets her and is responsible for her condition. The film was made with the technology available to Bava, and modern audiences get a kick out of such elements as Procrustes the stone monster, who is obviously a guy in a foam-rubber ‘stone suit’. But Morganelli takes Bava seriously. And the film has everything that a traditional opera contains: love, death, jealousy, revenge…

‘Don’t forget incest,’ says Morganelli when I speak to him in Blue Bottle Coffee on Hillhurst Avenue, Los Angeles’s caffeine alley. ‘The thing that motivated me to pursue the commission was the fact that I was a fan of Bava’s. Opera Theater Oregon had a whole set of things that they wanted composers to do to be considered for the project.’

GW: ‘So it was an obstacle course, kind of?’

PM: ‘Oh yes, absolutely. They had two to three sections of the film roughly four-minutes long and they said, “Pick one”, and then you had to do a digital mock-up of the score; you had to do a conductor’s score. You know write the whole thing.’

‘They wanted to make sure that you were not just a guy who could do it on the Midi?’

‘Yes. Because there are composers who produce astonishing work, but if you say, “Well now you have to create something that has to be performed live, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know how to do that.” Now we have a problem.’

But Morganelli’s Hercules vs Vampires introduces a new element into opera – action that is in the film. The singers stand with the orchestra oratorio-style – ‘park and bark’ is how one singer described it to Morganelli when North Carolina Opera presented the work. And surprisingly, perhaps, the singers don’t see what’s on screen.

PM: ‘In rehearsal, working with the conductor who has of course the click track, the singers would have a television screen so they could get a feel for “What is my character doing?” Now, when the original was done in Portland (Oregon) and when we did it with LA Opera we found that the singers, once they had learnt their parts, really weren’t looking at it. They were projecting to the audience. So, after that, I just made the decision to get rid of the monitors for performance.’

‘The project was exponentially way more difficult than I expected,’ adds Morganelli. ‘Part of the deal was that I was going to be primarily responsible for creating and adapting the libretto – you know, taking the dialogue from the movie, transcribing it, and then figuring out, okay, the difference between writing a play and a libretto. In addition to that I had to find a way to synchronise with the mouth movements of the actors on screen. When I first started working on it I thought, “Okay, I’m not going to sweat that. I’m just going to have it start and end roughly with the mouth movements.” But after doing that for about a week, I had to make it a little tighter. Otherwise the effect is lost.’

GW: ‘Did that process help you create melodies?’

PM: ‘Yes. Absolutely. Because, you know, in any kind of vocal music with words – and if you’re aiming high with this – the meaning of the words has got to be reflected in the music. If the words go to a place dramatically, the music has got to go there too, so it’s like, “Great, now there’s another thing to worry about.”

Perhaps with Hercules vs Vampires we’re talking live screenings going into a wholly new realm – works actually conceived for live accompaniment of film but Morganelli also raises the tricky issue of copyright issues with films already made.

‘With Hercules the copyright almost brought the project to a screeching halt. One of the reasons Opera Theater Oregon chose this film is because they found it listed on a website that said “public domain”. But when we got to the point of doing contracts (we were doing it at LA Opera as well), we were told, “Oh, by the way, you must conclusively demonstrate either that you have a licence from the copyright holder or conclusively prove that this is in the public domain.” Then my attorney and I found that it had gone back into copyright. And then we found that the copyright holder lives in LA, he’s in the film business, and he has a law degree. As it turns out, he’s a very nice fellow who’s an opera fan and it all worked out.

Copyright-searches are another reason cited by Mae Crosby for the length of time it takes to prepare a live-screening product, but she also mentioned that ‘It’s made easier if the studio that made the movie is the one that wants the live performance.’

But do Live Screenings actually bring orchestras new audiences? ‘They’re constantly being market-researched,’ says Australian conductor, Ben Northey, who has become something of a specialist in this kind of work. ‘This is the biggest audience-development opportunity the orchestras have ever had in my opinion and there are all these studies looking into how many people cross over into regular orchestral concerts but these concerts have got their own audience. It’s a unique experience.’

GW: ‘How satisfying are these concerts for the musicians?’

BN: ‘It depends on how the conductor manages the synchronisation. I choose not to use click track unless there’s something like a piano player on the screen where it needs to be timed micro-second to micro-second. I try to conduct in a normal organic musical way, just to use time-codes, the punches on the conductor monitor and the streamers [the technology that has been around since the days of Alfred Newman in the 1930s] and generally speaking you can work out the points where you can be a bit free. But I don’t think it’s a much different experience than serving anything bigger. We accompany singers all the time, we accompany opera, ballet…’

Brett Kelly: ‘The satisfaction is being part of a holistic experience with people. You go to a cinema and hear the music integrated in the movie and that’s the way it’s meant to be. Pulling it apart so you can see – it’s a little like looking into the back of a watch to see all the moving parts. It’s a whole other level of interest. For the conductor, I think it’s just literally about the skill required to do it. It’s particularly exciting when combined with the inevitable time pressure and incredibly high expectations of the audience. They’re used to hearing a soundtrack that’s been manicured and edited and mixed and tweaked and had fairy dust of every kind sprinkled on it. Replicating that in a live environment is always going to be a challenge.’

Does the quality of the music compensate for all the time put into the phenomenon?’

BN: ‘Nearly all of these quality film scores are somehow referencing particularly the 20th-century composers. You can hear Prokofiev, Bartók, Stravinsky, Gustav Holst, Shostakovich… You name me a 20th-century composer and you can hear the colours and sounds from those composers in, particularly, the film scores of John Williams. It’s only a matter of time before there is an audience expectation that they will hear some film music suites in a stand-alone orchestral concert, the same way that opera or ballet suites are performed in orchestral concerts.’

BK: ‘The music is almost always terrific because you’re usually only doing movies where the score justifies the size of the undertaking.’

It does occur to me that it has taken orchestras centuries to build up a tradition of Absolute Music and there’s a question about the reduction of meaning in Absolute Music if music is tied too tightly with familiar visuals, but this is probably a larger aesthetic discussion for a bigger piece. Perhaps the biggest test of the viability of Live Screenings is the phenomenon’s potential for future development.

When I see that the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra does an annual Silent Film performance and this year presented House of Cards composer Jeff Beal’s new score for Buster Keaton’s The General, I can’t help thinking that Live Screenings may revive many unjustly-forgotten Silent Films. Morganelli talks of the two audiences he got for Hercules – contemporary opera fans and Bava enthusiasts. But it could be that the live orchestra is now being conceived as part of the film presentation concept very, very early in the process. Mae Crosby tells me about being involved in the world premiere of Star Trek Beyond at Comic-Con where Michael Giacchino’s score was performed live by the San Diego Symphony. Red carpet. Actors. Symphony Orchestra!

Orchestral administrators still have to worry about filling the ‘subs’, of course. But perhaps Film Screenings with Live Orchestra will have a bigger-than-expected effect on the art-form we know. Morganelli says that working on Hercules ‘made me feel I wanted to write another opera but one that would be fully staged to where I could break free of the tyranny of the time-code.’ Most significantly, Hercules taught him that an opera needs ‘First and foremost, a great story. The audience can listen to a really brilliant passage of orchestration and think, “Oh that sounds interesting, or that sounds scary or that sounds pretty” or whatever. But when there’s things happening on the stage that grip them, it’s, “Oh my god, look what he just did – that bastard!”’

Nietzsche’s first book was called The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, but it was always drummed into me at the Conservatorium that the classical symphonic language arose from the opera house. Perhaps Film Screenings with Live Music will instigate a rebirth of music from the spirit of the blockbuster. Who knows? After all, the phenomenon has only been with us about 30 years.


Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2017

[1] Burlingame, Jon, ‘Score One for Movie Maestros: Audiences Grow for Film-Music Concerts,’ Variety, Nov 14, 2013’,

[2] http://www.moviesinconcert.nl/index.php?page=past-concerts

[3] David Llewellyn, ‘It’s a “Wonderful” score that Dimitri Tiomkin wrote for the Capra classic’, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 2016 – https://csosoundsandstories.org/its-a-wonderful-score-that-dimitri-tiomkin-wrote-for-the-capra-classic/


WASO Education Week

WASO presents The Beat of Your Feet, a family concert featuring Paul Rissmann, Libby Hammer and conducted by Benjamin Northey. Photo: Kate Ferguson

“Bravo WASO! The excitement and enthusiasm generated with the young audience at one of [the] concerts at the Perth Concert Hall had to be experienced to be believed…. Thank you and well done WASO, its players and musicians.” B.Lillis, Letter to the Editor, published in The West Australian 26 June 2017.

WASO’s Community Engagement Department was delighted to reach 6,355 audience members across 15 performances in 7 different locations during Education Week this year.

WASO welcomed UK composer and educationalist Paul Rissmann as Artist-In-Residence, presenting a selection of his children’s programs for full orchestra as well as chamber programs with two newly formed ensembles, and WASO’s first ever education programs in Mandurah to a capacity audience.

Across the eight days, WASO delivered performances for primary school students and families at Perth Concert Hall and Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, a 90+ member Rusty Orchestra performance, Kids Cushion Concerts, a Hospital Orchestra Project at Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital, plus a composer development event and a conducting masterclass as part of the Young and Emerging Artists program. In addition, six free music education classes were presented as part of WASO’s El Sistema-inspired music education program, Crescendo, teaching more than 100 students in Kwinana.

Education Week takes place during Community Support Month, during which Paul Rissmann delivered the annual Judy Sienkiewicz Lecture, speaking about the importance and value of education and outreach programming for a modern 21st Century orchestra.

ASO community engagement

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has undertaken several exciting community engagement activities in recent months. In late July, the ASO connected with community musicians through its Come and Play program. This gives participants the experience of playing side by side with the professional musicians of the ASO. Oboe player Anthony Radogna stated: “The next best thing to being a professional musician is having the opportunity to work with professionals. The Come and Play event really accentuates this.”

In August, members of the ASO also visited two community centres and gave free daytime concerts to disadvantaged groups. Kerry MacGrath from Community Centres SA said: “The ASO’s commitment to improving their community engagement is fantastic. The program’s success is measured by the pride that the community centres take in hosting the ASO. It touches people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to watch the ASO perform.”

MSO in Indonesia

Sultan Hamengkubuwana X of Yogyakarta presents conductors Johannes Fritzsch and Budhi Ngurah with a gift following the performance at Prambanan Temple. Photo Aleta & Kinar Filmproduktion

In August, the MSO performed at the UNESCO world heritage site Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Prior to this extraordinary event, musicians worked with local music students in workshops and rehearsals in preparation to perform side-by-side on stage at the one-night-only event.

Princess Mangkubumi, daughter of Sultan Hamengkubuwana X of Yogyakarta, who sits on the MSO Advisory Council, attended a rehearsal and the performance.

A three-year agreement between the Government of the Special Region of Yogyakarta and the MSO was signed at the Sultan’s Palace by Umar Priyono (Head of Department of Culture YSR) and MSO Chairman Michael Ullmer. Attending the signing were His Majesty Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, Commissioner for Victoria to South East Asia Brett Stevens and MSO Managing Director Sophie Galaise. The agreement outlines additional MSO and YSR commitments beyond the 2017 tour, including an internship for two Indonesian students in Melbourne later this year and a second Youth Music Camp planned for 2018.

Watch the Video

The SSO returns to China

Scott Kinmont and Jiwen Hu. Photo Edmund Ong

Students at Shanghai’s Jian Ping High School and Shanghai Orchestra Academy enjoyed meeting and learning from the musicians of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on the Orchestra’s fifth tour to China, led by Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson. An SSO String Quartet travelled to the High School to hold a lunchtime performance and Q & A session, answering questions about the life of a professional orchestral musician. The musicians of the SSO, including Scott Kinmont (pictured), also gave two days of masterclasses at Shanghai Orchestra Academy, working in small groups and one-on-one with the students. Concertmaster Andrew Haveron and Principal Cello Umberto Clerici auditioned strings students at the Academy for three Sydney-based performance residencies that will take place later in the year.

Concert highlights of the tour included the performance of the Chinese premiere of Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s Spirit of the Wild, a piece of music inspired by the Tasmanian wilderness and written for the prodigious talents of Principal Oboe Diana Doherty. The tour concluded with a gala concert at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, with whom the SSO re-signed a Memorandum of Understanding demonstrating a continued shared commitment to working together. The Australian Embassy, Beijing, welcomed the SSO musicians, Mr Robertson and incoming SSO CEO Emma Dunch at a post-concert reception celebrating the 45th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations and the role of arts and culture in building relationships between our countries.

Students at Jian Ping High School. Photo: Daniela Testa


QSO tours regionally

The beginning of September saw an ensemble of Queensland Symphony Orchestra musicians head to Western Queensland to bring music to the communities of Roma, Miles and Chinchilla for the second consecutive year, supported by Origin Energy. The ensemble gave performances, tutorials and workshops to school students and music teachers culminating in a Community in Concert performance in Chinchilla. A total of 114 musicians including two school bands, string groups, the community band and QSO musicians performed for an audience of 380 people.

After coming home from Western Queensland, the tour headed north for the Gladstone Enrichment Through Music program. This important initiative, supported by Origin Energy and Australia Pacific LNG, has impacted over 15,000 participants through workshops and education components since 2012.

TSO at Risdon Prison

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is collaborating with staff, volunteers and inmates from Risdon Prison on a unique creative writing and performance project, Convict Monologues. Over the course of ten months inmates will research, write and perform a series of monologues inspired by the life and times of convicts from the age of early Australian colonisation, exploring how they overcame adversity and forged successful lives in Tasmania post transportation.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has commissioned composer Chris Williams, a two-time graduate of the elite Australian Composers’ School, to compose incidental music for the performance. Six TSO musicians will perform live and record the musical score for inclusion in future performances of Convict Monologues.

Convict Monologues will engage, educate and inspire inmates through an ongoing series of classes coordinated by playwright, author and ABC Hobart content-maker Paul McIntyre and Risdon Prison Sport and Recreation Officer Natasha Woods. Inmates will work through a process of professional script development as well as attending presentations by guest tutors.

TSO Managing Director Nicholas Heyward said, ‘This project exemplifies the broad scope of the outreach work that the TSO undertakes in the community. I’m delighted that Chris Williams is taking such a key role; his involvement demonstrates the value of the investment we make in national elite musicians’ training.’

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Australian Series: The Art Behind the Music.

“The visual arts and music are perfect partners. Artists working in both mediums have recourse to the same tools, for example, colour, form, light and dark, harmony and discord, to create emotion and help us better understand the world around us.”  – Angus Trumble, Director National Portrait Gallery.

As orchestra of the nation’s capital, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra has become incubator and steward for new and old Australian music. This has manifested as the Australian Series, an amalgamation of visual art and music.

The Australian Series sees CSO musicians and outstanding Australian instrumentalists perform three different, one-hour concerts. Each offers cutting-edge, classical Australian composition, tailored to create a musical landscape for three exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery. Each concert is unique and compelling, with the audience invited to take a private tour of the featured exhibition straight afterwards. Curated and compered by Dr Matthew Hindson AM, an Australian composer and Deputy Head of School at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, every concert includes at least one world premiere.

We very much look forward to presenting the Australian Series at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018, for what promises to be a refreshing and dynamic musical experience.

For more information about the Australian Series and each curated concert, visit www.cso.org.au

Kim Waldock and the Royal Opera House

Orchestra pit and auditorium of the ROH

In 2015, Kim Waldock, at that time Director of Learning and Engagement for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was appointed by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to be its new General Manager of the Learning and Participation team. Two years later, how has she found working in another environment and what lessons has she learned?

February 2015 my phone rang: ‘It’s Jillian Barker from the Royal Opera House. I would like you to come and be my new General Manager. ‘A life-changing conversation had me breaking the news to my family, friends and colleagues that I was heading to London to learn from ‘the big boys’.

I had been managing a team of five at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO), driving the educational arm of the orchestra, implementing and devising programs to educate our audiences, develop our young artists, professional learning and resource support for teachers, programming schools’ concerts, developing new community access opportunities to support our regional and international touring. I had been working in the Australian Curriculum Creative Arts writing team and undertaking some research for Symphony Services International on best practice in conductor training around the world.

Kim Waldock

I was not sure of the specifics of my new role, other than overseeing the operational, compliance and HR issues created by a team about nine times larger than my current one, spread over two geographical locations. Nor was I planning to replicate the sort of educational work I had been doing for the SSO in terms of writing for and training teachers. After 22 years in classrooms, then reinventing myself as Arts Administrator for an additional seven, I was at a stage in my career where I was thinking ‘what next?’ This was the Royal Opera House!! My chance to develop a new suite of skills in opera and ballet while living in one of the world’s cultural capitals!

Three months later I approached the Covent Garden stage door for the first time. Responsible for an enormous (by Australian standards) budget and initiating change management strategies for a large number of programs delivered by a team of 43 spread across two geographical sites, I was apprehensive. But I was sharing a building with the world’s great ballet and opera companies, and the guy in the lift looked suspiciously like Bryn Terfel!

The Board had recently approved a new strategy for Learning and Participation (L&P). The ROH has a mandate to provide across-UK access to our performances, which we do via our cinema and live streaming. L&P had to refocus beyond greater London to meet a new set of aspirational national targets by 2020. So beyond the operational needs of our team, my role was to implement effective change management along those lines and help turn the boat around.

The arts education climate here is grim, and fallout from the new English Baccalaureate has been significant. Daily, schools cut music provision and staff because of funding and pressures from standardised testing. Sadly, school leaders here do appreciate the value of arts-based-learning, but feel too pressured by standardised testing and league tables to do anything meaningful with it.

L&P’s new philosophy is to ‘deepen impact and widen learning for all through access to excellence in ballet, opera and theatre craft’. The team has four subgroups: education teams at Covent Garden and Thurrock [outer London], the archivists and an Arts Council funded Bridge team. Bridges build relationships that connect arts and educational organisations in meaningful partnerships. All teams work to provide meaningful engagement opportunities for people of all ages with our art forms. L&P offerings include a four year ballet program for children in areas of cultural deprivation; a Youth Opera Company; two non-auditioned community choruses; community engagement team; a digital firsts team which is devising new ways of unpacking our repertoire for a worldwide, online audience; ballet for the blind; an Insights program team engaging in adult learning and pre-concert work; teacher training; an arts rejuvenation program in Thurrock, and a number of festivals throughout the season. And now we have targets and an obligation to address the dire circumstances of arts education across the country.

So we launched National Nutcracker, a creative dance challenge for primary schools, training teachers in the choreography basics required to devise a dance with their class. The winning class attends The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Opera House, the others see it in a local cinema. Most Aussie teachers I know would baulk if asked to undertake a ballet program in their classrooms, partly because of a lack of training in dance, and general preconceptions about the elitism and therefore inaccessibility of ballet. I came to England believing there would be a more open approach to the arts in schools and I was right. Here, the participating teachers, though nervous and in a number of cases conscripted by their department heads, danced and choreographed and delivered. All the pilot schools sent us a video! Whilst not quite the standard of the Royal Ballet, students used movement to creatively tell a story. Dressed in their finest Christmas attire, participating students watched the Royal Ballet’s performance and they loved it.

Teachers training for National Nutcracker

Thus our digital, in-school initiatives were born, an access point to those disadvantaged by geographical isolation across the U.K. Learning from my own false perceptions, I am also asking Australian teachers to trial these new resources.

Underpinning all ROH educational initiatives is the notion we must play to our strengths and focus on dramatic singing, ballet or theatre craft. We do not create general music or dance materials – because there are already thousands of those of variable quality on the internet. Our work features ROH artists and distinct brand of quality and excellence associated with the main stage work. We equip teachers with the skills to deliver effective singing and dance programs in their school, brokering partnerships with local education providers to ensure ongoing support and recruitment. Our first online learning course for adults was created in partnership with the Victoria and Albert museum and London University. We are learning from the marketing strategy of the This Girl Can campaign encouraging women to do regular physical activity. Who would have thought doing Nutcracker would be a means for schools to access the government’s sugar tax money grants? And the key to school uptake of these long-term quality programs is to create non-prescriptive, flexible classroom modules. This learning I will definitely be taking home with me.

Two years on, I have trained over 500 teachers and am considered almost revolutionary in my style of workshop because I talk about transferable pedagogy, going beyond the actual lesson materials shared. That surprised me and shook my earlier ‘grass-is-greener’ perceptions about arts education in the UK. Many programs are high in entertainment but low in learning, leave a memory not a legacy, and have teachers asking ‘but what is the next step?’ Answering this is my next challenge.

I know from my experience with Australian arts education that our networks and programs are strong, punching above our weight in many aspects of what we do. But if we want to make a difference we cannot do it alone. As I learn about the value of partnerships and the potential that lies in unlikely pairings, I plan to encourage organisations to look beyond their siloed practices and consider the possibilities of aspiring together. I am convinced about the potential of digital learning, and user needs which will inform new creative projects. Sure, working with a brand name that opens doors and a budget that would buy a small settlement in regional NSW may have made me a tad starry-eyed, but I do think the fundamental principles, once I can figure out a convincing strategic proposal, may be the greatest legacy of my time here to share with my colleagues on my return.

Kim Waldock, © 2017

All photos courtesy of the Royal Opera House

The magic of the pit at a school matinee.

Baston Primary – National Nutcracker winning school attend a performance at the ROH with dancer David Pickering


A house full of school kids waiting the matinee to start

Press Release: Margaret Throsby’s outstanding contribution

Heads of Australia’s major symphony orchestras acknowledge Margaret Throsby’s outstanding contribution to Australian music

Press Release: Report on orchestral health and safety

Australia’s major symphony orchestras welcome report on orchestral health and safety

Press Release: ABC’s investment in regional Australia

Australia’s major symphony orchestras welcome ABC’s investment in regional Australia

Sound Practice released!

This major report on world’s best practice in occupational health and safety for orchestral musicians can be downloaded below.


Annual Report 2016

Download a copy of the Symphony Services International 2016 Annual Report.

TSO Australian Conducting Academy Summer School

Johannes Fritzsch

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, in partnership with UTAS, will host the Australian Conducting Academy Summer School in early 2018. Under the leadership of Course Director Johannes Fritzsch, who begins his three year appointment as the TSO’s inaugural Principal Guest Conductor in 2018, students will benefit from rehearsals with pianists as well as at least five orchestra calls with the TSO over the course of the school. Open to Australian and New Zealand permanent residents, the Australian Conducting Academy plays a vital role in nourishing talented emerging conductors, and supports graduates in building substantial careers both in Australia and internationally.

“The TSO is a special environment – the players are very passionate about training, they are incredibly patient and nurturing of talented young musicians, and have made a huge contribution to the future success of many musicians in Australia and around the world,” said the TSO’s Director of Artistic Planning, Simon Rogers.  “The TSO is already widely known for its training activities nationally and will always seek to be very active in this space. With our new relationship with UTAS, there is an opportunity for us to jointly develop a real niche in this specialist area.”

The course will take place at the TSO and UTAS Conservatorium of Music Thursday 25 January – Friday 2 February, 2018. Applications open on Monday August 14 and close on Friday September 8. Application details available Monday 31 July, 2017.

For more information please visit https://www.tso.com.au/educate/training/


Darwin Symphony Orchestra

The Darwin Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is looking at the future of Music Education and Outreach in the Northern Territory, and has started 2017 with the appointment of the highly accomplished Australian violinist Monica Naselow as the new Concertmaster and Education/Outreach officer. Monica’s impressive International and Australian performing career combined with her teaching experience and passion for education, provides the DSO with a unique opportunity for development and growth both musically from within the orchestra and educationally, forging collaborations throughout the Northern Territory communities, with an emphasis on programs that will be sustainable and meaningful for all involved.

Monica is extremely excited about the new role, explaining: “I am aiming to expand the education and outreach programs of the DSO, reaching into the community as far as that is possible and bringing music to children and families, in community and schools, and also to people who might not otherwise have access to live music, such as prisons, nursing homes, hospitals and schools for children with special needs. I hope to be able to build on the very strong connection the DSO has to the community and expand it even further”.

The DSO string quartet has demonstrated itself as a unique and vital component to the DSO’s community outreach and education projects, having delivered numerous successful education projects and cross-cultural initiatives throughout the Northern Territory, most recently in Nhulunbuy, Yirrkala, Alice Springs, a Family Proms series at Charles Darwin University and education work in the Darwin Festival.

“We are thrilled to have someone with Monica’s vast experience heading up our education team”, says Matthew Wood, the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the DSO. “Monica has so many wonderful ideas about how we can build on our education / outreach programs and I am sure that her passion and enthusiasm will prove to be a great asset to our community as a whole”

For further information go to the DSO website.

Pockets everywhere: Australian music overseas

Brett Dean (Photo: Pawel Kopczynski)

I was watching Suicide Squad when I heard ACDC underneath the opening sequence. It’s not the first time I’ve heard ‘Dirty Deeds’ in a film soundtrack but it was the first time that it occurred to me that this might be the most famous piece of Australian music in all the world. Actually I soon discovered that ‘Highway to Hell’ appears in more films. But I started to wonder about the prominence of Australian music worldwide and launched a quick search. It made for a diverting morning’s activity. For example, I learnt that ‘I Come from the Land Down Under’ topped Canadian charts in October 1982 and reached number 1 in the US in January 1983 where it stayed for four weeks. There were other little morsels that kept me amused.

But how then, I wondered, does Australian classical music fare? How much does it rate beyond our shores? I had memories of Peter Sculthorpe causing a stir in the northern hemisphere, reports of UK and US critics waxing over the way his music evoked an unfamiliar, yet intriguing landscape. But this would have been the late 1960s when Australia was flavour of the month; around the time when Sir Russell Drysdale’s paintings of bones and trees bleaching in the desert sun also shocked non-Australians into taking a dedicated look at our side of the world. Who gets noticed now?

Because I work for orchestras, I spent an hour or so scanning season brochures of various world orchestras. As you might expect, national orchestras will favour their own when it comes to commissioning new work. The Singapore Symphony opens its final concert this season with Senbonzakura Gossamer Shrouds the Tal by Singapore composer, Jeremiah Li. Next season, the Chicago Symphony premieres works by Americans such as Melinda Wagner and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Jennifer Higdon. But the Singapore Symphony is also performing Christopher Rouse’s Der gerettete Alberich, and the Berlin Philharmonic performs the music of American Andrew Norman a few times in the current season. Of course, the Berlin Philharmonic has also performed the music of its erstwhile viola player, Australian Brett Dean. So Australians do appear. I noted that Sculthorpe’s Improvisation on a theme from The Song of Tailitnama is scheduled for a Berlin Philharmonic lunchtime concert.

My curiosity lured me deeper into a quest that I would inelegantly describe as ‘which Australian composers get performed overseas, where, how often and why’? I can’t say that this short piece gets to the bottom of the ‘why?’ but maybe musicians will respond to this provisional survey with facts and rejoinders (even: ‘You forgot me!’) that flesh out the picture.

The first place I went to check my impressions was the Australian Music Centre and the Centre’s CEO, John Davis. ‘Aussie music is everywhere,’ he said, ‘mostly in particular pockets, but happening in every corner of the globe. There are those who have an international publisher and supported access, through their publishers, to networks where international performances can be realised.’ He cited Sculthorpe, Hindson and Vine with Faber; Dean and Kats-Chernin with Boosey & Hawkes; Liza Lim with Recordi/Universal, and mentioned that these publishers are probably active with orchestral networks ‘as there is a business model that can be sustained from the scale and scope of orchestral networks internationally. But there is also another layer of performances that take place through composers’ own networks, and orchestras/ensembles who champion them  – the Andrián Pertout performances in Latin America and elsewhere, for example, among others. There are other communities of practice, where Australian artists are adept in their global engagement.’

I had to admit that I don’t know what’s happening in all areas of music but in terms of orchestral music I still had an impression that Australian classical music was not doing as well as it should be. ‘John Adams has something on somewhere in the world nearly every day,’ I freaked out, when I looked him up on the Booseys’ site and found out how widely his music is played.

And yet, I checked out the Faber website and found that Matthew Hindson is increasingly getting performances overseas (eg. Headbanger to be performed by the Grant Park Orchestra and Simone Young in Chicago in July). So, too, is Nigel Westlake who recently scored a big success with the New York Philharmonic and their performance of his music for the movie, Babe (a live screening). And actually, Westlake is self-published.

What brought Dean or Lim or Kats-Chernin to the attention of publishers in the first place? Since I was in Australia in March it made sense to seek some people out. I visited Elena Kats-Chernin on her Big Dipper of a street in Coogee. It’s possible that one of Elena’s pieces has had the ‘most hits’ on YouTube of any Australian classical composition; ‘Eliza’s Aria’ from the ballet Wild Swans became popular when the UK bank Lloyds-TSB used it for an animated TV commercial.

When I arrived, she was playing for Chris Latham (former director of the Canberra International Music Festival) the most recent draft of the tender ‘Lacrimosa’ she has written for Digger’s Requiem, another of the multi-composer/multi-continental works Chris has commissioned for World War I commemorations (in this case, next year’s 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice). I’ve known for years that Elena divides her time between her Sydney beachside suburb and Europe and was curious how she got a ‘leg up’ overseas.

Actually, she said, it was publisher Peter Grimshaw who put her onto Boosey & Hawkes from the days when Boosey & Hawkes had Peter as an Australian agent. Peter took her work to New York, telling her that ‘it would really fit in with their portfolio’. But now she’s with the Berlin office because she works more in Europe. ‘I’m quite social,’ she said. ‘I keep up my contacts, and not just with a view to work.’ She gave an example. ‘When I’ve been in Germany, I like to have two days in Berlin after a show or premiere. In 2006, I worked on a dance project, a piece for four horns for the Berlin Philharmonic. After the premiere, I phoned a friend to say hello and she said, “Ah, we’re looking for a composer to write a piece for sound machines for a presentation at Hannover Messe (a leading world trade fair for industrial technology)”. But I had called just because I wanted to catch up. My tip? Be open, have breathing spaces around a trip if possible. Have time and gaps to meet people or to just think about things because unexpected things happen!’

So, it’s personal contacts? Of course, Elena spent many years in Germany working for a theatre company in Bochum and even for a time as Music Director. ‘I met people through theatre,’ she says. ‘Having a connection to a particular theatre in Germany helped in my case, because there are many art forms all united in one place and many people working there as guests and they take the experience of working with you to other theatres, and so the word spreads. And that’s how I came to work for the Komische Oper, Berlin. But I don’t do the squeaky wheel. I don’t do cold calls.’

Brett Dean is another composer who emphasises the importance of residency. Best-known probably for his Grawemeyer win, the beautiful violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter-Writing, Brett gets a lot of international exposure. A glance at a single page on the Booseys website (actually, a single screen view) shows that for the month of April he had performances at the Library of Congress Washington, in Taipei, at New York’s Lincoln Center, in Tischlerei Germany (Deutsche Opera), and Hobart. Glyndebourne premieres his Hamlet in June.

I tried calling Brett in Berlin from rural Armidale where you really can stumble across kangaroos in a paddock, but gave up on that when I started having trouble with my disposable phone. He answered my questions by email instead.

‘As I was saying on the phone, in my case having already spent quite a deal of time overseas was a critical factor in reaching a wider audience, both as player and then later as composer. Studying, meeting and working with other musicians from elsewhere, immersing myself in a larger world, this was crucial. The internet makes it easier to get work heard outside of one’s immediate surrounds. But there simply is no substitute for being there: travel not only broadens the mind, it vastly increases one’s realms of opportunity, experience and contacts.’

I wondered if being Australian gave him any cachet. ‘The longer I live in Europe, the less that seems to matter to people to be honest; maybe they just accept me as part of the furniture nowadays! In Germany I found being Australian triggered a definite fascination factor, although not necessarily in artistic terms. It was more a general curiosity as to why one would leave such a lovely, warm place and come to study in Germany. Australians were a novelty in Berlin then. But Prenzlauerberg is now full of Aussie-style cafes.

‘However some Germans, even colleagues of mine in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, where I played in the viola section for 17 years, expressed skepticism that an Australian could possibly even understand “their” music. I might add that I don’t think my music is especially “Australian”. For every European I’ve encountered who claims to hear the “wide expanses of my homeland”, there’s an Australian who comments on my music’s obvious “Euro-ness”. I am the sum of my parts I guess, and it comes through. When I consider the works of other Australian composer colleagues of mine whose work is similarly better-known overseas than it is at home, then I can’t say the “Australian-ness” of it is something that looms especially large, even though some questions of place in the world or perhaps environmental concerns may be a part of their message.’

‘It’s a distinctive sound they want’, said Elena. But she could have been echoing Brett’s point because in her case, too, the sound is not particularly Australian. In his book New Classical Music: Composing Australia, fellow-composer, Gordon Kerry, points out that Elena’s sound-world is coloured by the Russian folk imagination and I would add musical diet, growing up in Soviet Uzbekistan and Moscow.

Joe Twist conducting at the ASCAP Film and TV Scoring Program, Fox Studios. Reprinted by permission of the composer.

Is residency the clue, I wondered, and what if you can’t travel? Are you consigned to anonymity? After I got back to Los Angeles, I met up with Brisbane-born composer Joe Twist at Paradocs in Little Ethiopia, just south of Museum Mile. He’s been living in the US for some years. (Of course, being Australians we spent the first few minutes talking about the standard of coffee in Los Angeles.) Joe noted the irony of the fact that he gets performed more often in Australia these days even though he’s living in the States, and in fact ‘I actually feel that I’m performed more often in the UK than in America, even though I live here.’ I wondered if that was because he writes choral music. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘although it’s more to do with the fact that a lot of the Australian choirs I’ve written for have taken my music to the UK and Europe.

‘But I feel I write choral music because I’m just involved with it. I can’t stop doing it and I just get such good opportunities. I’m here to write film music really. I’m working here for sure, but mostly on bigger movies as a copyist or proofer, an arranger, commercials… I like different styles. I like leaving one thing and going to another and finding variety in that. Being versatile is important for me, not only from the “money angle” but psychologically. I don’t really think of myself that much as an “artist”. I don’t want to completely dismiss the fact that I have pieces that are artistic but I feel that I’m not always thinking about that side of things.’

Was ‘filling a niche’ a factor? But hidden in Joe’s answers was another explanation – Australian groups who take Australian works with them on overseas tours. That point came up a number of times – in conversation with conductor Brett Kelly; with Brett Dean who mentioned the efforts on behalf of Australian composers by Lisa Moore, Zubin Kanga and Tony Buck; and from several respondents who cited Nicholas Milton’s advocacy of Australian work during his time with orchestras in Saarbrücken and elsewhere. I remembered that Lorin Maazel took Diana Doherty to the New York Philharmonic with Ross Edwards’ oboe concerto, Bird Spirit Dreaming in 2005 and that David Porcelijn and Nicholas Braithwaite, conductors with longstanding Australian connections, have performed music of composers such as Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Andrew Schultz, Graeme Koehne among others in music of the Southern Hemisphere in Belfast.

I asked Brett if he had any suggestions for ‘hometown’ measures that could generate overseas performances:

‘One really promising initiative is the SSO’s commissioning program which is successfully encouraging subscribers, friends of the orchestra and regular concert-goers to become involved in the commissioning process, even with just modest amounts of money. It’s a model that I first encountered at the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and their program called “Sound Investment”. The trick then as I see it is to set up reciprocal agreements with orchestras outside of Australia, a great way not only to get Australian music heard outside of Australia, but also to get more premiere and early performances of non-Australian new music performed on our shores, something which also happens too little in my opinion.’

But all of this started to make me wonder if the struggle to be heard is any worse for Australians than for anyone else? I asked Wolfgang Fink, former Director of Artistic Planning for the Sydney Symphony, now with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, who recounted an episode from his time with the Bamberg Symphony:

‘Programming needs both ideas but even more the passion to defend the underlying ideas. The biggest challenge for an administrator is to convince “his” artist or orchestra. Obviously this is easier with repertoire or composers known at least by the majority – but even then. To give you an example: I wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hindemith’s and Hartmann’s death (December 1963) – not least because Hindemith conducted the Bamberg Orchestra regularly in the 1950s and early 60s – but apart from Blomstedt (who, of course, knew Hindemith personally) none of the conductors of the newer generation were seriously interested… To make an even longer story short: it is not too difficult to program Brett Dean’s pieces, because he has created a name (in modern terms: brand) outside Australia. It is not too difficult to program Georges Lentz, because his publisher is based in Europe, and he is also a composer Luxembourg is very proud of. As a composer you need allies who long-term and continuously work for you on an international basis. This is, in my opinion, the key to promoting repertoire outside your country.’

I remember coming across a front page of The New York Times from 1922. One of the stories read: ‘Grainger’s Mother Is Killed By Fall’. It was a story about the death of Rose Grainger, Percy’s mother, who either fell or jumped from a New York skyscraper. What struck me was not just the harrowing story, but the fact that this was the front page of The New York Times, and in 1922 they didn’t need to spell out whom they meant by Grainger. He was a household name. Will any Australian classical composer ever be that famous again? Does it matter? Should we expend energy wondering how it could be done? I tend to think we might want that bigger market, that feedback and that sense of community. But how well are we already doing?

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2017

Elena Kats-Chernin (Limelight magazine, photo Sam Grimmer)

ASO to perform at Generations in Jazz

ASO_horns-600The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will travel to Mount Gambier for the 30th anniversary of Generations in Jazz. The 68-piece orchestra will perform in the big-top tent alongside a high-profile list of guest artists in May.

ASO Managing Director Vincent Ciccarello said, ‘We are delighted to take part in this celebrated festival in its 30th year. The ASO has a special connection with the Limestone Coast community and we look forward to returning to the nation’s home of jazz in 2017 to share the experience of live orchestral music with as many people as possible.’

Generations in Jazz has grown to become the nation’s largest weekend jazz music festival, with the number of entrants this year expected to eclipse the record participation of 4,400 musicians and support staff from 107 schools across Australia and New Zealand.

Generations in Jazz Chair James Morrison said crowds are in for the experience of a lifetime. ‘We had two big bands on stage at our most recent Generations in Jazz on the Saturday night and there’s only one place to go from there – a symphony orchestra!’

Since 2015, the ASO has re-activated its regional touring, visiting Mt Gambier and Whyalla and instituting its Out-of-the-CBD series which goes to outer metropolitan centres, reflecting a commitment to take orchestral music to various South Australian communities.

The ASO is also broadcast on ABC Classic FM, ensuring that all Australians are able to hear our music.

MSO takes its music to millions


Photo by Daniel Aulsebrook

It’s not summer in the City of Melbourne without experiencing the sounds of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in one of the city’s vibrant live performance venues.

Melburnians might have been lucky to experience the MSO in a live concert arena, but plenty more classical fans were thrilled to experience the orchestra through television and radio broadcasts.

This year MSO presented its most successful East Meets West: Chinese New Year concert yet, both in terms of audience engagement and media attention. Over 2,000 people attended the concert at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall. The broadcast of the concert into China through CCTV, Phoenix TV and ABC’s Australia Plus network attracted almost 300 million people, taking the MSO into the Asia-Pacific region.

The MSO’s annual Sidney Myer Free Concerts, a summer staple, were broadcast live on ABC Classic FM. The three concerts attracted over 30,000 people to The Bowl and an additional 75,000 people tuned in to the live concert broadcasts. Audiences at the free concerts embraced social media, utilising #msobowl which trended at number five in Australia on Twitter on the first night of the series. Across the three nights there were almost 500 posts using this hashtag on Instagram and Twitter, which resulted in almost 3.3 million views across these social media feeds.

The SSO performs to more than 4800 school students in Western Sydney


Photo: Daniela Testa

In March more than 4,800 school students witnessed the SSO in action across eight interactive schools concerts held at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre.

The concerts, on the theme ‘Music for Sport’, were attended by Year 3 to Year 10 students from 35 schools across Greater Sydney, including Campsie Public School, Toongabbie Public School and Canley Vale High School. Seven-year-old Gabriel from Campsie Public School, pictured, features in a new mini-doco by the SSO about his first concert experience in 2016, available to view here.

SSO Managing Director Rory Jeffes says the SSO recognises the importance of Western Sydney as one of Australia’s fastest growing and most diverse regions. ‘As the state orchestra for New South Wales, we are committed to providing young audiences from this important area the opportunity to experience a professional orchestra with the aim of inspiring them to pursue their own artistic talents,’ Mr Jeffes said.

QSO goes West


In October 2016, Queensland Symphony Orchestra travelled nearly 1,000 km to Chinchilla, Roma and surrounding areas – all towns which don’t usually get the opportunity to see QSO locally. Nearly 1,500 people were engaged in the Chinchilla Miles and Roma (CMR) Initiative and the tour culminated in a free community concert, where local musicians played alongside QSO in front of an audience of more than 350.

A 12-piece QSO ensemble presented instrument demonstrations to primary and secondary schools, as well as the community concert band and string ensemble. Professional development was also provided for teachers.

The CMR Initiative was also the first time QSO’s new graphite instruments hit the road, giving the audience the very first glimpse of the stunning black instruments, designed to better endure all weather and the bustle of transportation.

The Orchestra received overwhelmingly positive feedback – from teachers who said their students are now much more confident players, to children who want to pick up an instrument because they loved the music they heard, with one exclaiming ‘I want to play French horn because I heard it playing the Star Wars theme song.’

The Chinchilla Miles Roma Initiative builds on QSO’s Gladstone Enrichment through Music Initiative, a legacy project which focuses on musical education in the Gladstone region. Both initiatives are made possible through the support of QSO’s Principal Partner, Australia Pacific LNG.

TSO’s school composing project


Photographer: Toby Frost

For the second year in a row, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composers’ Project offers tuition, performance and recording opportunities to Year 11 and 12 students eager to hone their skills as composers. Under the direction of Dr Maria Grenfell at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) Conservatorium of Music, the ten secondary school students taking part this year will each compose a short work which will be workshopped by musicians from the TSO once the composition process is underway and will be performed once the work is completed. Over a five-month period, the participants receive expert tuition and advice, and hear their composition performed by professionals as it takes shape and in its final form.

The finished works will be recorded by ABC Classic FM and students will be able to include the recording in their portfolio of works. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composers’ Project is offered in partnership with the UTAS Conservatorium of Music and, this year, the UTAS Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). Students will be invited to take their inspiration from an IMAS research theme and will be briefed by researchers from IMAS. Fittingly, the completed works will be showcased in a performance at IMAS.

WASO – Karijini Experience

Rod McGrath (cello), Zak Rowntree (violin), Ellie Lawrence (violin), Ben Caddy (viola). Nora Wompi Kunawarritji, artists country near Balgo, Great Sandy Desert, 2007 The Wesfarmers Collection, Perth. Photo Credit:  Luke Anderson

Rod McGrath (cello), Ellie Lawrence (violin), Zak Rowntree (violin), Ben Caddy (viola). Photo:  Luke Anderson

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra has been invited to participate for the first time in the Karijini Experience. Held over five days in April, Karijini Experience is an annual cultural event that encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the magnificence of the Karijini National Park. Held on the traditional lands of the Banjima people, the Karijini Experience is a celebration of environmental protection, connection and culture through music, songs, story, image and physical activities connecting people to the landscape and its people.

In the first WASO on the Road regional tour for 2017, WASO’s involvement in the Karijini Experience will consist of a string quartet that will embark on a series of exciting collaborations. A WASO String Quartet will perform with the all-Indigenous Wirlarra Ensemble on a spectacular natural stage within Kalamina Gorge, for Opera in the Gorge. In a collaboration with esteemed didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, the WASO String Quartet will present a spine-tingling performance as part of the Culinary Experience.  The String Quartet will also perform children’s programs and the Karijini Theatre event.

Australian Chamber Orchestra

aco_move-600The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presents a wide range of Education Programs for children and young people that align with our focus on access, excellence and regional engagement through digital learning. The ACO’s National Education Program reaches students in every state and territory, at every stage of their musical development.

ACO Move is a series of workshops for young people with disability integrating movement with live music. The program is about access in its broadest sense: access to what we do, who we are, how we work, think and create; access to musicians, instruments, staff, administration and facilities. ACO Move is about creating art in partnership with ACO musicians, facilitators, guest artists and participants, underpinned by the ACO’s high quality approach to music making.

ACO Academy is the ACO’s flagship schools’ program for Australia’s finest school-aged string players. Students audition via YouTube and are selected to spend an intensive week working with and playing alongside ACO musicians. They form a string chamber orchestra which presents a special performance at a professional venue at the end of the week, and they receive coaching in chamber music, career pathways and performance style.

aco_move2-250The ACO Music and Art Program is the ACO’s Global Classroom. Leading international violinist, Sharon Roffman and musicians from the ACO’s dedicated Education Quartet, ACO Inspire, offer fun and engaging classes via video conferencing for students in grades 3-6. Students are invited to experience the busy life of a professional musician through videos sent from back-stage at leading concert halls. The ACO Music & Art Program is for schools in regional areas toured by either ACO Collective or ACO Inspire Quartet, in order to give students a live experience to complement teaching ideas.

The inspirations of place


Photo of La Jolla by SD Dirk flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/

One of the key moments for me in thinking about the relationship between music and place occurred when I was providing performance histories for works to be played by the former ABC orchestras in Australia. I realised that whereas the first performances of earlier repertoire might have taken place in Munich or Mannheim, they could now just as easily take place in Milwaukee or Melbourne. The world map illustrated starkly classical music’s broadening appeal.

Los Angeles throws up some of the most interesting relationships between music and place, I’ve found. Specific locations within the city are associated with distinctive styles and periods – it’s almost as if the city conceals archeological musical layers. As someone who works in classical music, I am fascinated by the European composers who lived here in the 1930s and 40s and made the coastal plain a virtual outpost of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Think of the people who used to go to Salka Viertel’s Santa Monica soirées – Thomas Mann, Einstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Bertolt Brecht…

But it’s not just classical music, either. From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s some of the greatest popular music of the 20th century came from a precisely defined Los Angeles locality – Laurel Canyon.

Laurel Canyon winds through the Hollywood Hills between Sunset Boulevard and the San Fernando Valley to the north. Talking to Vanity Fair for a 2015 article on the Canyon, Glenn Frey, the Detroit-born co-creator of The Eagles, said that ‘there’s houses built up on stilts on the hillside and there’s palm trees and yuccas and eucalyptus and vegetation I’d never seen before in my life. It was a little magical hillside canyon.’ It was also, back then, full of houses clustered in cosy proximity. ‘My dining room looked out over Frank Zappa’s duck pond,’ said Joni Mitchell in that same article by Lisa Robinson. Songs such as David Crosby’s Guinnevere were written here and Joni Mitchell paid tribute to the Canyon in songs like Ladies of the Canyon (‘Trina wears her wampum beads…’). Yes, it was a very mung beans and mushrooms kind of place where a canyon lady might wear wampum, the traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodlands tribes.

There are other musically significant locations in Los Angeles. Topanga Canyon further west (named from the Tongva Indian word for ‘place above’), also played host to a historic phase of contemporary music. It is rumoured that Jim Morrison of The Doors was inspired to write Roadhouse Blues after driving up the Canyon to play at The Topanga Corral. And Silver Lake, only a few miles from Downtown, was once in the running for Rock’n’Roll capital of the world. Silver Lake? I’ve never thought it sounded very Rock’n’Roll. But even now with its designer coffee, it’s still residually grungy.

Does music reflect its place? I guess it depends on how. Did the music that came out of Laurel Canyon reflect the appearance and climate of the canyon or did Sunset Boulevard and its environs reshape the Second Viennese School? ‘Does music reflect place?’ is a question that Australians might want to answer with a ‘yes’. We’d like to think our unique landscape guarantees our music some particular distinction. It certainly inspires our visual artists, and after all, many of us are somewhat familiar with the ‘songlines’, the ancient Central Australian chants which map our country with a web of epics that tell of the Aboriginal ancestral heroes and the geographic features they created as they pursued their travels in the ‘Dreamtime’. But of course, the songlines come with words (albeit encrypted to bamboozle the uninitiated). Do the sounds themselves tell us much? And I’ve been wary of linking music to the visuals of place ever since I read that the stasis of the didjeridu drone is analogous to the monotony of Australia’s landscape. That observation can be challenged on at least two fronts: the drone is actually varying rhythmic patterns and Australia has one of the most floristically-rich biotas in the world.

I started thinking about the influence of place again recently after visiting the affluent beachside community of La Jolla, north of San Diego. I know the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů wrote a sinfonietta for the local Musical Society in 1950. Did Sinfonietta La Jolla reflect the sun and surf and almost-perennial warmth of this part of Southern California? Can you hear musical representation of the thousands of docile leopard sharks who come into the shallow waters off Spindrift Drive each summer? No, apparently Martinů just fulfilled the Musical Society’s request for something tuneful and approachable. Which is pretty Californian if you think about it.

When Albert Goldberg, the music critic for the Los Angeles Times, asked European émigrés in 1950 how separation from their homeland had affected the character and quality of their work, Stravinsky snapped, ‘I do not think that this subject is really worth a column of your pen.’ Schoenberg answered that ‘two times two equals four in every climate.’ And maybe much music is just as expressive of a period, if you think about it. The music of Laurel Canyon might remind you (if can remember) of Kent State, flower power, Richard Nixon and the draft.

But I’ve come to think there is at least one sense in which place is deeply important. Think of all the musicians (and other artists) who congregated in Paris in the early years of the 20th century, many of them studying with Nadia Boulanger and learning what eventually became the neo-classical style; think of Viertel’s or the Feuchtwangers’ salons on the Pacific Coast where people like Brecht and Hanns Eisler hung out; or Laurel Canyon where musicians would drop in on each other and test-run their songs – those places where musicians would gather together and mutually inspire each other as easily as they might borrow a cup of milk.

Earlier this year, when I was researching the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Hollywood Rhapsody program, I spoke to Don Williams, brother of the film composer, John, about growing up in North Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. The picture he painted of buzzing activity was impressive:

Hank [Mancini, composer of Moon River and The Pink Panther theme] lived on the same street we did, but it …wasn’t just Hank – oh my god, the list of people who lived on that street alone is ridiculous – Pete Candoli the trumpet player lived next door, Jack Echols the baritone sax player from Lucy’s band lived across the street. Hoyt Bohannon [who had played in the Paul Whiteman Band] lived two doors down from Hank. And then there was a saxophone player from Columbia, Chuck Butler. I could go on. Disney guys and Fox guys….It was a musical suburb.

It’s no wonder the composer of Star Wars became a musician if he grew up in an environment like that.

There’s been a strain in Australian music-making that likes to think we can replicate the experience or appearance of place in music. Percy Grainger conceived his Free Music inspired by the rises and falls of the Adelaide Hills or the sound of the wind howling through telegraph wires along remote Australian country roads. His Free Music is fascinating when you hear it reproduced as on YouTube, and you get a lump in your throat if you stop to think it’s a genuine Australian contribution to experimental music. But emotionally, I’ll admit, I’m more moved when I hear his Irish Tune from County Derry. Then I realise it came out of the energy and enthusiasm and disputes and debates of the British Folk-Song Revival.

Does place influence music? Perhaps. But perhaps mostly when it’s a place where musicians can all get together and inspire each other.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2016

A new home for the Young Performers Awards

ypa15-finalistsThe Young Performers Awards (YPA) has long been regarded as Australia’s premier national artist development program for young Australian musicians, instrumentalists and performing artists.
Since its inception in 1944, and over its 72-year history,  YPA has existed in many formats and for nearly 20 years has been presented by Symphony Australia in collaboration with the ABC.
In April 2016 the ABC and Symphony Services International (Symphony Australia) selected the Music and Opera Singers Trust (MOST) to take carriage of the Young Performers Awards. The ABC will continue to be involved as the broadcast partner promoting the next generation of Australia’s best musicians, instrumentalists and performing artists. YPA will remain a national competition and will be presented in many states around Australia.

For more information and details of upcoming awards please visit the MOST website

2016 Orchestral Summit Speakers

Day 1 – Tuesday 15 November 2016

Malcolm Long AM

malcolm-longMalcolm Long is Principal of the broadcasting, communications and digital media consultancy Malcolm Long Associates. He is a director of the communications infrastructure and services provider BAI Group. He is immediate past Chair of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and is a former President of the Australian Museum. Malcolm was Managing Director of Australia’s national multicultural and multilingual broadcaster SBS from 1993-1997 and, prior to that, Deputy Managing Director of the ABC. From 2003-2007 he was Executive Director of the Australian Film Television and Radio School. For 10 years until 2010 he was a Member of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and its predecessor the Australian Broadcasting Authority. He regularly speaks and writes about media, communications and the creative industries and their importance in the life of every Australian.

Malcom Long appears courtesy of Sydney Youth Orchestras.

Sarah McKinnon

sarah-mckinnonSarah joined the National Farmers’ Federation team in April 2014, as General Manager, Workplace Relations and Legal Affairs. She recently led the agriculture sector’s successful campaign against the backpacker tax.

She manages national workforce policy on behalf of Australian farmers, including workplace relations, migration policy, farm safety and education and skills. She is the national farm advocate in the Fair Work Commission and sits on the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council, chaired by the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash. Other roles include Board member of Rural Skills Australia, member of the World Farm Organisation’s Women’s Committee, Secretary/Treasurer of Farmsafe Australia and Secretary of the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund.

Before joining the NFF, Sarah worked as a workplace relations lawyer in the Department of Employment and as an industrial relations consultant for many years.

Day 2 – Wednesday 16 November 2016

Zoe McKenzie

zoe-mckenzieZoe has worked in private and public sectors as a lawyer, strategic adviser and policy maker. She was Chief of Staff to the Federal Arts Minister in 2007, and later served as arts and education adviser to the Victorian Premier.

Her proudest achievements in arts policy to date were the support of Bell Shakespeare in-school work in the early 2000s, the overhaul of Australian Government screen funding in 2007, and more recently, the expansion of the Arts Centre of Melbourne State Theatre pit to fit 110 musicians, the reintroduction of Art on Trams as part of the Melbourne Festival, the Small Towns Transformation Project and the introduction of White Night.

Most recently Zoe was Chief of Staff to the Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb AO where she worked with a number of Australia’s arts institutions to embed cultural programs in Australia’s trade missions and with Tourism Australia to focus on cultural tourism. Zoe now runs her own trade and investment advisory practice.

Zoe recently joined the Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

Yvonne Zammit

yvonne-zammitYvonne Zammit has worked at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for over 10 years and is currently Director of External Relations covering the areas of Corporate Sponsorship, Government Relations, Philanthropy and Public Relations.

Before joining the SSO, Yvonne worked in corporate and financial public relations and marketing in Sydney and London. As an accomplished violinist, Yvonne has taught violin privately and at local public schools throughout her life.

Yvonne holds a Bachelor degree in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney, (UTS), a Diploma in violin studies from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music as well as a Graduate Certificate in Arts Management, also from UTS.

Helen O’Neil

helen_oneilHelen O’Neil is Director of the British Council Australia, the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.

She has worked as a manager and director across the creative sector, with a strong focus on building relationships and networks around public policy development. She was Senior Adviser to the Australian Minister for the Arts, working on the Creative Australia policy, and Executive Director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group and the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. She has taught at the Australian Film Television and Radio School and was Chair of the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festivals and a Director of the Film Finance Corporation. She trained as a journalist, working for the ABC, and also worked on digital and broadband TV policy. She is a board member of design and craft organisation Craft ACT and Currency House Inc.

Janet Holmes à Court AC

janet-holmesacourtJanet Holmes à Court is owner of the Janet Holmes à Court Collection.  She is Chairman of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. She is a Board Member of the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG), the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA (CACWA), the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC), the Australian Institute of Architects Foundation and the New York Philharmonic International Advisory Board, and also a member of the Centenary Trust for Women Board of Advisors at the University of Western Australia and State Buildings Advisory Board, Western Australia.

MSO launches its 2017 season

Sir Andrew Davis conducts the MSO. Photo by Lucas Dawson

Sir Andrew Davis conducts the MSO. Photo by Lucas Dawson

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has announced a mighty 2017 season filled with extraordinary choral delights, dreamy orchestral nights, superstar music sensations and stories of romantic temptations!

The new season will see 38 international guest artists performing in Melbourne with the MSO. Twelve of these artists will be visiting Australia for the first time and 21 of them will be visiting Melbourne for the very first time.

Highlighting the best in Australian music, the MSO welcomes Composer in Residence Elena Kats-Chernin. 2017 will see six of the composer’s works performed throughout the year including two world premieres. The Australian String Quartet will join the MSO as Ensemble in Residence.

The MSO will perform 18 Australian works including nine world premieres of Australian works, five Australian premieres of international works, nine commissions/co-commissions, and three major recordings. 33 Australian artists will be presented across the season.

2017 subscriptions are now available at the MSO website.

Indigenous children visit the SSO

SSO-indiginous-600Sixteen high school students from remote communities in Queensland and the Northern Territory travelled to Sydney last month with the Cathy Freeman Foundation, thanks to support from SSO Premier Partner Credit Suisse. Hailing from Palm Island, Woorabinda, Galiwin’ku and Wurrumiyanga, the students visited the Sydney Opera House for a behind-the-scenes tour and window into daily life at the iconic arts institution, capped off by a performance by members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Fellowship.

Daniel Henderson was one of seven SSO Fellows who performed for the students on the tour. “The students seemed excited to hear live music up so close,” he said. “They were very interested to learn how we started playing and our pathways to getting to the Fellowship.”

Daniel and his colleagues played works by Mozart and Poulenc before explaining the roles of their various instruments and inviting questions. The workshop was one of several outreach activities undertaken by the Fellows in their year-long mentorship with the SSO.

QSO’s 2017 season

From left to right, Alondra de la Parra (QSO’s Music Director), Maxim Vengerov (QSO Artist-In-Residence, photo: B. Ealovega), Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzo Soprano)

From left to right, Alondra de la Parra (QSO’s Music Director), Maxim Vengerov (QSO Artist-In-Residence, photo: B. Ealovega), Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzo Soprano)

QSO’s Music Director, Alondra de la Parra, recently announced the 2017 Season for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Her international influence can be seen in the diverse program and star-studded roster of leading soloists and conductors, featuring many QSO exclusives and Australian debuts, in grand celebration of the Orchestra’s 70th anniversary year.

In a significant international coup, one of the world’s best violinists, Maxim Vengerov, announced as Artist-in-Residence, will feature in a series of performances throughout the year.

For the first time, QSO will present an opera in concert, Bizet’s Carmen, featuring internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova in her debut Australian performance. In further news, QSO’s new Chief Executive David Pratt will begin in mid September.

TSO composer project

TSO_YoungComposers-600The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra partnered with the UTAS Conservatorium of Music and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) to create the Composers’ Project, an exciting new training initiative for composition students in grade 11/12.

Nine Tasmanian high school students and six music teachers took part, guided by Dr Maria Grenfell, Co-ordinator of Composition and Classical Music at the Conservatorium of Music. Over a four-month period, each student composed an original piece of small-ensemble music inspired by an artwork in Tempest, a major exhibition at TMAG. These works were workshopped by musicians from the TSO and recorded professionally for student use in portfolio assessment.

Participants were given the opportunity to attend two TSO concerts, one in Hobart and one in Launceston, and to sit among TSO musicians during an open rehearsal in the TSO Studio where the orchestra played two works by Maria Grenfell. Each student also had a composition lesson with Dr Grenfell. All of the student compositions were performed before an enthusiastic audience at TMAG on 2 July with the artwork that inspired each work projected on a screen behind the performers. The TSO will be running the TSO Composers’ Project again next year.

A milestone recording for WASO

WASO#5-600The West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s first recording in seven years is a significant milestone. Titled Brahms: The Symphonies, the album features WASO and Principal Conductor Asher Fisch performing the complete cycle of all four of Brahms’ symphonies. These four symphonies are regarded as some of the most important works in the classical music canon, and WASO’s performance received critical acclaim from various media including The Australian, The West Australian and premier classical music publication Limelight Magazine.

Recorded live in concert in 2015, these performances bring to life the colour and complexity of Brahms’ vision. Fisch is regarded as one of the great conductors of the Romantic repertoire of our times; from the lyrical second symphony to the epic fourth, this album is a testimony to his interpretative prowess, Brahms’ music, and to a superlative orchestra recorded in its prime.

WASO-Recording-300Released as a double CD by ABC Classics, Brahms: The Symphonies will be available from 30 September, 2016.

ASO’s Chinese connections

Vincent Ciccarello and Dr Ting. Photo: Kathryn Thomas

Vincent Ciccarello and Dr Ting. Photo: Kathryn Thomas

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s China engagement initiatives have been given a major boost with the announcement of a substantial financial gift over the next three years.

ASO Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello, said that thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Dr Sing Ping Ting, the orchestra will be able to undertake a range of activities focusing on China and the local Chinese community, such as musician exchanges, the commissioning of new music, awarding music scholarships, and the presentation of special concerts.

“Over the years, the ASO has enjoyed tremendously successful collaborations with great Chinese artists, such as the celebrated composer Tan Dun and Chinese/Australian cellist Li-Wei,” he said.

“We are also very excited about having rekindled our connection with our orchestral colleagues in our sister state of Shandong Province over the past two years.

“Dr Ting’s generous gift will enable us to build on those relationships and to develop new ones.”

Music lover Dr Ting, a general practitioner who has made a significant contribution to many charities and NGOs, has enjoyed the ASO’s performances over the past 40 years.

Occupational noise management for orchestral musicians: changing workplace culture

G Williams, W Williams, K Lidbetter


sound-levels-250Occupational noise management is an important Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) priority. Noise exposure is a significant difficulty in many workplaces and not confined to what would normally be considered noisy workplaces, such as factories and construction sites. It is also an important issue for serious consideration by musicians.

Legislation in Australia, the UK and the EU mandates that employers and employees have a duty of care to look after their hearing health. In Australia, noise exposures for employees are limited to an LAeq,8h of 85 dB – meaning an employee can be exposed to an equivalent noise level (LAeq) of 85 dB for eight hours. These regulations apply not simply to those using noisy power tools but also to musicians making music [1]. Due to the nature of musicians’ work, mitigating measures that apply in other fields, such as control at source, may be inappropriate. Other measures are required.

Noise exposure reduction measures fall into several broad hierarchical categories ranging from elimination and administrative responses at the top of the scale, to the use of hearing protectors at the bottom. With music, practical solutions may include repertoire selection to balance ‘harmful’ works (i.e. louder) with ‘less harmful’ (quieter) and/or rostering to ensure that musicians are not subject to prolonged periods or multiple calls of high decibel sound. The use of ‘acoustic shields’ to reduce exposure to loud passages of music has been increasing over recent years.

In order to address specific problems faced by individual musicians, Symphony Services International (SSI), in the 1990s known as Symphony Australia, worked with the National Acoustics Laboratory (NAL) in Sydney, Australia and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) to develop an acoustic shield that would improve æsthetic and acoustic performance compared to the transparent shields in common use. In particular, what became known as the Goodear Acoustic Shield (or Goodear), improved on the performance of clear shields by creating an ‘impact shadow’ while preserving the musician’s perception of the ensemble’s sound quality without creating ‘reflections’ or ‘virtual noise sources’.

One might expect that the Goodear Acoustic Shield would therefore be accepted for use with enthusiasm by both musicians and orchestras. Articles testifying to the effectiveness of Goodear have appeared in previous editions of Acoustics Australia [2]. But how readily has Goodear been accepted?

A brief history of Goodear

Commencing in 1996, one of the authors of this article (WW), was involved in the creation of a personal acoustic shield that could ‘wrap around’ behind the head of an individual player and protect them. It was intended specifically to address the problems associated with other ‘engineered’ solutions such as earplugs and transparent shields.

Earplugs have significantly changed and improved in recent years. Custom-moulded and level-dependent earplugs are welcome as improvements on generic earplugs that were regularly considered to mar a musician’s ability to assess their contribution to the ensemble and overall musical effect. However most musicians do not like the experience of listening to their own playing while wearing earplugs. This is mainly due to the ‘occlusion’ effect in the ear.

Acoustic shields have the advantage of sparing a player the discomfort of earplugs and, by the musician adjusting their head position within the ‘impact shadow’ in front of the shield, being able to reduce noise ‘hot spots’ that occur in the music. Clear, plastic shields often create ‘knock on’ effects – reflections or virtual sound sources – that exacerbate problems for adjacent players. Goodear is designed with a non-reflective outer surface to prevent unwanted reflections. When used appropriately, Goodear can provide up to eight decibels of reduction in loudness [2] with no detriment for adjacent musicians.

User feedback

Kate Lidbetter, CEO of SSI notes that since 2012, Goodear Acoustic Shields have attracted increasing interest around the world [3]. Goodear is currently used by organisations such as the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in the UK and the San Francisco Opera and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in the USA. This would suggest some overcoming of initial reservations about the shields related to appearance and impediment of sightlines.

It had also been claimed that the absorption of sound on the Goodear surface caused musicians to overcompensate and play louder, exacerbating hearing issues. Artistic standards are always an issue with musicians being nervous of anything that may alter the music as it actually sounds. Brass players sometimes express apprehension about a perceived ‘wall of foam’ effect as they face several Goodears shielding the woodwind players conventionally seated directly in front of the brass; a sense that Goodear creates a sound ‘shadow’ on the down-path side travelling around and over the Goodear to the audience.

It is tempting to think that successful implementation indicates an overcoming of these objections. The lead author was present at the League of American Orchestras’ Conference, Dallas, 2012 when musicians and/or administrators pointing to the dark appearance of the shield were persuaded that the ‘blackness’ of the shield is no more oppressive than the blackness of normal concert wardrobe or music stands.

Following an unfavourable introduction of the use of a Goodear by an individual musician in an American orchestra prior to consultation with colleagues, Kate Lidbetter [3] noted,

After this we decided it was better to respond to requests from orchestra managers rather than individual musicians, and thats worked quite well. We invite musicians to talk to their management and get their support before placing an order. I also wrote an ‘information sheet; which is posted on the SSI website and which I give to any prospective client.”

The subsequent adoption of Goodear by several orchestras indicated that education and cultural change is a significant factor in enabling the shield’s acceptance.

The Royal Opera House (ROH), Covent Garden, began using transparent plastic shields, but according to Ross Hendrie [4], the ROH’s Orchestra Operations Manager, “this resulted in issues with the brass players having their sound reflected directly at them”. The first aspect of Goodear that appealed to the ROH was therefore its outer absorbent material construction. Players also liked the ‘U’ shape which was ‘much more conducive to redirecting sound waves around and past the shield rather than back at the source’. They felt that the shape gave them ‘a bit of extra protection during very loud passages when they can lean back into the curvature of the screen’. Hendrie concedes that even though the organisation has occasionally had sightline issues due to the opaqueness of the shield and some other concerns for individual players who preferred earplugs, in general “Goodear is the one [acoustic solution] which has been most widely welcomed and requested. We have had to do very little to encourage their use”.

Indeed, the ROH is one of the organisations that has made subsequent additional purchases of the shield. Why was this? Says Hendrie [4],

“The follow up purchase was generated simply by demand for the Goodear shield from players for production specific seating arrangements that we have at the ROH. For shows such as Romeo and Juliet we have had as many as ten screens being used to shield the back desks of Violas and Celli from the brass section and the rear of the Violins from the percussion. Goodears were very well received from the ‘off’ and we have had to do very little to encourage their use. They are actively requested as a superior option by most of our players.”

The experience of the Brisbane-based Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) probably needs to be read against that orchestra’s exceptionally detailed strategies to protect musicians’ hearing. The QSO is the state symphony orchestra of Queensland. It comprises 88 full-time musicians who give more than 145 live performances a year in a variety of venues, ranging from the 1,800-seat Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane to smaller regional theatres and halls.

Goodear Acoustic Shields form part of a highly-detailed strategy for protecting the QSO musicians’ hearing, as outlined in the publication Description and Evaluation of a Hearing Conservation Program in Use in a Professional Symphony Orchestra [5]. The QSO has a 10-point plan for protecting its employees’ hearing that includes: constant monitoring of orchestral sound (including plotting noise maps); constant refining of the engineered controls such as orchestral layout; supply of earplugs; frequent convening of a noise committee that includes player representatives and members of the artistic committee; and an education package for musicians (including casuals) and management. In the words of Matthew Farrell [6], whose role at the orchestra includes direction of orchestral management, We have worked for a long time on changing our culture so that musicians realise that hearing conservation (i.e. occupational noise management) is important”.

It is worth also noting that the QSO’s orchestra personnel must be among the most literate in the world regarding hearing issues. The orchestra formally educates its musicians as to their audio health at the induction stage and through annual workshops. Orchestra members also have regular audiological testing. Their weekly rosters include an assessment of hearing risk in a concert with a rating of ‘1’ (low risk) to ‘3’ (highest risk). Perhaps one of the biggest factors is the presence in the French horn section of a qualified/practicing audiologist, Ian O’Brien, co-author of the paper cited above. Given their level of audiological ‘literacy’, why did the QSO choose Goodear? Says Farrell [6],

The Goodear product was readily available and was assessed as being state of the art. In particular, the Goodear product creates the least noise problems for the instruments behind the screens, because it has absorbent surfaces on all sides. [However] …“Goodear cannot and does not replace personal earplugs. We use Goodear in conjunction with these measures”.

The QSO’s support of the Goodear has always been strong and it is surmised that this could be put down to the high importance the orchestra places on audiological health and the presence in their midst of a musician who knows a lot about audiology.

Although a long-standing member of the network of orchestras that uses SSI as a service organisation, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has only recently begun to make significant use of Goodear. Their purchase is of some significance, given the SSO’s current position as the most sizeable orchestra in the SSI network and their participation throughout the period of development of the shields. The SSO does not perform in a pit for opera and ballet. Pit use is a significant factor driving the purchase of the shields by other orchestras [7].

It would be fair to say that it took a while to introduce the shields successfully into the SSO but now they’re used fairly regularly. What made the difference? Laura Daniels, the SSO Production Manager, reports [8],

A number of factors played into this one. Prior to me starting with the SSO, there had been a trial period of these shields. I am led to believe that this was received with a high level of resistance… reasons for this are/could be many (i.e. not introduced properly, technical staff were not on board with using them). When we started looking at the shield as an option again, it became clear to me that we would need to introduce them in a much more detailed and educated capacity and “trial” them first. So we did. We provided information at the WHS committee meetings (on which I sit), emails were distributed to players with information and musician WHS reps were helpful in discussing the shields and their benefits with their colleagues. During the trial we engaged with players on stage in direct conversation around the shields and they had a tangible document to fill out to provide us with feedback. What really made the difference? Inclusion, discussion and giving space for voices to be heard.”

Clearly, work is required to establish with certainty whether education and ‘change of culture’ is what has led to the greater adoption of Goodear acoustic shields in recent years. For example, has Goodear been more readily accepted by pit orchestras such as at the Royal Opera House, where their location in an enclosed theatre pit dramatically illustrates the solution?

Evidence in relation to other hearing protection programs suggests that workplace education is of prime importance. O’Brien and others concede that these days, as a result of the QSO’s hearing protection program, “…the anger [that once existed in response to hearing protection measures] isn’t there…” [9]. There is a degree of anecdotal evidence suggesting that cultural change is required in order to introduce a solution that may be strongly indicated by scientific evidence.


While it is difficult to develop and implement a comprehensive study to provide unarguable evidence of the need for cultural change when introducing relatively novel solutions to occupational noise management in orchestral settings, good evidence is available. The reported results from orchestras who have embarked on appropriate introduction as opposed to mandatory implementation of acoustic shields indicate that they are satisfied with their use and encouraged by positive outcomes.

This goes to emphasise the fact that WHS involves people and consultation with people must always be undertaken when introducing solutions to new or existing WHS hazards.


  1. Presbury, J, Williams, W. Occupational noise exposure management in an orchestral setting, J Occup Health Safety – Aust NZ, 16(4): 337 – 342, 2000
  2. Williams W, Stewart G. Noise Exposure Reductions for Orchestral Musicians., Acoustics Australia, Volume 39(2): 73 – 74, (2011)
  3. Personal communication, Symphony Services International, inventory records, September 2015
  4. Personal communication, August, 2015
  5. O’Brien I, Driscoll T, Ackermann B, Description and Evaluation of a Hearing Conservation Program in Use in a Professional Symphony Orchestra, Annals of Occupational Hygiene 59(3): 265 – 276, 2014
  6. Personal communication, September, 2015
  7. Personal communication, Anna Kuwabara, Vice President for Orchestra Operations & Facilities, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: The orchestra originally purchased the shields to help with orchestra pit conditions when the orchestra plays for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis but subsequently found them helpful on stage for their subscription and special concerts at Powell Hall, 23 Sep 2015
  8. Personal communication September, 2015.
  9. Personal communication September, 2015.


Denis Daniels, former CEO of Symphony Australia.


G Williams, Consultant, Symphony Services International, Sydney
W Williams, Senior Research Engineer, National Acoustic Laboratories, Sydney
K Lidbetter, Symphony Services International, Sydney


New Zealand Symphony Orchestra


NZSO with Edo de Waart. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is New Zealand’s national touring orchestra. One of the world’s oldest national symphony orchestras, its reputation for artistic excellence attracts many of the world’s leading conductors and soloists. This year, the NZSO was nominated for Best Orchestral Performance at the prestigious Grammy Awards.

Annually, the NZSO can perform more than 100 concerts in more than 30 different communities across New Zealand to audiences in excess of 100,000 people. Many more enjoy the Orchestra’s performances through Radio New Zealand Concert broadcasts, film soundtracks, which have included The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and CD recordings.

Recently, the NZSO appointed internationally acclaimed conductor Edo de Waart as its Music Director. Maestro de Waart has a prolific and illustrious conducting career spanning five decades and he has worked with some of the world’s leading orchestras including the Royal Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. From 1993-2003 he was Chief Conductor at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

For more information about the NZSO’s exciting Season, visit www.nzso.co.nz

Annual Report 2015

Download a copy of Symphony Australia’s Annual Report for 2015.


Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra


Te Manu Ahi Reh Aotea

In more than 50 mainstage performances annually, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra presents a full season of symphonic work showcasing many of the world’s finest classical musicians. Sitting alongside this activity, we’re also very proud of our award-winning APO Connecting programme of education, outreach and community initiatives.

Divided into four key areas, our APO Connecting programme aims to Impact, Engage, Excite and Inspire audiences from all age groups and ethnic communities throughout Auckland. From free Open Orchestra afternoons, to concerts for pre-schoolers and their families, masterclasses with visiting soloists and orchestral fellowships, we take our responsibility for growing the next generation of musicians and audiences very seriously. The APO Partnership with Schools programme (APOPS) brings our musicians into 60 partner schools with mentoring and performances for students and teachers. Our APO Remix the Orchestra programme enters its ninth year in 2016, offering aspiring urban artists the chance to work with professional APO musicians in a unique fusion of hip-hop and orchestral music. APO Connecting also nurtures young New Zealand composers with a wide variety of workshops, performance and recording opportunities through collaborations with the University of Auckland School of Music and other arts organisations.

Our annual Auckland Dance Project brings together dancers of all ages from schools and tertiary institutions across Auckland to create an explosion of music and dance in a public performance. This year, more than 100 dancers took to the stage for Ruaumoko, together with the full force of the APO, dancers from Atamira Dance Company and a professional Maori kapa haka group in a high-energy, fully staged performance set to music by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr. The performance was presented as part of the Auckland Arts Festival in March, and was attended by more than 2,000 people, the highest attendance for a locally-produced show at the Festival.

For more information about the APO Connecting programme, visit apo.co.nz/apo-connecting

Offshore Perspectives


‘We do concerts in all the boroughs here in the summertime. Let me tell you, when you’re staring at 50,000 people in Central Park on a summer’s evening, you realise that you’re really making the New York Philharmonic available to the city.’ – Matthew VanBesien, Photo: Chris Lee

Australia’s orchestras have always had visits from international artists but, since the mid-1990s, the country’s artistic administrators have increasingly come from Europe or America – and gone back. I wanted to talk to people who have worked with Australian orchestras and see if I could gain a sense – from their international perspective – of the current state of orchestral music and where Australian orchestras fit in the world. The Podium has previously noted the more recent phenomenon of Australian orchestral administrators going overseas, and published articles by Raff Wilson (now with the Hong Kong Philharmonic) and Antony Ernst (Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg). My interviewees were Peter Czornyj who was with the Sydney Symphony in the Ashkenazy years and is now at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Texas, and a trio of former Melbourne Symphony staff – former CEO Matthew VanBesien who is now President of the New York Philharmonic, former Director of Artistic Planning Huw Humphreys, now at the Barbican in London, and former Director of Operations Barbara Glaser, who is Australian but now CEO at the Auckland Philharmonia in New Zealand.

Now that they’ve left Australia, I wondered what their lives were like these days. For Matthew VanBesien his time at the New York Philharmonic has been ‘four years of running at 1,000 miles per hour all the time’ but ‘in a good way.’ Huw Humphreys describes his work at the Barbican as ‘hectic. There’s an awful lot going on. And London is just…it never stops. When you consider that the Barbican presents classical music, contemporary, jazz, non-classical…even things from Grime to Renaissance music – that brings with it an absolute wealth of experiences.’

Though Huw has become Head of Music at a complex that I would describe as London’s one-stop arts megaplex (he can knock off work and go and see Star Wars or the Royal Shakespeare Company), the other three have gone to other orchestras. What differences do they notice from the Australian experience?

Says Matthew: ‘When I was in Melbourne the orchestra was going through a transition with the concert hall and looking for a new conductor, so in some ways it’s like history has repeated itself. In the time that I’ve been here in New York we’ve had a Music Director search and just announced Jaap van Zweden; we’re working on a kind of transformational renovation here on the Lincoln Center campus. I describe our agenda here as being quite robust, considering the scope of what we’re trying to do coupled with some of the normal inherent challenges of a major US orchestra.’

Peter Czornyj makes the point that ‘American orchestras are facing many of the same challenges that orchestras around the world face: being relevant, staying connected with communities in a meaningful way, and importantly, catching and creating as much media attention as you can to keep yourself in the minds of your audience and potential audiences. It’s just that here you have a different set of challenges under those fundamental challenges. You have to achieve what you do with very little support from government funding bodies and it’s been like that for many years.’

You could be forgiven for sometimes wondering if the word ‘struggle’ is being left unsaid when orchestras describe their pitches for audience, but Huw’s experience at the Barbican suggests there actually is a big audience for the arts. ‘One thing I’ve really noticed being back in the UK is that ticket prices are so much more reasonable here – incredibly. I mean, the majority of the London Symphony Orchestra concerts have a top price of about 30, 35 pounds. You can get in to almost everything at the Barbican for 10 pounds or less.’ It’s partly because of the level of subsidy from the City of London, ‘but there’s also a real sense of responsibility that ticket prices should not go higher: keeping ticket prices affordable is absolutely part of our business.’

I find myself wondering who goes to the Barbican. ‘It’s fairly weighted toward Londoners,’ says Huw, ‘but next year Crossrail is going to go from way out west to way out east in superfast time, right past the Barbican, with stops at Moorgate and Farringon on either side. That’s going to be a total game-changer for us.’ I ask Huw if he has any evidence to suggest that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra reaches its citizens in the same way.

‘Every year at the Myer Bowl, the free concerts,’ he says. ‘And we presented a whole raft of different works there – the Melbourne public always came. They came in thousands. In a city the size of London you can of course say, “Oh you need five or six orchestras”, but that central place that the MSO has in Melbourne’s fabric…You know, the MSO has appeared at everything from the opening of the World Cricket Cup final to singing onstage in the Comedy Festival with Eddie Perfect. Everywhere you could fit 30 music stands, the MSO would be!’

As for introducing new repertoire. ‘I have quite a lot of contact with board members,’ says Peter Czornyj, ‘with volunteers, with regular patrons of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and I’ve never shied away from seeking people’s views about what they like and don’t like to hear. You don’t always get the answers that you want but it is important to know what people feel. It does surprise me more and more that there is a lot of support for adventurous programming as long as it’s presented in a balanced setting.’

The Dallas Symphony’s Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, was recently announced as the new Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, the announcement Matthew VanBesien mentioned above. At the time of the announcement of van Zweden’s appointment, some New York critics expressed skepticism about his commitment to new music.

Says Peter Czornyj: ‘Jaap has some strong partners in contemporary music. He likes to work with Christopher Rouse, Mason Bates, Conrad Tao…In his remaining seasons with us, we’ll be doing Aaron Jay Kernis’s new Violin Concerto (with James Ehnes). I think these are the names that you’re going to find coming up again and again. Add to that his passion for Wagner and Mahler and Bruckner and the great classical/romantic symphonies – I think that’s a great recipe for success. There’s a balance there.’

But what about Australian composers? Might Americans enjoy learning more about them? ‘Some composers have already made the jump,’ says Czornyj. ‘I can think of, actually quite recently, a piece by James Ledger played in Toronto as part of their New Music series. I’ve just been down to the Austin Symphony Orchestra to hear Lior sing Compassion by Nigel Westlake which I commissioned when I was at the Sydney Symphony. And of course, Brett Dean is featured quite regularly in America.’

For Barbara Glaser, the one interviewee whose career began in Australia, a commitment to local composers now means New Zealanders. ‘Among the many things we do, including a Sistema-based program in South Auckland, is maintain an ongoing relationship with one of New Zealand’s senior and most-respected composers – Ross Harris. We also have a new composer-in-residence every two years and that composer-in-residence has a mentoring role with the next generation of composing students coming through. It’s very hands-on. We’re very, very aware every single day, of the city that we live in. I don’t think you can just kind of drop any orchestra into any city. It won’t work without a real connection to the people and communities.’

All four of the people I spoke to vouch for the fantastic lifestyle on offer in Australia. When I ask Huw if he misses Australia, he begins by saying that January is a ‘tricky’ time to ask. ‘There’re three weeks of holiday in Australia with a pool in the back garden and then you go to the beach.’ Peter Czornyj cites Sydney, the NSW coastline, and the Hawkesbury area, ‘just the most beautiful places on the planet, and you know the quality of life, the quality of the air is something that we’re not finding so much in some locations in the northern hemisphere.’ Matthew VanBesien cites ‘being within an hour’s drive of several really great wine-makers, the Macedon Ranges and all that. We need to get the Victorian wine producers a bit more organised about exporting.’

Barbara Glaser mentions noticing the absence of the big wave of immigration from continental Europe which came to Australia after World War II and which really shaped a lot of Australia’s cultural life. New Zealand has had the more recent large Asian and Pacific migration but there’s ‘a lot more English/British-heritage’.

Of course all the ‘Australians’ who’ve gone to America cite the contrast in forms of funding. ‘There’s a lot more dependence placed on community philanthropic support here,’ says Peter Czornyj. ‘Many of these orchestras have private donors who extend back through many generations, people donating today who are members of important families through the 20th century. Developing that network of strong supporters and through the generations is really a key part of the American business model.’

Even in a country where there is stronger government support, New Zealand three hours across the Tasman, Barbara Glaser notices a difference: ‘When I was at the MSO there was a funding stream that came from Melbourne City Council, another that came from the Victorian government, and another from the federal government (the Australia Council). We’re missing that middle layer here. New Zealand is one country and doesn’t have state boundaries. I still get a surprise when I get off a plane in Wellington or in Christchurch and don’t have to throw my fruit out. I guess the other thing about New Zealand is that a lot of the big international companies have their head office in Sydney or Melbourne, so getting large quantities of sponsorship can be difficult here because you’re not dealing with the regional head office, probably a very similar situation as for the non-Melbourne/Sydney orchestras in Australia.’

Matthew VanBesien adds that ‘When I was leaving Australia I felt that, you know, we were all sensing a kind of long-term squeeze on public funding in terms of perhaps not having as much indexation as is needed. Yet it seemed to me that if Australia can actually strike the balance between government support and having philanthropy and sponsorship then it may actually be in a much more sustainable position than some other places around the world.’

What are the overall impressions from canvassing the views of these overseas voyagers? One, surely, is that classical music now spreads out across a huge international network and we can benefit from a broad range of experiences. But perhaps, also, we can take note of things that Australia may be doing right. ‘I knew there were orchestras in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane when I arrived,’ says Peter Czornyj. ‘What I didn’t realise was how wonderfully rich and so deeply-rooted in society the orchestral scene was.’ ‘I’m staring at my office wall and pictures of Bernstein and Mahler and Toscanini,’ says Matthew VanBesien from New York. But ‘for me as an American and coming from Texas I felt much more connected to the UK and European music scene when I was in Melbourne than I did in Houston.’

I feel somewhat chuffed by these observations. We obviously have things to learn, but also a strong base on which to build.

Gordon Kalton Williams


Jaap van Zweden conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

SSO teaches the teachers



Fifty-five teachers from across NSW gave up one week of their holidays in January to participate in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s teacher training residency TunED-Up! at the ABC Centre in Sydney. Travelling from as far as South Tweed Heads, the teachers hailed from 41 schools including Cobar Public School, Ross Hill Public School and Macquarie Fields Public School. The program, featuring workshops with SSO musicians, gives the teachers the skills they need to confidently teach music in their classrooms. For the first time in its three-year history the program was paperless, with each teacher carrying the course materials on a tablet.

“The TunED-Up! program was initiated in 2014 to empower NSW primary school teachers with the skills and materials they need to effectively teach music in their classrooms, as well as providing them with a support network of passionate primary teacher colleagues from across the state,” Sydney Symphony Orchestra Director of Learning and Engagement Linda Lorenza said. Teacher Kim Samuels from Redfern’s Jarjum College said she couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom. “I find TunED-Up! rich, professional and inspiring,” she said. “I have this head full of knowledge that I want to take back to share with my children and my colleagues.”

2015 – a year of success for QSO


Alondra de la Parra – QSO Music Director designate


In another record-breaking year, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra has continued to set new standards in orchestral management, financial sustainability and artistic rigour.

QSO once again achieved a surplus in 2015. Ticket sales for QSO mainstage concerts grew by 26% in 2015, including an increase of 45% in single ticket sales. Sales of subscription packages increased by more than 6% with subscriptions revenue up by 17% on 2014. Across all mainstage concert series, QSO presented seven sell-out performances.

QSO’s influence continued to grow, reaching more than 1.6 million people in 2015. A strong commitment to actively engage with communities throughout the state saw an 82% increase in regional touring compared to 2014 and a massive 119% increase in regional audiences to QSO concerts. QSO’s focus on music education saw the orchestra engage with 148 schools throughout Queensland, an increase of 29% on 2014. During 2015, more than 23,100 people participated in QSO educational performances and activities.

Artistically, the QSO coup of appointing compelling Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra as Music Director attracted international attention. From 2017, Ms de la Parra will take on the combined roles of QSO Chief Conductor, Artistic Director and community arts leader.

TSO Prison Outreach Program



The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra inaugurated its Prison Outreach Program in 2015 with a series of activities involving inmates at the Ron Barwick Minimum Security Prison in Hobart.

Musicians from the TSO conducted workshops in May and June involving prisoners and their families. This was a way of bringing music to the inmates and, at the same time, assisting them in building (or rebuilding) personal relationships. Inmates and their children were introduced to orchestral instruments, had a go at playing them and participated in musical games.

In July, members of the prison rock band attended a rehearsal by the TSO at Federation Concert Hall and heard acclaimed artist Isabelle Faust perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Musicians from the TSO returned to the Ron Barwick Minimum Security Prison on 4 and 5 December for two activities. Under Chief Conductor Marko Letonja, TSO string, brass and percussion players performed for the inmates and were joined by the prison rock band for a few numbers. The following day, Family Day at the prison, Marko Letonja and the TSO gave a performance of Peter and the Wolf for inmates and their families.

The Prison Outreach Program was initiated at the request of Marko Letonja. “Music knows no barriers,” he said, “so it is only right that those who are part of the prison system should be able to experience the life-enhancing qualities of live orchestral music. What’s more, it’s good for us at the TSO to extend our reach and play for diverse audiences.”

WASO’s Crescendo



Photo: Nik Babic

WASO’s Crescendo is an El Sistema-inspired music education program, providing free music lessons on a weekly basis to all Pre-primary, Year 1 and Year 2 students at two schools in Perth’s southern suburb of Kwinana. The El Sistema model, established by Venezuelan José Antonio Abreu in 1975, seeks to empower children from disadvantaged backgrounds through music, using it as a tool to help them reach their full potential and learn life values.

WASO initially worked in three schools that had been unable to provide regular music lessons to all of their students because of budget constraints. Beyond the school environment, the community within which Crescendo operates represents a broader target for the program’s outcomes.

The first two years of the program are vocally based, building musical skills through singing, listening and movement exercises. This has encouraged the students to find their voice and participate in music appreciation and learning in their own way. 2015 ended with an open class at each school for parents and supporters of the program. Guests were amazed at how much the students had learned, their attention in class and their enthusiasm for the program. WASO has been overwhelmed by the sense of community and in-school support for the Crescendo program.

Now at the beginning of Crescendo second full year of delivery, WASO looks to build on the momentum and success of the first year of lessons, strengthen relationships with the school communities and families as well as local business, and take the program to its next important stage and introduce string instruments to the current Year 2 students in second semester 2016.

Crescendo is supported by Feilman Foundation and the Stan Perron Charitable Foundation.

Nicholas Carter makes his debut as ASO Principal Conductor


The first concert in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Great Classics 2016 series, Carter & Wagner, has been hailed as “beautiful”, “outstanding”, “fantastic” and “incredible”.

Nicholas Carter stepped onto the Festival Theatre stage for his first concert as the ASO’s Principal Conductor to officially open the orchestra’s 80th anniversary season on Saturday 13 February. Carter’s inaugural concert follows his appointment in 2015 – the first time in almost 30 years an Australian has been appointed to lead a major Australian symphony orchestra.

The epic program featured a performance of Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walküre with acclaimed singers – American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung in the role of Sieglinde, New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill as Siegmund and Australian bass Shane Lowrencev as Hunding.

“The ASO serves to enrich the lives of all citizens of Adelaide. We have crafted a varied program, reflecting a broad range of experiences and insights in a diverse and glorious repertoire, in what promises to be a hugely exciting season,” said Carter. “And for the opening concert in our 80th season, we wanted to do something big!

“The ASO is famous for its two Ring Cycle performances with Jeffrey Tate and Asher Fisch and also the Parsifal performance in 2001 – it represents what’s so great about the orchestra and its musical heritage.”

For the first half of the concert, Carter and the ASO were joined by Canadian violinist James Ehnes and wowed the audience of over 1,300 with Beethoven’s glorious Violin Concerto.

Carter also conducted Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on 18 & 19 March with the ASO and returns later in 2016 to conduct Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.


The Pizzicato Effect


Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up with music in their lives and with The Pizzicato Effect, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s community music program, music is far more than notes on a page.

On 9 December, 163 students joined MSO musicians and Pizzicato Effect Teaching Artists in a concert celebrating the achievements of the previous year. Children from Foundation level through to Year 9 performed arrangements of folk songs and works by Haydn and Mozart, as well as world premieres of five pieces composed by the students themselves. The performance received great acclaim from parents, friends and donors of The Pizzicato Effect, with audience numbers in excess of 100.

Established in 2009, The Pizzicato Effect provides participating students with access to ensemble-based instrumental music lessons, connecting students with their community, while increasing their self-confidence. The program focuses on inspiring enhanced social, emotional and educational engagement through musical accomplishments, and through participation, children develop their academic ability, leadership skills and the ability to give back to their community. Research undertaken by the University of Melbourne has identified the program as a proven pathway to enhanced academic performance and social-emotional wellbeing for participating children, showing that children can carry the skills they have learnt with them for the rest of their lives.

The Beat Starts Here 2016

Sydney, 9 – 13 April with Luke Dollman

The Beat Starts Here has proven to be overwhelmingly popular, particularly among school teachers who conduct ensembles. Participants will work with professional pianists and instrumentalists concentrating on a variety of works to suit differing levels of experience. Places in this course are limited and it will be tailored to the needs of the selected participants. If you want to improve your skills as a conductor, and are currently working as a school teacher or conducting a community ensemble, this is the course for you.

LukeCourse Director: Luke Dollman

Luke Dollman is one of Australia’s leading conductors. He has worked throughout Europe and Australasia, conducting orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, National Orchestra of Belgium, Helsinki Philharmonic, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Halle Staatskapelle and all professional orchestras in Australia and New Zealand. Luke is a graduate of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and a Fellow of the Aspen Festival of Music. He has taught conducting at the Sibelius Academy, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, for Symphony Services International and is Lecturer in Conducting at the Elder Conservatorium of Music.


Eligibility Guidelines

To be eligible to participate in The Beat Starts Here you must:

  • be an Australian citizen or permanent resident (proof may be requested at any time)
  • be currently employed as a music teacher or conductor in a primary or secondary school in Australia; or
  • be a conductor currently working with a community group or ensemble

Selection Process

All applicants are asked to submit a curriculum vitae that outlines their musical history, with a particular focus on conducting experience. The panel will be particularly interested in any ensembles you currently conduct. There is no audition process for applicants to The Beat Starts Here. You will be assessed solely on your submitted curriculum vitae and notified in writing if you have been successful in gaining a position in the program.


There is no application fee for The Beat Starts Here but a course fee of $1000 will be charged should you be successful in gaining a place in the course. An invoice will be sent prior to the commencement of the course. Many participants find that their employer, if a school, is willing to pay this fee as professional development. If this is the case, the fee must still be received by the date specified on the invoice.

How To Apply

Applications are now closed.

For further information please contact Anna Howell, Artist Development Co-ordinator at howella@symphonyinternational.net or (02) 8622 9482, 0418626807.


Christmas Greetings!


Symphony Services International wishes all of its Members, Associates and clients a happy festive season and a wonderful 2016. The office will be closed from 25 December to 3 January inclusive.

Orchestra Victoria


Orchestra Victoria Bendigo Festival, Ulumbarra Theatre. ©Bill Conroy 2015

Established in 1969, Orchestra Victoria is a specialised Ballet and Opera orchestra. As the proud performance partner of The Australian Ballet, Opera Australia and Victorian Opera it is one of Australia’s busiest and most respected orchestras. In addition to performing in the pit, the orchestra plays on the concert platform throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria and is very active in music education.  Delivering up to 200 performances each year, Orchestra Victoria’s versatility and breadth of repertoire makes it unique among Australia’s professional orchestras.

Orchestra Victoria became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Australian Ballet on 1 July 2014 and the synergies between music and dance are proving to be a successful partnership. Orchestra Victoria is #pitandproud

Learn more about Orchestra Victoria.

The Future Lies In Our Orchestras


Mr Chen Guangxian, giving his inaugural speech as the newly-elected Chair of the China Symphony Development Foundation in March, 2015

At a time when the Western media regularly foretell classical music’s imminent demise, the Chinese interest in Western classical music sounds like a good news story. But is this exactly the true situation?

To most English-speaking communities, China remains a mysterious country. Its population is 66 times that of Australia. The dominant Han people plus members of 56 ethnic minorities live on a broad stretch of land across four time zones, contributing to a once miraculous double-digits GDP growth. It looks like fertile ground. Might the future of classical music lie in Asia where China is increasingly a dominant player?

The world is constantly amazed by the sheer size of the concert halls built here in the past decade. Among the architects, designers and acousticians who have changed the skylines of our cities forever are:

  • Zaha Hadid (Guangzhou Opera House);
  • Isozaki Arata and Yasushisa Toyota (Shanghai Symphony Hall and New Harbin Concert Hall);
  • Tadao Ando (Poly Grand Theatre, Shanghai);
  • Carlos Ott (Hangzhou Grand Theatre);
  • Meinhard von Gerkan and Stephan Schütz (Tianjin Grand Theatre); and
  • Paul Andreu (Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre and NCPA).

To western eyes, the halls are a promise, their packed audiences of young enthusiasts the future. Is it really so?

Bear in mind that the urban modernisation sweeping through every corner of the country is the incubator of a flourishing real estate business. Developers get cheaper land in urbanisation projects should a public institute be included in the construction plan: a library, a theatre, a concert hall, clinic or school.

In January 2015, I was commissioned by the British Council to find out the connection between the touring destinations of visiting orchestras in 2014 and the three top-tier cities in China, as well as Hong Kong. The discovery was revealed at the Association of the British Orchestras’ annual conference in Gateshead.

A total of 26 overseas orchestras toured China in 2014 giving 130 concerts in 20 cities. 65% of the concerts were presented in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou while in 11 cities only one concert was heard. But other statistics showed that among 2,132 concert venues surveyed, 1,117 staged only one performance in 2014 – 48% of the halls stood idle without any performance. Further study revealed that a mid-price ticket costs as much as 17.24% of GDP per capita while it is 1.86% for Australia, 1.81% for USA, 2.87% for UK and 3.81% for Japan. In plain words, half of the nation’s halls went unoccupied, and the Chinese people are paying more to get into the rest.

But halls are just part of a bigger picture. The future of classical music does not lie in infrastructure construction or hall management, but in the hands of musicians – composers, conductors and orchestras.

A more important need might be the building up of an indigenous Chinese Classical Music culture. There are great prospects. The middle school level of music education has produced fine string and woodwind players, who can be seen playing in leading orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Seoul Philharmonic. We have superstar icons like Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Tan Dun and a small but elite league of conductors taking permanent jobs in Europe, Asia and the US.

Then where does the future lie? I think part of the future lies in the orchestras. It has always been the orchestra that takes centre stage and constitutes the driving force behind a nation’s classical music landscape, as it does in Germany, America, Britain, Venezuela, Israel, Turkey, Korea and Japan. There are currently 69 orchestras in China. And a new one: the Ningbo Symphony Orchestra.

It is heartening to see the amount of exchange going on between Chinese and western orchestras. It has been known for some time that western music will not be inculcated simply by touring orchestras putting on concerts. In the final concert of its historic first visit to China in 1979, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with 33 members from the-then Central Philharmonic Society (now China National Symphony Orchestra) under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. It was a generous offer still much talked about and fondly remembered by our people.

There are now exchanges of musicians and administrative staff, and performance of the music of Chinese composers. The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra recently signed a deal with the Sydney Symphony for a mentoring program, and the Sydney Symphony provided guest teachers to the faculty at Xinghai Conservatory in Guangzhou. The China Philharmonic has forged a similar agreement with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO). A second group of CPO musicians and staff have recently visited Perth, and more WASO musicians head to Beijing in December.

From other parts of the world, members from the North German Radio Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Royal Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra have all played an important role in offering guidance to either our musicians or the administration. Those exchanges forge wonderful ties.

An equal part of the future lies in audience development. I am always in awe of the vast and ingenious audience outreach program of foreign orchestras that I read about in their season brochures and annual reports. And there are, already, outstanding examples of carefully curated residencies by orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Saito Kinen Orchestra of the Seiji Ozawa Festival (Matsumoto), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou.


Teodorici Pedrini, co-author of the first treatise on Western music in China

There is a Chinese saying quite close to ‘common fame is seldom to blame’. Literally translated, it reads ‘shoot the bird who takes the lead’. In a country where mediocrity is tolerated and not pointed out, I have often struggled to foresee a future for classical music as described by the foreign press. However, I recently made a trip to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan province for a concert of the local orchestra. Geographically, Zhengzhou lies in the heartland of China as Chicago does to the US. The Henan Symphony Orchestra, formed in 2011 on the basis of a former band affiliated to the dance company, is one of the least experienced orchestras. But after three days’ rehearsal by Muhai Tang who had just returned to China after his La Scala debut in Rossini’s Otello (and is the first Chinese to conduct an opera there) the orchestra delivered Tchaikovsky’s Sixth symphony with a power that convinced me of the value of classical music in this land alien to her.

The storm of applause that burst from the 1,000-seat auditorium as Tang’s hands dropped at the end struck me like lightning. The overwhelming power, the shades, the contrast and the imagination of classical music could hardly be found in other genres of music. The classical concert experience offers reward to a day’s hard work, a more in-depth engagement with music than can be experienced in three-minute hits, a haven for higher revelations.

Western Classical music has been appreciated in China for over 400 years since Italian and German missionaries introduced baroque music to the Qing court, the last feudal dynasty in China. These days we have 11 conservatories, 69 orchestras, 211 key colleges, 30,000 career musicians, hundreds and thousands of music teachers, the parents of 100 million music students and a fine collection of halls.

With the help of Mr Chen Guangxian, the newly elected President of the China Symphony Development Foundation – the national orchestras’ service organisation dedicated to the benefit of our orchestras – and Mr Ye Xiaogang, a renowned composer and the new President of the Chinese Musicians Association representing 30,000 members, we are determined to create a future of classical music of our own.

Tang-protrait-250Rudolph Tang

Born in Shanghai, Rudolph Tang was Editor of Gramophone magazine Chinese edition from 2005-2008 and the Head of Communications of the China Symphony Development Foundation from 2008-2013. Now a contributor to Musical America, FT Chinese and Das Orchester, he lives in Shanghai, Beijing and spends the rest of the year in Europe.

Letter from LA


Big Sur, California

Things I have discovered since the last edition of The Podium:

In the same period that I began reading Kevin Starr’s series of Californian histories and continued my usual round of musical and other activities, I also finally visited Yosemite and the gold country and other Californian sights. As some friends and I travelled down the coast from San Francisco, a theme of the sea emerged. In Monterey, where John Steinbeck wrote Cannery Row, I discovered that California’s first constitution was drafted here, at Colton Hall, in Spanish as well as English. Congress’s ratification of that constitution in 1850 made California a state. So, California’s bilingualism is foundational, not just a curious feature of PA announcements on public transit.

Curving down California’s magnificent coastline sent me back to a CD of The Dharma at Big Sur, the John Adams piece that opened Walt Disney Hall in 2003. I read with recognition Adams’ program notes which describes ‘the edge of the [US’s] continental land mass.’

On the Atlantic coast, the air seems to announce [the continental edge] with its salty taste and briney scents. Coming upon the California coast is a different experience altogether. Rather than gently yielding ground to the water the Western shelf drops off violently, often from dizzying heights, as it does at Big Sur, the stretch of coastal precipice midway between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. Here the current pounds and smashes the littoral in a slow, lazy rhythm of terrifying power.

This time, unlike on previous occasions I’ve listened to the piece, I hunted down one of Adams’ sources: Jack Kerouac (as Californian a writer as you’ll ever find) and read his ode to the Californian sea, that ‘billion yeared rock knocker’. Big Sur came to mind again as I sat in Walt Disney Hall recently, listening to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first performance of last year’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, Become Ocean by another Adams – John Luther Adams [see ‘Speed Read’].

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s programs are among those I approach with genuine excitement. There always seems to be such a judicious balance between the familiar and novel. And perhaps this appreciation is shared by much of the rest of the audience. One phenomenon I’ve noted while living in LA is that audiences tend to stay for the new work after interval.

This program paired Become Ocean with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The concert was a study in grandeur. Granted, Beethoven’s grandeur is achieved with spacious melodic exploration of a vast tonal layout; Adams’ with expertly crafted swells of orchestration. Adams’ work is certainly a listening experience, but perhaps more: a potentially life-changing experience. The title comes from a line of verse composed by John Cage in honour of the music of his friend (John Luther Adams’ mentor), composer Lou Harrison: ‘Listening to it, we become ocean.’

There are three big climaxes in this piece as the sections of two orchestras merge. At first, listening superficially, I thought of the piece as big washes, but that didn’t explain the monumental power of it. There was so much life teeming beneath the surface. These surges are made up of complex sequences of repeating patterns. ‘It’s Minimalism!’ you think, but Minimalism raised to an elemental level. 

Alex Ross describes the piece better in his review of the Seattle world premiere in an edition of The New Yorker in 2012, but I’d share with him the sensation of ‘coming away reeling’.

Californians can’t claim this Adams exclusively for themselves, though. Yes, he studied at CalArts out at Santa Clarita, in one of Los Angeles’ northern valleys, but he established his career while, famously, a citizen of Alaska. And Become Ocean was written at his new home in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert.

Adams describes his music as an exploration of environment. I read that he is writing a ‘desert’ piece next. It’s a tantalising thought for me, a one-time denizen of the driest continent on earth, ‘that great America on the other side of the sphere’ (in Herman Melville’s designation for Australia in chapter 24 of his greatest novel).

‘Nantucket, New Bedford…Long Island’ – the geographical references in Moby Dick belong to the US’s other coast, the one that the Northern Californian Adams describes above as full of ‘salty taste and briney scents’.

Nevertheless the LA Opera’s production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Melville’s novel, which we saw at the end of November, continues my months’-long circling of the sea. Funnily enough, I thought of Moby Dick when we stopped by the beach at Piedras Blancas on our way down the Californian coast and saw the hundreds of elephant seals that have returned to these beaches now that the days of sealing (and whaling) are largely over.

This story of Captain Ahab’s obsession with hunting down the great white whale that tore off his leg years before the tale starts, is a perfect subject for opera, when you consider that opera is best served when dealing with broad emotions. ‘At last,’ I thought while watching this, ‘a successful, contemporary traditional opera’, by which I meant one that was singable and aptly paced, with Heggie’s rhythmic and tempo decisions worthy of Verdi, and a libretto (by Scheer) that deserves to be sung.

It did occur to me, however, that a Broadway producer (that is a producer from New York’s Broadway) might be able to trim 30-40 minutes from this piece. Not every supporting character needs so many moments to shine. In the end what’s important is Ahab and how his obsession leads to destruction of his ship and the traumatising of Ishmael who escapes to tell the tale.

Like the Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Opera has a wide range of programming ideas. I caught up with the Opera’s new Public Relations director, Fran Rizzi, for a coffee during the month of November and talked about LA Opera’s full range of activities.

Like so many other classical music companies in the world these days, Los Angeles Opera is heavily committed to outreach. There are educational programs in the LA Unified School District; a whole zarzuela program ‘that goes out into the community on a monthly basis’ (acknowledging Los Angeles’ Spanish-speaking population). And there are experimental productions at Redcat. I’m sorry that I missed Halloween’s screening of the 1931 film Dracula with accompaniment played live by Philip Glass and his ensemble at the Ace Theater downtown (in what was once Chaplin, Griffith, Pickford and Fairbanks’ United Artists’ building).

But LA Opera has particular challenges. First off, there’s traffic: You might have to take opera to the public before they’ll feel encouraged to drive hours to Downtown. That’s why the company simulcast the season opener of the Woody Allen/Franco Zeffirelli double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci to the pier at Santa Monica; for all those people on the Westside who are reluctant to go east of the 405 after 4pm. There’s the Downtown itself. The city has certainly become safer at night. But Grand Avenue, where the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is located, is not yet a charming pedestrian precinct. The Broad, the new contemporary art museum housing the personal collection of Eli and Edythe Broad (endowers also of Plácido Domingo’s Chair at the opera) and down the road from Disney Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, might change that. It ‘has been a game-changer for this sort of concentration of culture, an anchor,’ says Rizzi. ‘You see, at any time of day, a line that wraps around the block at the Broad. And those people, those hipster young people, are the people who need to be here to see opera and see the Phil and see all of the pieces and parts of what has really become a cultural center.’

Rizzi has been at the Opera six months. ‘My job,’ she says, ‘is to tell our story. We are looking at all those education programs and how to bring them all together in a way that is organised around: “what can you do with LA Opera? Can you perform? Can you bring it into your school? Can you just learn more about it?”’ The Santa Monica event was free, but ‘it was ticketed’. That way the Opera can tell if people migrate from the coast to the city. Rizzi also supervises the Opera’s social media enterprises. ‘We can see people reading our blog, joining us on social. Our blog readers may not be easy to match with sales because they may not yet have bought a ticket. But we can see the waves of interest.’

The LA Opera may in most respects – and at its principal home, the Dorothy Chandler – be a traditional opera company. But it is concerned with bringing in the community, ‘those folk from the beach’ in Rizzi’s words. It still does big traditional works like Bellini’s Norma which I saw in a production by Anne Bogart at the beginning of December and followed up next day with YouTube searching for its excellent singers, including Angela Meade and Morris Robinson. But it is also branching out into other sorts of productions and wondering how to bring those back to port.

But what of The Industry, LA’s experimental opera company? Over the years they’ve staged operas in light industrial areas (Crescent City, in which the sets were really giant art installations in an old Atwater factory) and at the iconic Union Station (the audience for Invisible Cities moved among peak-hour commuters listening to the opera on Sennheiser headphones). This year’s offering, in November, paid tribute to the idea that Angelenos spend a lot of time in their cars. It attracted a lot of attention on social media throughout the world and I even sent the trailer to a lot of people outside this country.

Hopscotch was billed as a ‘car-opera’. Could you have anything more quintessentially Los Angeles? The action took place in 24 cars on three routes. Paying audience-members would get in at one of the eight stops along their chosen route that encapsulated another chapter/or outtake in the over-arching story of Luccha, Jameson and Orlando. The scenario, devised by The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon, was basically one of changing relationships but we weren’t necessarily meant to follow the developments sequentially or get a complete picture. Audience-members travelling with the numerous singers who ‘doubled’ the principal parts and their accompanying musicians could get to know the tale much in the same way as we become acquainted with a new city, piece by piece until forming some sort of overall impression.


The live action taking place in the stretch limos was beamed to 24 monitors arranged in a circle around the Hub’s pavilion. Photo: Josh Lipton

Being that rarity – a Los Angeles pedestrian – I watched the opera down at the Arts District, the bohemian area sprouting up in the midst of one of the traditionally seedy parts of the city, in the Hub built by faculty members of SCI-Arc (the Southern California Institute of Architecture). The live action taking place in the stretch limos which served for performance spaces was beamed to 24 monitors arranged in a circle around the Hub’s pavilion. It was a mistake to ‘channel-surf’ the first time I saw the piece. I couldn’t get any bearing. I actually got most out of the opera on a second viewing by surrendering to the idea that I would not find a tale that spoke to me in traditional terms of mounting conflict, but by actually following a route (and doing some prior research) and locating the next section’s monitor with the aid of coloured string (mine was red) stretching across the roof of the pavilion.

That said, I enjoyed Hopscotch without paying as much attention to the plot, words or music as you’d expect. Yes, I noticed musical highlights – Omar Torrez’s guitar playing, the duets in Marc Lowenstein’s chapter ‘The First Kiss’, and the beautiful finale by Andrew Norman when the pavilion becomes a drive-thru and the whole cast and musicians and their drivers converge dreamlike (is that the point?). And certainly the fact that sections of the production were in Spanish lent the whole a certain ‘encantamiento’. But mostly what made the opera enchanting for me was the tribute to Los Angeles, particularly at this convergence, as the Hub’s monitors froze on city landmarks and the setting sun etched purple lines in the crevices of the Verdugo Mountains visible from the Arts District. It’s interesting that my favourite review of the opera was that of the Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who rightly described the co-ordination of 126 singers, actors and instrumentalists, 24 cars and their drivers, and numerous technical crew, as ‘logistically miraculous’. I actually love Sharon’s productions as multi-dimensional (and multi-media: you can still see elements of Hopscotch on the Web) portraits of LA, with music a more-than-usually-prominent element.

So much for the past few months which also saw meetings with Mark Cleary, the Sydney-based founder of Short+Sweet who is introducing this ‘biggest little play festival in the world’ to Hollywood, and will be followed by a trip down to San Diego, where Kevin Starr tells me, Spanish navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo dropped anchor on 28 September 1542. There we’ll hear former Victorian College of the Arts department head, Donna Coleman, and a trio comprising Roger Wilkie (John Williams’ sometime concertmaster) and Australian-born cellist Antony Cooke play music by Connecticut’s Charles Ives, his Yale teacher Horatio Parker, and Brahms from Hamburg, on another sea.

Such has been the whirling swirl of the past few months. As Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, when he was an actor: ‘Hasta la vista, baby’.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2015

From LA Opera's production of Moby Dick (Credit: Craig T Mathew/LA Opera)

From LA Opera’s production of Moby Dick (Credit: Craig T Mathew, LA Opera)

2015 Young Performers Awards winner announced


2015 YPA Finals – Winner announced!

Lloyd-Van't-Hoff-250On Saturday 7 November, Lloyd Van’t Hoff was announced the 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the year after a spectacular performance of the Copland Clarinet Concerto

The last stage of the finals was held at the Federation Concert Hall, with the Tasmanian  Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch and included thrilling performances from two other finalists, Chris Cartlidge (VIC) performing  the Rubbra Viola Concerto and Lily Higson-Spence (QLD) performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto.

The three young performers had battled their way through two previous rounds of competition to have the chance to play their concertos in this concert which was broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and wonderfully presented by Christopher Lawrence.

The winner was announced by Symphony Australia Chief Executive Officer, Kate Lidbetter in a prize ceremony following the concert.

Chris and Lily both receive a cash prize of $10,000 and Lloyd takes home a $25,000 cash prize, multiple copies of a CD of his winning performances, a feature interview in Limelight magazine and two concert engagements with one of the Symphony Australia network orchestras.

The Nelly Apt Scholarship for 2015 was awarded to Lily Higson-Spence. Lily receives a travel scholarship of up to $5,000, return transfers from Tel Aviv and a further half scholarship to attend the International Summer Mastercourse at the Keshet Eilon Music Centre in Israel.

The Triffitt prize ($6,000) made possible through a generous bequest from Dr Gregory Byron Triffitt was awarded to Lloyd Van’t Hoff. The following prizes were also awarded in the earlier stages of the Finals;

Best Recital ($6,000) went to Lily Higson-Spence

Best Chamber Music Performance ($6,000) went to Chris Cartlidge for his performance of the Bruch Eight Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano Op.83

Best Performance of an Australian work ($6,000) went to Chris Cartlidge for his performance of With Zeal by Ian Whitney

The winner of the People’s Choice Prize was announced on ABC Classic FM on Monday 9 November and went to Lily Higson-Spence

Your hearing is precious. Protect it with Goodear

Goodear-unit-250Used by orchestras, bands and educational institutions around the world, Goodear Acoustic Shield has a padded headpiece that attaches to most music stands and is height-adjustable. Independent testing* proves Goodear provides an 84% reduction in harmful noise exposure.
Goodear is just one of the cost‑effective products and services provided by Symphony Services International:

  • Goodear Editions scores
  • Music Library
  • Program notes
  • Surtitles

Read more detail about Goodear Acoustic Shield here.

* National Acoustic Laboratories, 2011. Patented.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra – truly an orchestra for the people!


Beatboxer Tom Thum, conductor Gordon Hamilton and QSO face the standing ovation.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra has dazzled music lovers with a month of outstanding concerts presented in collaboration with the Brisbane Festival. The series of diverse performances throughout the month of September was enthusiastically received by concert-goers and reviewers alike, with every concert finishing to multiple standing ovations.

Symphony for Me, a free concert which invited the public to develop the program, booked out in 27 minutes. Members of the public were asked to nominate their favourite piece of orchestral music and share the story behind it, with a selection of the submitted works performed by the QSO in a concert hosted by Noni Hazlehurst. This was a true celebration of music and its powerful ability to make us feel alive.

Thum Prints combined the talents of beatbox virtuoso Tom Thum with the  skills of conductor Gordon Hamilton for a show unlike any other, morphing classical music with modern technology and sounds. With twists and turns, winding from whimsical to dark and even throwing Wu Tang Clan into the mix, the performance well-deserved its standing ovation.

An artistic highlight of the season was guest soprano Lisa Gasteen in radiant voice for Mahler’s deeply moving Rückert Lieder and the greatly anticipated performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.6  with Simone Young conducting the QSO. The collaboration of conductor and orchestra – together with an eager audience – created a truly wonderful evening.  ArtsHub declared that ‘Mahler himself would have been thrilled at the performance.’

Maximus Musicus visits the TSO

TSO-MM-250Hordes of excited children, along with their parents and grandparents, descended on Federation Concert Hall on 10 September for Maximus Musicus visits the Orchestra, the TSO’s second Family Classics concert for the year.

The fun began with colouring-in and other activities in the foyer before the concert. Once the concert got underway, the capacity audience was treated to a charming story about a music-loving mouse, narrated by Allison Farrow and illustrated with images projected behind the orchestra. Earlier in the day, the concert played to a full and enthusiastic audience made up entirely of school children.

The TSO’s final Family Classics concert for the year, Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl, is on Thursday 12 November at 6pm. Get ready for more pre-concert activities and family-friendly entertainment!

WASO on the Road tour to Geraldton: ‘The Sound of Picture Books’

West Australian Symphony Orchestra in partnership with The Literature Centre

WASO-Geraldton-600Each year, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra tours chamber ensembles to regional centres as part of its week-long WASO on the Road touring program. In September this year, WASO on the Road saw a  string quintet head to Geraldton and it was a huge success!

WASO joined forces with The Literature Centre to present The Sound of Picture Books to over 2,300 children and community members. Featuring Matt Ottley and Danny Parker’s beautiful story book Tree, the program is a unique and exciting way of experiencing this acclaimed Australian book with a poignant story that explores the cycle of life, the turn of seasons, survival of the fittest and the delicacy of the natural world.

Audiences in Geraldton heard Danny Parker narrate his text with Matt Ottley’s illustrations projected on a large screen, and Matt’s score performed by a WASO string quintet and pianist Alf Demagi. Following a short introduction to their instruments by each of the musicians, Matt then explained how he created both the music and the oil-painted illustrations for Tree. Finally, Danny led the children through a dramatic interpretation of the book, once again accompanied by the music.

In addition to these school performances, the quintet also performed a special concert at Nazareth House nursing home, and were even seen one beautiful afternoon performing a surprise ‘pop up’ concert at the local Dome Café.

The virtual reality of the ASO

ASO-VR-600The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has formed a world-leading partnership with Adelaide-based company Jumpgate Virtual Reality to present their first project – The Classics Unwrapped Virtual Reality Concert Series.

Thanks to pioneering technology and using state-of-the-art Samsung Gear Virtual Reality Headsets, audiences had the chance to experience 360-degree views of the orchestra and immersive sound at a special event earlier this year.

ASO-Virtual-Reality-250The vision is as realistic as it gets – filmed during the ASO’s Classics Unwrapped concert at the Adelaide Town Hall on 6 May 2015. A small camera tree comprising 16 GoPro cameras was placed in front of conductor Guy Noble, plus another camera at the front of the stage. The concert featured over 60 musicians on stage performing music by composers including Sibelius, Strauss and Haydn.

The project even got a mention in the Los Angeles Times.

Jumpgate Virtual Reality will also present the Classics Unwrapped Virtual Reality Concert Series at the Adelaide Film Festival this October which is free to check out. More info.

MSO connects with deaf students

MSO-Deaf-600Earlier in the year, students from the Victorian College for the Deaf (VCD) joined music educator Karen Kyriakou and British-born practising and profoundly deaf musician Danny Lane for a day of musical exploration with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

The aim was to open up the world of music to deaf children and inspire them to compose and perform their own music. The day commenced with the students experiencing an orchestral rehearsal at Hamer Hall, followed by a workshop led by Karen, Danny and a small team of MSO musicians.

Danny said that the pleasure of music doesn’t just come from listening to it… ‘for me it’s more than that; it’s about the experience of working with a group, interacting, sharing creative ideas, socialising.’

‘Deafness is a very isolating experience. Music changes that. It’s an amazing tool that brings the community together,’ Lane continued.

MSO-Deaf-250The workshop formed part of a collaborative Australian tour between Music and the Deaf UK and Kyriakou’s Melbourne-based educational music projects organisation, TEMPO Inc. which aims to support investigation into more inclusive ways of bringing authentic musical experiences to deaf children in Australia.

See a short video of the workshop.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra outreach at Seoul National University

The SSO conducting outreach at Beijing’s Central Conservatory on its 2014 tour to China. Photo: Julian Kingma.

The SSO conducting outreach at Beijing’s Central Conservatory on its 2014 tour to China. Photo: Julian Kingma.

With the support of the Australia-Korea Foundation and DFAT, the SSO is set to undertake a full day of activities with students at the prestigious Seoul National University as part of its upcoming tour to South Korea. SSO Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson and 16 SSO musicians will visit the University for a series of morning masterclasses with the students before Mr Robertson conducts an afternoon rehearsal of the Seoul National University orchestra. Rory Jeffes, Managing Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, said outreach activities were a vital part of the orchestra’s international tours, allowing a meaningful cultural dialogue beyond performing concerts. ‘Our musicians really appreciate the opportunity to connect with local musicians and thoroughly enjoy mentoring these talented young players,’ Mr Jeffes said. The week-long tour will first see the SSO perform at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts before heading to Daegu and Seoul.

Orchestral Summit 2015

Thursday 26 and Friday 27 November

International philanthropy expert Russell Willis Taylor, President and CEO of National Arts Strategies (2001-14) and Executive Director of the English National Opera (1997-2001) will present two keynote addresses (development and governance). Antonia Ruffell, CEO of Australian Philanthropic Services, will also be featured. See the program schedule.

Russell Willis Taylor

Russell-Willis-Taylor-250Russell Willis Taylor, President and CEO of US-based National Arts Strategies from  January 2001 to January 2015, has extensive senior experience in strategic business planning, financial analysis and planning, and all areas of operational management. Educated in England and America*, she served as director of development for the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art before returning to England in 1984 at the invitation of the English National Opera (ENO) to establish the Company’s first fund-raising department. During this time, she also lectured extensively at graduate programs of arts and business management throughout Britain. From 1997 to 2001, she rejoined the ENO as executive director.

Russell has held a wide range of managerial and Board posts in the commercial and nonprofit sectors including the advertising agency DMBB; head of corporate relations at Stoll Moss; director of The Arts Foundation; special advisor to the Heritage Board, Singapore; chief executive of Year of Opera and Music Theatre (1997); judge for Creative Britons and lecturer on business issues and arts administration. She received the Garrett Award for an outstanding contribution to the arts in Britain, the only American to be recognised in this way, and has served on the boards of A&B (Arts and Business), Cambridge Arts Theatre, Arts Research Digest and the Society of London Theatre. She was part of the founding team with Diana, Princess of Wales, for the National Aids Trust in the UK.

Russell currently serves on the boards of the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Arts Management program at American University, the British Council’s Arts & Creative Economy Advisory Group, Fractured Atlas and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2013, Russell was honored with the International Citation of Merit by the International Society for the Performing Arts, presented in recognition of her lifetime achievement and her distinguished service to the performing arts.  She has written a number of articles on arts management and policy issues in arts and culture and is currently taking a year away from work for research and relaxation.

* BA degree with honors, Randolph Macon Womens College; Undergraduate certificates in art history and literature from Kings College Cambridge University and New College Oxford respectively.

Antonia Ruffell

Antonia-Ruffell-250Antonia Ruffell is CEO of Australian Philanthropic Services, a not-for-profit organisation that establishes and administers private and public ancillary funds and provides grantmaking advice. She works with individuals and families, and the advisers who support them, to help them set up and run foundations, and be more effective in their giving.

Antonia’s career spans the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Prior to joining Australian Philanthropic Services, she held senior roles with Perpetual Trustees, the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation, Mission Australia, ING Australia, and The Prince’s Trust in the UK. Antonia also sits on the Board of The Social Outfit, a charity that helps refugees with education and employment.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra

WASO-600The West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO) is Western Australia’s largest and busiest performing arts organisation. With a reputation for excellence, engagement and innovation, WASO’s resident company of full-time, professional musicians plays a central role in creating a culturally vibrant Western Australia. WASO is a not for profit company, funded through government, ticket revenue and the generous support of the community through corporate and philanthropic partnerships.
WASO’s vision is to touch souls and enrich lives through music. Each year the Orchestra entertains and inspires the people of Western Australia through its concert performances, regional tours, innovative education and community programs, and its artistic partnerships with West Australian Opera and West Australian Ballet.
The Orchestra is led by Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser Asher Fisch. The Israeli-born conductor is widely acclaimed for his command of the Romantic German repertoire and is a frequent guest at the world’s great opera houses.
Each year the Orchestra performs over 175 concerts with some of the world’s most talented conductors and soloists to an audience in excess of 190,000. An integral part of the Orchestra is the WASO Chorus, a highly skilled ensemble of auditioned singers who volunteer their time and talent. Visit their website.

Beyond French Fries and Gravy: A Librarian’s Trip to the MOLA Conference in Montreal

Quartier des Spectacles

Quartier des Spectacles


Vi King Lim

Just as migratory birds return every year to warmer climes in search of sustenance, so too orchestra librarians from all over the world make the yearly pilgrimage to the largest conference of its kind to hone their professional skills and expertise. The Conference of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) has been held consistently since 1983 usually in late spring or early summer in the northern hemisphere. Formed originally by a consortium of North American orchestra librarians, most of MOLA’s members come from the USA, however over the years membership has grown considerably to include orchestras from Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.This year the conference took place over four days from 29 May to 1 June in Montreal – sometimes cited as the most European of cities outside of Europe – and was hosted by the internationally-renowned Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). With the majority of conferences held in North America or Europe so far, I had only been able to attend a handful of MOLA Conferences previously and was delighted to learn that my travel to this year’s conference had been approved. Packing my bags for Montreal, a curious realisation dawned on me that the last MOLA Conference I attended was three years ago in New Orleans and I was thus visiting another North American city with a French connection.

As it was my first time in Montreal, I was eager to see whether the ‘cultural capital of Canada’ lived up to its reputation. Montreal is, after all, home to Cirque du Soleil as well as major international jazz and comedy festivals. In the few spare days I had before and after the conference, I was fortunate to see many of the city’s sights and attend a few events which gave me sufficient sense of its enviably rich and vibrant culture infused with unique blend of Québécois charm and North American confidence. Given my particular interest in symphonic music, the perfect starting point for discovering Montreal’s art scene was its cultural heart, the Place des Arts, right on the doorstep of the hotel where the conference was held and where I stayed during my trip. This massive complex of theatres and concert halls situated in the popular Quartier des Spectacles at the eastern end of downtown Montreal is the residence of the OSM, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Opéra de Montréal. Outside the complex the sprawling square off rue Sainte-Catherine, Montreal’s main commercial street, drew crowds of locals and tourists alike basking in the early summer sun.

A short Métro ride away or a pleasant stroll along the bustling streets of downtown Montreal occasionally descending into the RÉSO – a system of underground tunnels connecting buildings, stations and shopping malls, the biggest underground pedestrian network in the world – was the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) which I happily wandered through for hours. Housed in four pavilions with a fifth under construction, the museum’s permanent collection ranges from the archaeological and ethnographic to the latest contemporary art and design. Coming from Australia, I was most interested in seeing the collection of local indigenous and Canadian art since parallels might be drawn between Canada’s and Australia’s colonial past. The difference that struck me was that Canadian artists, in my opinion, didn’t face as huge a challenge as Australian artists in depicting the landscape since the Canadian environment was not as alien to European migrants as the Australian bush and outback. From the Inuit works I saw, I also wondered if, apart from embracing drawing and printmaking, Inuit art had made the transition to non-traditional and contemporary media as successfully as Australian Indigenous art?

Many would argue that a large part of Montreal’s attraction to visitors, particularly North Americans, as a city with a European feel outside of Europe can be attributed to its architecture. Although the city has its fair share of skyscrapers and modern buildings, much of Montreal’s charm resides in its historic greystone architecture from the Vieux-Port (Old Port) with its cobblestoned streets dating back to the 17th century to churches such as the Gothic revival Basilique Notre-Dame located on the Place d’Armes. Another noticeably European feature of Montreal is that French is spoken almost exclusively by the city’s inhabitants in everyday life even if they may be fluent in English. Although founded as the French colonial settlement of Ville Marie in 1642, the city was surrendered to the British in 1760. By the middle of the 19th century Montreal was dominated by English-speaking migrants and it was not until World War I that it became predominantly Francophone again. Today speaking French, or more specifically Québécois, is an important self-defining trait of Montrealers, expressing a cultural and regional identity distinct from Canadians living outside Quebec.

Back at the Place des Arts, I managed to squeeze in during my stay several concerts featuring the OSM including a performance of the entire first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre and the final rounds of the Concours Musical International de Montréal. These wonderful concerts took place in the OSM’s resident concert hall, the Maison symphonique de Montréal, inaugurated only in 2011 and costing C$105 million to build. Wrought almost entirely in unfinished and raw wood with gently curving walls of maple syrup-coloured Quebec beech, the state-of-the-art hall is a triumph of architectural innovation and understatement, balancing function and form elegantly. The stage is crowned by a handsome bespoke Casavant pipe organ, completed just last year, which treated early-comers to the Die Walküre concert with a selection of transcriptions from Wagner’s operas. From an acoustic standpoint the hall was no less stunning in its ability to project clarity of musical line and texture without sacrificing the overwhelming wash of sound one expects of an orchestra, something that is rarely achieved in modern precision-built performance venues. The building manager who gave the backstage tour of the Maison symphonique I attended was justifiably proud to show off what is without doubt one of Montreal’s architectural gems.

Equally pleased with the OSM’s new home were the orchestra’s librarians, Michel Léonard and his assistant Benoît Guillemette, who escorted groups of MOLA Conference delegates at various stages during the opening reception from the top floor of the Maison symphonique’s foyer to visit their offices and music collection located in the same building. Léonard and Guillemette run a tight ship for an orchestra whose busy program includes national and international tours occurring almost every year on top of the usual panoply of subscription concerts, recitals, pops programs and educational/family concerts. When I visited their library, the charismatically Gallic duo were in the midst of preparing over 100 orchestral sets of vocal repertoire selected by the singer competitors of this year’s Concours, which rotates from violin to piano to voice on a three-year cycle. Although only the finals are accompanied by the OSM, with 16 competitors whittled down to six finalists within the period of a week, the OSM librarians had no choice but to ensure that the chosen repertoire for all the singers – typically four or five operatic excerpts or orchestral songs for each – be ready to insert into the players’ folders before rehearsals on Monday morning. Léonard’s dedication to his profession saw him working in the office deep into the night on Sunday to make sure the job was done.The librarians work equally hard for the OSM’s summer festival called Virée classique (Classical Spree) which takes place in early August and crams what must be a record-breaking series of thirty 45-minute concerts into the space of two days!

The OSM’s current music director, Kent Nagano, understands and appreciates well the role and value of the orchestra librarian. In his welcome to the MOLA Conference, he acknowledged the vital function that orchestra librarians play in keeping the tradition of symphonic music alive, serving particular praise for Léonard. ‘Michel, like all orchestral librarians here today, is our hero. You are our support lines, our partners, our team, and yes, sometimes even our replacement parents’, Nagano enthused. ‘He has a special gift and talent for finding creative solutions to the OSM’s countless special projects. A scholar and professional musician himself, we have found we can universally depend upon Michel for information and access to the newest critical editions, the newest materials, and specialized editions … [he] has pioneered the integration of new technologies into our daily routine as well as archival systems.’ Not only was Nagano alluding to the content of the conference to follow but his tribute to Léonard might equally have applied to the host of veteran librarians in attendance. Among them was Larry Tarlow, Principal Librarian of the New York Philharmonic, who was present at the very first MOLA Conference in 1983 held in Philadelphia. I once heard an anecdote recounting Tarlow’s uncanny ability to discern solely from a photograph of orchestral musicians that the work being performed was Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

Compared with previous MOLA Conferences, I somehow found this one more rewarding and thus more engaging. I put this down to the structure of the conference which consisted of eight breakouts and only two plenary sessions over the four days. Each of the breakout sessions offered between three to four different topics presented concurrently, essentially allowing participants to tailor the content to suit their needs. Those who know little about orchestral librarianship might imagine that a MOLA Conference would consist of orchestral librarians sitting around talking about photocopiers and electric erasers but in reality our work involves so much more than simply putting scores and parts on stands (which can itself present a challenge at times). The range of topics presented at the conference demonstrated the diverse facets of an orchestra librarian’s job and the knowledge and skills required in areas as wide-ranging as musicology, copyright, management and information technology, to name a few. The following selection of summaries of sessions I attended should give an idea of the depth and scope of the conference.

Previously Head Librarian of The Cleveland Orchestra, Ron Whitaker is renowned as an expert in the various available editions of Mahler’s symphonies and how they relate to the composer’s revisions of his symphonies throughout his life. His seminal article ‘The Symphonies of Mahler’ published in MOLA’s newsletter Marcato in 2001 has long served as the standard reference for orchestral librarians, however it is now out-of-date as new critical editions of several of the symphonies have been published since then. In ‘Mahler Symphonies – What Is One Supposed to Do with So Many Editions?’, Whitaker discussed each symphony systematically with regard to the available editions and their merits and flaws. Specific problems that might hold up a rehearsal were also highlighted, for example, the rehearsal figure sequences employed by different editions in the middle movements of Symphony No. 6 which have arisen from switching the order of the movements. Whitaker’s comparative study of editions attests to the rigour and attention to detail that is expected of orchestra librarians.

‘Licensing: Who, What, Where, Which, and When?’, presented by Karen Schnackenberg, Principal Librarian of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Jane Cross, Chief Librarian of The United States Marine Band, dealt with the complexities of various types of licences that are required for typical uses of copyright material and went into more detail than its broad title would suggest. Although orchestra librarians are generally responsible only for obtaining licences for live performance, many are also relied upon to advise on or organise licences required by the activities of other departments within the orchestra, including recording, broadcasting and web streaming. Schnackenberg and Cross helpfully clarified the difference between performing, mechanical and synchronisation rights and showed how something like uploading a video clip from a concert to a website could involve two or more of these rights and be licensed by separate companies. Special attention was given to new modes of presentation and marketing such as simulcasting – when video of a concert is projected live outside the concert hall, for example – and posting images and video clips from rehearsals and performances on social media. The legalities of posting videos on YouTube were also discussed accompanied by an explanation of YouTube’s Content ID system, the source of all those annoying advertisements that play before the videos.

Perhaps, for me, the most practical session I attended was ‘Commissioning New Works and Working with a Copyist’ presented by Gary Corrin, Principal Librarian of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Greg Hamilton, Owner of Greg Hamilton Music Service. This session looked at ways of ensuring timely delivery and satisfactory quality of performance materials for a newly commissioned work as this is a recurrent problem for many orchestra librarians. Beginning with aspects of the commissioning agreement itself, including consensus as to the responsibilities of the parties involved (composer, orchestra, publisher), financial considerations, negotiation of details and the intricacies of co-commissions, Corrin and Hamilton emphasised throughout the session the importance of the orchestra librarian having some consultative involvement in the entire process. Orchestra librarians should expect to have input in selecting and engaging an appropriate copyist, setting style guidelines for music preparation and delivery format, calculating rates for copying fees, and delegating or assuming the production of materials, and many tips and suggestions were provided in these areas. As an orchestra librarian who is fortunate to be involved regularly in the drafting of commissioning agreements, Corrin provided the session attendees with a sample agreement which he drafted for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and which he granted permission for other orchestras to adapt to their own purposes.

‘Do You Really Need That Critical Edition? What You Should Ask and Know’ proved to be a very scholarly and thorough examination of the phenomenon of the critical edition by Ronald Broude, Director of Broude Brothers, a North American print music publisher, importer and dealer specialising in reprints, facsimiles and musicological editions. Beginning in the 19th century when the new academic field of musicology together with the ‘cult of genius’ gave rise to historical editions of the complete works of important composers, the critical edition emerged as a means of presenting a musical work in a version that is as close as possible to the composer’s original intentions. This is usually a difficult task for the editor as there are often multiple versions of a given work including the composer’s sketches, manuscript score and parts, publisher’s proof copies and early printed editions (some of which may be lost) and these sources require expert knowledge, skills and understanding to take into account and assess. The most useful and surprising advice I gained from the session was that different critical editions of a particular work can diverge significantly in their readings and that careful consideration should be made before deciding to adopt a critical edition for performance. The session concluded with an interesting hypothesis that critical editions today have developed into a means of legitimising the canon of ‘great’ composers, thus enhancing the reputation of the publisher of the critical edition, the authority of the performer using it, and the appreciation of the audience who is informed of its use.

The highlight of the conference was the plenary session on ‘Current and Future Delivery Methods of Rental Music’ involving a panel of experts from the music publishing industry: Guy Barash, Digital Content Manager at the Music Sales Group, New York; Elizabeth Blaufox, Manager of the Rental Library at Boosey & Hawkes, New York; and Peter Grimshaw, Managing Director of BTM Innovation, Adelaide. I was honoured to be asked by MOLA to moderate the session and was pleased to receive positive feedback from the other delegates commenting on the clear structure and presentation of the topics and the engagement of both the panel members and audience. Although the discussion covered current delivery methods of rental music from direct communication with self-published composers to placing orders with music publishers or their territorial agents, the focus was on the growth of digital sheet music as a viable medium for rental music. Several issues and challenges were identified in the transition from paper to digital delivery of rental music including: the creation and implementation of a universal digital format for sheet music; the development and widespread adoption of an affordable and practical means of displaying, interacting and storing digital sheet music; and the complexities of digital rights management for rental music which mainly comprises protected works. The panel members’ responses to these questions revealed that concrete foundational plans for digital sheet music were being undertaken by the major publishers of classical music in collaboration with each other for the first time and that the publishers were willing to listen seriously to orchestra librarians and musicians to develop a comprehensive and workable model rather than conduct one-off experiments or publicity stunts. At previous MOLA Conferences, I remember that sessions on similar topics were largely greeted with hostility by orchestra librarians, however this session seemed to usher in a more positive outlook as the future of digital sheet music appears to be more imminent and real than ever before.

Like other orchestra librarians who had come to Montreal to reacquaint themselves with colleagues from afar and to nourish themselves with new knowledge and ideas, I found myself leaving Montreal replenished and reinvigorated by the MOLA Conference and by what I had seen and heard. Many such as myself had wisely organised a free day or two around the conference to take advantage of their first time in the city, discovering its unique cultural and architectural attractions. This MOLA Conference was for me an unforgettable experience enhanced further by the superb concerts of the OSM I attended at the remarkable Maison symphonique. Ashamedly, I have to confess that the only thing I missed out on in Montreal was digging into a bowl of poutine, a diet-defying local dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. With my appetite for all things Québécois whetted by this trip, I know that poutine won’t be the only good reason I’ll have to make another visit to Montreal.

© Vi King Lim, 2015

Vi King Lim is Library Manager, Symphony Services International

Coffee Break at the Coffee Bean – sitting down with Pearl Kaufman

Pearl Kaufman and daughters

Pearl Kaufman and daughters

I recently met up with Pearl Kaufman at a Coffee Bean on the corner of Santa Monica and Beverly Glen Blvds in West Los Angeles. Pearl Kaufman is a pianist who has worked with many of the great names of 20th century music, premiering works by Berio, Ginastera, and Shapero, and appearing on the legendary CBS recordings of Stravinsky and Berg, as well as playing on iconic film scores, like Chinatown and Dr. Zhivago. She performed in the legendary Monday Evening Concerts which are still going strong, and at the UCLA concerts put on at Royce Hall by Franz Waxman.

PK: The Russians were interesting when they came. I remember a composer, Karayev[1], who was very talented. I thought Khrennikov was less talented but his minders loved him.

GW: In the histories I think Khrennikov is often the villain, the front man for the Union of Soviet Composers. What was he like as a person?[2]

PK: He wanted to be loved by everybody and he wanted to be loved by the orchestra. And he was jovial but very dogmatic at the same time: everything should be exactly on time.

[Pearl played for Stravinsky on some of the legendary recordings he and Robert Craft made of his music in Hollywood in the 1960s.]

PK: I think I mentioned how I got to record with him in the first place?

GW: Yes, at the Academy of Scoring Arts.

PK: The pianist with the LA Philharmonic took ill suddenly and they called my teacher John Crown at USC, University of Southern California, to see if he could play Petrushka and he said, ‘I’m busy but I have a wonderful student who does contemporary music very well.’ I had been doing Monday Evening Concerts with Lawrence Morton[3].

And then Mr Crown took me into his office and he said, ‘Pearl, in ten days you’re going to play Petrushka with Igor Stravinsky.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘This is not a joke. They’re going to deliver the music and a week from Friday night you’re going to play it.’ So I’ve got to tell you, I practised day and night and I learned it and we performed it. Then, the following week, I got a call that we were going to record it. And before the recording Mr Stravinsky came over and said, ‘Did you play Petrushka?’ And I swear, I didn’t know what he was going to say. He said, ‘Vonderrful, vonderful.’ I said, ‘Oh thank you.’ Then we went to record it, and you know the piano part, the Russian Dance? He listens to it, and comes over and says, ‘Did you put the soft pedal on?’ I said, ‘No.’ It’s loud! He said, ‘Look.’ And he shows me in the score – soft pedal, which I hate. Because every other recording I’ve heard, it’s bright – not mine!

GW: And he wanted it muffled?

PK: He wanted that muffled. But not everything else that I played. Do you know where the Legion Hall on Highland is? Post 43? It’s on the west side above Franklin.

GW: Yes, it’s a historic building. I saw something about it.

[In fact, I had. A distinctive ‘Egyptian Revival-Moroccan Deco’ building built in 1929, it’s renowned for its acoustic. Beside Stravinsky’s recordings of his own works, Bruno Walter made legendary recordings of Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart there.]

PK: The sound there was wonderful for a large orchestra. And I remember Petrushka. They brought in a Bösendorfer but they didn’t have the piece that hides the extra notes so I had no topography of the piano. I was going crazy until I lifted my hands and said, ‘I can’t play on this piano.’ So we took a 20-minute break and they went to a piano store and got the cover.


Pearl Kaufman with Stravinsky during recording of The Flood, 1962.

GW: Did Stravinsky ever talk about Russia?

PK: Not generally, but one time I was having lunch with my girlfriend on Bedford in Beverly Hills. Stravinsky’s doctor worked out of a two-storey building on the east side of the street. And I saw Mrs Stravinsky drive up in their cadillac. Mr Stravinsky was struggling to get out. So I ran out of the restaurant and said, ‘Mr Stravinsky, can I help you?’ He said, ‘Oh thank you, thank you,’ but the elevator was broken. So I carried him up. He was very frail. He said to me, ‘I have to go to Russia.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Vera and Bob want me to go to Russia. I don’t want to go.’ So I said, ‘Well, don’t go.’ He said ‘I have to.’

[In the end, in 1962, Stravinsky went. Despite Soviet criticism of his work over the years, including by Khrennikov, it was a moving return to the land of his birth.]

GW: And Bob was Robert Craft, his assistant –

PK: Exactly. I know all of this because I became friendly with both Bob and Mr Stravinsky because he really liked my playing on Petrushka. I spent a lot of time with them. I was the ‘designated driver’. Mr Stravinsky would have his flask of Scotch with him.

GW: And did they talk music in the backseat?

PK: No, but every time I was over at the Stravinskys’ house in West Hollywood, he and Bob would be looking at another Gesualdo.

GW: So Bob really was a very strong musical influence on him?

PK: Oh my gosh, when we would rehearse we wouldn’t rehearse usually with Mr Stravinsky. Bob would do the rehearsal and Stravinsky would come in the last part for the recording. You know, Bob was so accurate.

GW: So Stravinsky was a good-natured guy?

PK: I thought so. I liked him tremendously.

GW: And you met Berio?

PK: I had a Mercedes and I took him to Dave Raksin’s[4] house in the Valley[5] for dinner. He wanted to meet Pete Rugolo[6]. That was the only person in this whole town that he wanted to meet – Pete Rugolo, who was Stan Kenton’s arranger and would do arrangements for Hank Mancini[7]. Pete Rugolo asked him to play Mack the Knife from sheet music and he only played the chords that were on the music,

GW: So you think he didn’t know ‘Mack the Knife’ at all?

PK: No, not at the time. I remember that night vividly because he insisted on driving my car back to Beverly Hills, through the mountain. He did not stop for anything. Thank God this was still in the 60s and there weren’t that many cars on the road, but I thought it was my death.

GW: I find it interesting that you played with the great film composers as well.

PK: I was known as a ‘red light’ musician. Do you know what that is? You can play as soon as the music is put in front of you, as soon as the record light comes on. André Previn wrote a virtual harpsichord concerto for Dead Ringer (1964). And the action for harpsichord is not the same as piano. Boy, did I have to ‘red light’ that!

But the reason I played… Obviously I was a good pianist but the reason it started was because everybody wanted to get close to Stravinsky and, you know, they had me on their date. Not David Raksin actually. David Raksin knew me from another composer. But then it started – Franz Waxman, Elmer Bernstein…

GW: Do you think people like Franz Waxman ever regretted not being in their old milieu of Europe where they would have been successful opera and symphonic composers?

PK: He didn’t. But do you know who Bronislaw Kaper was?

GW: Yes.

[I knew him as the composer of the theme for The FBI, the 1960s TV series, and recently got to know his music for 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty, the Brando film.[8]]

PK: Miles Davis, when I met him in New York, told me that Bronislaw (or Bronek as I called him) was a great composer. And, of course, Miles made Bronek a millionaire with his recording of ‘On Green Dolphin Street’. Well, Bronek was a very close friend of mine. And one of my dearest friends used to entertain Bronek and Isaac Stern, but also Jack Benny and George Burns. But Bronek was a close friend. He got my husband into karate. He was a swordsman as well as a wonderful composer. I met Artur Rubinstein through Bronek, I got great seats at the Philharmonic through Bronek –

GW: And so he, kind of, yearned for the old life?

PK: Well, he didn’t yearn for it but let’s say that’s the only music he listened to.

GW: You played on the Jerry Goldsmith score for Chinatown. And there’s a scene where Jack Nicholson’s character, Jake, is going down into the LA River and there’s all this prepared piano.

PK: Yes.

GW: And it’s very distinctive because here is prepared piano which was new then.

PK: Oh but I think Jerry went to every Monday Evening concert. It wasn’t new to anybody who went to concerts. But it was probably very new –

GW: For film music.

PK: I remember Paul Glass. He became a professor in Switzerland, a wonderful composer.[9] Anyway, Paul’s first score for a major studio was Lady in a Cage[10] which was James Caan’s first credited feature. It’s now a cult film. We also used some prepared piano in some scenes – this is way before Jerry. By the way, that was the only kind of music that I could improvise – contemporary music.

GW: Because I remember you saying that Chinatown was a wonderful score –

PK: Oh god, great score![11]

GW: Do you ever find the actors and directors appreciating the score as much as maybe they should?

PK: No.

GW: Because I get the impression Spielberg –

PK: Oh, that’s a different thing. Absolutely. You’re talking about working with John Williams. I did some two-piano with John and then he got a big break where he wrote a main title and then he met some directors who became very interested in him. He was a favourite of Stan Wilson,[12] and everybody at Universal was agog over his talent.

GW: And he’s still going strong. We’re told that it’s a disadvantage to have an immediately recognisable style in movies because you’re really writing a wide range and yet a lot of these guys had distinctive styles.

PK: Absolutely. Somebody will want John because of his style. You know, there are many wonderful composers writing for film, but I’ll never forget when Bronek told me about – I forgot what score it was and it was at MGM – but the director said, ‘Oh for instance, I’d like something like [Pearl hums the Volga Boatman]’. So the composer tried to do something like that. And then they said, ‘Make it more like it’ and he did. And then they asked for it to be more like it. So he finally put in –

GW: The Volga Boatman

PK: Exactly.

[It’s a great cautionary tale about too much individuality, but the overriding impression I come away with after an all-too-short coffee break with Pearl Kaufman (and anecdotes about Berio, Stravinsky. Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams…) is that Los Angeles was, and probably still is, a terrific and vital melting pot for all sorts of music.]

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2015


[1] Kara Karayev or Gara Garayev (1918-1982) was an Azerbaijani composer of the Soviet era.

[2] Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). The Anti-Formalist, Zhdanov, made Khrennikov secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers in 1948. Khrennikov and Karayev visited Los Angeles for the first International Los Angeles Music Festival in 1961.

[3] Lawrence Morton (1904-1987), a longtime champion of contemporary music in Los Angeles and a former director of the Ojai Festival. He became director of the Evenings on the Roof concerts in 1954, renaming them the Monday Evening Concerts.

[4] David Raksin (1913-2004). A New York Times obituary described him as the ‘Grandfather of Film Music’. With over 100 film scores and 300 television scores to his credit, he was best known for the haunting theme to Laura.

[5] The San Fernando Valley, a 670 km2 area north of the Santa Monica Mountains, was opened up for urban development largely in the 1940s and 50s.

[6] Pete Rugolo (1915-2011). Working principally for Stan Kenton, Rugolo provided arrangements and original compositions that blurred the boundaries between jazz and contemporary classical music.

[7] Stan Kenton (1911-1979) was, according to his New York Times obituary, ‘the last major jazzband leader to emerge from the Big Band era of 1935-45’, but Kenton’s was also one of the most innovative bands. He called his music ‘progressive jazz’. Arthur Fiedler, of the Boston Pops, regarded him as ‘the most important link between jazz and the classics’. ‘Hank’ Mancini was Henry Mancini (1924-94), best known for Peter Gunn and The Pink Panther theme.

[8] Bronislaw Kaper (1902-1983)

[9] Paul Glass (born 1934)

[10] 1964.

[11] Goldsmith’s was the second score. There was also an earlier score by Phillip Lambro, which is now available on CD. It’s known as Los Angeles, 1937. Goldsmith’s score wasn’t ready in time for the trailer and Lambro allowed use of his score as long as he retained mastering and publishing rights. Paramount Studios agreed as long as he changed the title.

[12] Stan Wilson (1917-1970), ‘one of the most prolific collaborators in Hollywood’, was head of creative activities for MCA Inc.’s Review Studios, a predecessor of NBC Television, related to NBC Universal.

Orchestral Librarians’ Digest #2

Khachaturian’s Gayane – A Musical Rubik’s Cube

by Robert Johnson, Music Librarian, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Khachaturian’s colourful full-length ballet Gayane (also spelled Gayaneh or Gayne) is rarely produced as such outside Russia or former Soviet Bloc countries. Some of the music, however, is very familiar through frequent performances as stand-alone pieces or within the context of three suites extracted from the ballet by the composer. The ubiquitous Sabre Dance is the most obvious example, but more musically satisfying is Gayane’s Adagio, the sublime two-part invention made famous through its use as a musical analogue for the loneliness of space in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey (subsequently imitated by James Horner in the initial section of his score for the movie Aliens). You might reasonably expect that a performance of several excerpts from Gayane, chosen from the published suites, would pose no great problems for an orchestral librarian.

Boosey & Hawkes, which represents the Russian Authors’ Society for the UK and British Commonwealth countries (except Canada), doesn’t publish study scores of the Gayane suites, but their online shop offers them for sale in the scholarly and beautifully type-set Japanese Zen-On edition. When a selection of movements from these suites was confirmed as part of an upcoming concert by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, I purchased a set of Zen-On scores and our British conductor did likewise. In due course he sent us his choice of movements, designed to illustrate the “exotica” theme of the concert – five from Suite No.1 and three from Suite No.3. I duly ordered performance materials for these suites from Hal Leonard Australia.

It was shortly after the music arrived that I discovered we had a problem. Checking our list of movements to be performed against the scores I realised that the materials provided for Suite No.1 – published by the Anglo-Soviet Music Press and distributed by Boosey & Hawkes – contained three different movements from the study score I had purchased. Fortunately the missing movements happened to be ones we didn’t intend to perform on this occasion, but on further comparison of the two scores I discovered that there were significant variants between the different versions of each movement. All had been modified in various ways, ranging from matters of dynamics and phrasing to alterations in harmony and instrumentation, and several cuts. Most importantly, the movement the conductor had specified to open his selection – Ayesha’s Awakening and Dance – had been substantially cut, omitting among other things the eerily atmospheric slow introduction, recorded twice by Khachaturian himself. In addition a well-known saxophone solo had, in the Anglo-Soviet edition, been unaccountably assigned to a flute.

What could be the reason for these discrepancies? The answer lies in the convoluted history of the ballet itself and in the diverse network of publisher representation for the Russian Authors’ Society (RAO) throughout the world.

In 1940 Khachaturian was asked to compose a new score for the Kirov Ballet to a libretto based on a few scenes from his 1939 ballet Happiness. Khachaturian salvaged some of the music from this earlier ballet to re-use in Gayane, but the majority of the score was freshly composed. This original version of Gayane, in 4 Acts and 5 Scenes, was first staged in Perm, near the Ural Mountains, in December 1942. In 1957 the ballet was revived at the Bolshoi Theatre, with a new libretto designed to suppress the more militaristic aspects of the original plot. The changes to the storyline – essentially dictated by Soviet politics of the time – necessitated modifications of the existing music and additional music for some new scenes. This revised version of Gayane was eventually published in 1962, the ballet now described as being in 3 Acts and 7 Scenes.

It appears to be around this time that the Anglo-Soviet edition of Suite No.1 came into being, using the revised version of the score and omitting three movements from the original suite in favour of movements deemed to be more “popular”. Gayane’s Adagio had not yet appeared in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (the trigger for its own popularity), so ironically it was rejected from this version of the suite. If you consult the Zinfonia database, a separate movement called the Dance of Gayaneh as published by Boosey & Hawkes is given the subtitle Gayaneh’s Adagio, with the correct instrumentation listed, but on the publisher’s own online catalogue no such subtitle is given for that movement and the instrumentation differs from that of Gayaneh’s Adagio. In the only complete recording of the revised version of the ballet there are no fewer than three sections called Dance of Gayaneh, but none of them is Gayaneh’s Adagio. How on earth are orchestras supposed to reliably identify this movement if they wish to hire it?

Confusingly, in the revised version many movements of the ballet changed their position and function in the overall scheme of the work and were given new titles, even when the musical material remained more-or-less identical to that in the original version. Fire became Storm; Ayesha’s Awakening and Dance became Village in the Mountains and Monologue of Ayshe; Gayaneh’s Adagio became Invention (at least in Khachaturian’s 1977 recording) or possibly Dance of Gayaneh (according to Boosey & Hawkes); or perhaps it was completely eliminated – it’s difficult to be sure. Trying to make sense of the differing facets of the original and revised versions of the ballet is like fiddling with a musical version of Rubik’s Cube.

Schirmer, which represents the RAO in the USA and Canada, and Sikorski, which represents them in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and many other territories, still distribute the original version of Suite No.1 (the same version as the Zen-on score), as do several other publishers  (Universal, Fennica Gehrman, etc) for the regions they serve. Uniquely, the Anglo-Soviet Music Press seems to have produced its own suite, quite at variance with the one published elsewhere and widely regarded as standard. Boosey & Hawkes’ reaction when I pointed this out was to suggest that Zen-On had produced its own version of Suite No.1 – which, frankly, is self-evident nonsense. Zen-On’s score is, in fact, the only edition of the original score to have been produced with the advantage of good scholarship, the editor having studied with Khachaturian himself in Moscow in the 1960s. If performance materials could be produced from Zen-On’s edition of all three suites and made available internationally, orchestras would be far better served than they are currently by the hand-written parts published by the Anglo-Soviet Music Press.

Searching for a solution to my immediate Gayane problem I consulted Boosey & Hawkes’ online catalogue and discovered that they offered for hire a single movement entitled Ayesha’s Awakening. As originally published, the movement I needed is clearly divided into the slow introduction of Ayesha’s Awakening and the quicker Dance, so it seemed likely that this would solve my problem. After a few days Boosey & Hawkes London responded via Hal Leonard with a query: Did I really want them to send this set of parts from their warehouse in Germany? They confessed that it was a pretty ropey set, and they sent me sample pages of both the saxophone part and the score (which didn’t match) to show me how bad the materials were. At least the saxophone solo was intact, and the rest of that page matched the Zen-On score. I requested that they send me a scan of one complete part so I could check it against the score. Unhelpfully they declined to do so, but they did confirm that the last rehearsal number in their parts and in my score were identical. This at least was encouraging, so I asked them to send the materials as quickly as possible.

A week later the performance materials for Ayesha’s Awakening arrived. They were indeed as poor as Boosey & Hawkes had warned – hand-written parts, all produced in 1950 by the same copyist, but each string desk part set out differently on the page. No allowances had been made for page-turns in the wind parts and there were frequent passages where musicians had been forced to write out missing bars as inserts. In short, this was the most inept piece of music copying I’ve seen in many years, and the hapless copyist had preserved his incompetence for future generations to witness by signing and dating each part.

But there was worse news. Despite the fact that the parts were identified by the publisher as Ayesha’s Awakening, they all began at rehearsal no. 3, the start of the Dance section. The slow introduction for which these parts were specifically named was completely missing! If Boosey & Hawkes had granted my request to see a scan of one complete part I would at least have been forewarned. I had run out of time to explore further options through official channels, so I did the only thing I could – I hired a copyist to write out parts for the opening section from the Zen-On score. Not, strictly speaking, adhering to the letter of copyright; but, after all, we had done our best to comply and were certainly paying good money for so-called “professional” materials that had proven to be grossly inadequate.

The existing recordings of Gayane don’t particularly clarify matters. The only apparently complete recording is by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra under Georgian conductor Jansug Kakhidze, using the revised version of the score. Originally issued on LP by Melodiya in 1978, this has been variously re-issued on CD by Russian Disc, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and Vox. A 1976 RCA recording by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the Armenian Loris Tjeknavorian professes to be a complete recording of the original 1942 ballet, but in fact it comprises just three-quarters of the score – all the movements of the three suites (re-ordered) plus an introductory passage and two short scenes. A more recent Naxos CD by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Anichanov confuses matters still further. It claims to present Suites Nos.1 to 3, but most of the movement titles don’t match those in either the 1942 or 1957 versions of the score, so the provenance of this selection is something of a mystery. Gayane’s Adagio in this recording opens with a solo cello rather than the cello section as scored, and the movement ends with a new and unexplained two-minute scene, never previously recorded. Did Khachaturian actually write this himself? It feels vaguely fraudulent. Overall, despite its incomplete nature and a less than ideal CD transfer, the most satisfactory recording is Tjeknavorian’s for RCA.

Khachaturian himself conducted recordings of limited selections from the ballet on at least three separate occasions – 8 movements with the Philharmonia Orchestra for HMV in 1954, 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca in 1962, and 6 with the London Symphony Orchestra for EMI in 1977, not long before he died. Both of the earlier recordings used the original version of the score, while the last used the revised version. Gayane’s Adagio is included in all three recordings, but for this last one it bears the title Invention – an accurate if inelegant title, presumably in line with the revised score. It is puzzling that in the so-called “complete” recording of the revised version of the ballet, this movement – arguably the single most perfect piece of music in the entire work – is notably absent.

Robert Johnson, © 2015.

This article was published in conjunction with the Orchestral Librarians’ Digest #2 (August 2015).

Annual Report 2014

SSI_AnnRep14-coverDownload a copy of Symphony Australia’s Annual Report for 2014.

ASO appoints Australian Principal Conductor

ASO Artistic Leadership Team Announcement on April 15. Nicholas Carter Principal Conductor. Photo: Shane Reid.

ASO Artistic Leadership Team Announcement on April 15. Nicholas Carter Principal Conductor. Photo: Shane Reid.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has appointed 29-year-old Nicholas Carter as Principal Conductor – the first time an Australian has been appointed to lead a major Australian orchestra for nearly 30 years.

From 2016, Mr Carter will head a new artistic leadership team that includes two outstanding international artists: the renowned British conductor, Jeffrey Tate, as Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Adviser; and living musical legend – conductor, violinist, violist and teacher – Pinchas Zukerman, as Artist-in-Association.

ASO Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello, said the appointment of the new artistic leadership team was a clear demonstration of the ASO’s self-belief, confidence and optimism; and its ambition to gain greater recognition on the international stage.  “This announcement is an exciting moment in the life of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and in the cultural life of Australia,” Mr Ciccarello said.

“The appointment of a new artistic leadership team is a statement of our belief in the future of the ASO: a future of discovery and adventure that is grounded in and respectful of tradition and our history – appropriate given we celebrate our 80th anniversary next year,” he said.

Nicholas, together with Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s newly appointed Assistant Conductor Toby Thatcher, is a graduate of the Symphony Australia Conductor Development program, which is supported by all six of the Australian symphony orchestras.

WASO launches cross cultural exchange with China

Zhao Yunpeng (CPO Principal Cello) and Rod McGrath (WASO Principal Cello

Zhao Yunpeng (CPO Principal Cello) and Rod McGrath (WASO Principal Cello). Photo: Min Yang.

In March an exciting new partnership was launched between the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, the China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and the Australia China Business Council (Western Australia) (ACBC WA). The partnership will see the three organisations work together on an exchange project that will foster cultural awareness and share expertise between both orchestras.

The project was launched at the ACBC WA’s Chinese New Year Dinner in March, with the President, Vice President and Concertmaster of the China Philharmonic Orchestra travelling to Perth for the announcement. A milestone of the partnership will be WASO’s first tour to China in 10 years, with WASO being formally invited to take part in the Beijing Music Festival in October 2016.

The partnership commenced in December last year with three musicians from WASO travelling to China for a week of rehearsals and performances with the CPO. Following the first visit by CPO delegates in March, three musicians from the CPO joined WASO to perform with the Orchestra in April. Further visits have been scheduled for musicians and management staff from both orchestras to travel and spend time with their counterparts, sharing knowledge and experiences.

The initial phase of the project has been made possible with funding from both the Australian and West Australian Governments and support from WASO corporate partner Singapore Airlines.

QSO plays for all Queenslanders


Photo courtesy of Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

QSO’s commitment to reaching Queenslanders wherever they live saw a three-fold increase in QSO’s regional touring program in 2014. As the second largest state in Australia, this is a significant achievement and highlights QSO’s strong commitment to engage with communities to provide access to great music and champion music education.

The use of new technology learning through webinars, and for the first time digital streaming of concerts, saw QSO’s community engagement activities last year reach wider and further across the state than ever before. In 2014, QSO engaged with more than 1.1 million people. More than 22,000 of these participated in QSO education activities including students from 115 schools across the state. Continuing this active commitment, in 2015 QSO musicians will travel to 12 regional centres, delivering 22 concerts in addition to hands-on workshops and demonstrations in centres as far afield as Cairns, Longreach, Gladstone, Mount Isa, Moranbah and Rockhampton.

“Having the QSO here has really benefitted our kids. Our Symphonic Band just got into the state finals for Fanfare. They saw how playing as a group and working on their own individual technique can get them to the next stage in their ensemble’s practices, so it’s valuable beyond compare to anything.” Angie Clifton, Music Teacher, Gladstone State High School

All singing, all dancing: TSO’s Mini Maestro

TSO-kids-600Building on the success of last year’s Mini TSO for Kids, the TSO gave five sold-out performances of Mini Maestro in the TSO Studio during the recent school holidays. Conducted by Greg Stephens (TSO Horn player) and hosted by Jane Longhurst, ABC Local Radio announcer and actor, Mini Maestro was aimed at children aged 2 to 8 who played, conducted, sang and danced. The accompanying mums, dads and grandparents seemed to have a good time too!

TSO-happykid-250Music from Star Wars went down a treat as did Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. Children came to know the distinctive sounds of the instruments of the orchestra through Jane Longhurst’s original and witty story, “Where is the Big Sound?”

MSO broadcasts to millions in China


Photo: Matthew Irwin.

In February, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra celebrated Chinese New Year with a concert that brought together great works from the Western and Eastern traditions under the helm of Grammy and Academy Award winning Chinese composer and conductor Tan Dun. The concert featured the Melbourne premiere of Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Dun’s thirteen-movement work based around a series of ‘micro films’ derived from field recordings capturing the musical life and spirit of Nu Shu women in China, which was juxtaposed by key works from the Western classical repertoire including Ravel’s Bolero.


Photo: Matthew Irwin.

The concert, which was recorded for TV and radio broadcast, was seen and heard by millions of people in China. Chinese TV networks, including Shanghai Media Group’s People and Culture channel and Australia Plus TV, broadcast the entire Chinese New Year Concert, and the audio was broadcast on Chinese National Radio, Shanghai Media Group’s Classic 947, Beijing Metro Radio and Australia Plus’ classical music program.

SSO appoints Assistant Conductor

Toby-Thatcher-600The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has appointed 26-year old Australian Toby Thatcher to the highly coveted position of SSO Assistant Conductor.  Toby was one of five hand-picked international and Australian candidates who auditioned for the role before a panel including the SSO’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson.

“Toby showed us he is ready to embark on the next stage of his career, displaying excellent conducting technique, authority and musicality in what can only be described as a highly impressive audition out of a particularly strong field of candidates,” Maestro Robertson said.

The SSO is one of several Australian orchestras that have created assistant or associate conducting programs in order to develop emerging conducting talent, resulting in a significant number of young Australian conductors achieving recognition in Australia and abroad. This includes well-known Australian conductor Nicholas Carter who, after holding the position of SSO Assistant Conductor from 2009 to 2012, was recently announced as the new Principal Conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Applications for the 2016/17 Conductor Development Program are now open!


Past Program Participants (clockwise from top left): Christopher Dragon, Benjamin Northey, Nicholas Carter, Luke Dollman.

Some exciting changes have been made to the program for 2016 and beyond. Fewer conductors will be selected to participate in the program which will continue over a two-year period (2016/17 in the first instance) and will consist of a variety of training and professional development activities including traditional teaching modules, masterclasses, assisting visiting or chief conductors, showcases, concerts and other opportunities. These changes have been made in order to identify the very best talent and those with the potential to one day stand in front of the Australian orchestras and on the international stage. Symphony Services International will focus its resources on training these individuals and assist them to develop and nurture good relationships with the orchestras.


Past Program Participant Sarah-Grace Williams.

Participants will be selected through a three stage process of Application, National Auditions and Summer School auditions. Candidates will be selected to audition based on their experience as indicated in their application and the national auditions will take in August this year. Following the national auditions a small number of conductors will be selected to participate in the Summer School which will be the third and final stage in the selection process. The Summer School will take place in Hobart in late January 2016 and will comprise various training and development opportunities including podium time with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra prior to the final auditions which will take place towards the end of the school.

All the information can be found in the brochure here.

Applications are now open and can be submitted here.

Applications close Thursday 9 July.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

MSOWith a reputation for excellence, versatility and innovation, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is Australia’s oldest orchestra and an essential part of Melbourne’s rich cultural fabric.

The Orchestra performs live to 250,000 people annually, in concerts ranging from subscription performances at its home, Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne, to its annual free concerts at Melbourne’s largest outdoor venue, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Sir Andrew Davis gave his inaugural concerts as Chief Conductor of the MSO in April 2013, having made his debut with the Orchestra in 2009. The MSO also works each season with Principal Guest Conductor Diego Matheuz, Associate Conductor Benjamin Northey and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The MSO reaches an even larger audience through its regular concert broadcasts on ABC Classic FM, and through recordings on Chandos and ABC Classics.

The MSO’s Education and Community Engagement initiatives deliver innovative and engaging programs to audiences of all ages, including MSO Learn, an educational iPhone and iPad app designed to teach children about the inner workings of an orchestra.

Think like Thalberg: What Classical Music can learn from the movies and vice-versa

hollywood600When I moved to Sydney in 1987 I got to know the city by memorizing its coves and bays. In Los Angeles since 2013, I’ve memorized where the studios are located. After all, locals often think of Los Angeles and Hollywood synonymously. Paramount is only a $10 cab fare away; Warner Bros is in the Valley. But in another sense I’ve learned a different geography. What I would call ‘classical music’s verities’ stand out more vividly now.

I had at first considered writing an article entitled ‘What Classical Music can learn from Hollywood; what Hollywood can learn from Classical Music’. I was going to include such ‘pearls’ as: ‘You’re never finished’. Film scripts, for example, are multi-coloured documents inserting rewrites way beyond the first day of shooting; how does that compare with classical music’s sketch, short score, orchestration..?

‘It Takes a Village’ (apologies to Hillary Clinton) occurred to me while sitting in our local cinema, the Vista, at the junction of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards (where D.W. Griffith filmed the silent epic Intolerance in 1915 before the roads were paved) and realizing that the audience was sitting through fifteen minutes of end-credits. Such appreciation for everyone’s work! Classical music may have gotten over the idea of the lone genius starving in the garret. But in Hollywood you find the ‘sort of collaboration that once yielded cathedrals’, says Billy Mernit, a story-analyst whose classes on dialogue I’ve taken.

The distance I’ve travelled through this landscape also makes me sensitive to arguments about ‘New Music’. I’m reminded of a former piano teacher who said that when he came back to the piano after a long spell at the harpsichord all he could hear were the piano’s hammers. These days I notice the ‘shoulds’ in the programming debates. Companies should program New Music; people should listen to it.

Maybe it’s a worry that our classical music scene doesn’t seem to have a big-enough audience for the most future-bound music of our tradition but I wonder if there is another way of looking at this. Los Angeles suggests to me there is. ‘Should’ just isn’t in the vocabulary of anyone in the Green Room of 10,000,000 people that is Los Angeles County.

I guess people have been worrying about the decline in audience-appreciation for our modern repertoire since Henry Pleasants bemoaned the loss of singable themes in The Agony of Modern Music. Oliver Rudland wrote in a recent edition of Standpoint that composers stopped writing tunes because they lost their Christian faith. I don’t even think they have to write tunes (!).

Actor Joey Marino studies a screenplay while working  in Bru Coffeehouse, Los Angeles

Every second person working on a screenplay. Actor Joey Marino studies a screenplay while working in Bru Coffeehouse, Los Angeles.

But my favourite analysis is that of Richard Taruskin who, in a 2004 edition of The Musical Times, focussed on the idea (fallacious in his mind) that all that matters in a piece of music is the artist’s making of it (their ‘poiesis’), regardless of the audience’s capacity to hear. Taruskin traced what he called ‘the poietic fallacy’ back to 19th century critics like Alexander Serov or Franz Brendel (remember them?), but in Schoenberg’s atonality and 12-tone music he felt that the audience had really been abandoned.

I know Schoenberg tried to help audiences comprehend his new music by emulating classical forms. But the classical forms couldn’t serve their previous clarifying purpose once a composer’s means of punctuating them (Tonality) was lost. That’s not a catastrophe, except that at some point after 1910 you could often detect an idea that composers didn’t have to worry themselves if the audience was left behind. The composer’s principal, if not sole, job was to extend the musical language; it was the audience’s problem if they were bewildered.

‘A lot of the cuts are from the first act’ says screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, of the Clint Eastwood film J. Edgar, ‘because we didn’t want the audience to be ahead of it.’ [italics added] [1]. ‘Subtext helps your audience to participate. It’s fantastic if your audience knows a bit more than your characters,’ [italics again] says Billy Mernit. What do these seemingly contradictory statements suggest? A filmmaker is constantly shifting their audience’s understanding, and the audience is granted enough of the basics to play along? I decided to collar Mernit, since I know him, and put some questions to him.

Billy Mernit is a former songwriter who has had his songs covered by people like Judy Collins and Carly Simon. These days he’s a story analyst for Universal Pictures, and is best known for his textbook, Writing the Romantic Comedy. Mernit gets to see and comment on each of the seemingly interminable drafts a screenplay goes through before the cameras roll. How important is consideration of audience to the film work?

‘The general rule of thumb is that with most writers, first draft is for you. Second draft is where you start to take into consideration who it’s for and who might respond to it,’ he says, when I catch up with him in the sculpture garden at UCLA, where he does some teaching. ‘In the Hollywood studio system it is almost scientific. One of the first questions any executive asks of a project is “what’s the demographic?” “who’s the intended audience?” “how do we expect to sell this thing?” because it’s in the studio system that you’re dealing with major money.

‘And by the way, back in the Silent Era, in the early days of Hollywood, a lot of the stuff that is now sort of codified, in its nascent form was responding to audience. In some of the earliest Silent Movies, like Chaplin two-reelers, audiences were going “give us more of that. We love that.” And only when the audience created the demand for things, did Hollywood say, “Hmm, if we put a woman in the picture with that comedian we’ll expand our audience” – things like that.’

So, could I take another Clintonian expression and turn it into one of my ‘lessons’ – ‘It’s the Audience, Stupid’?

‘Well, the slight confusion in the question, the thing that’s being conflated is …it’s creator versus producer, meaning a creator may not be thinking of the audience; a screenplay might be a very personal endeavour. But the producers of a screenplay are thinking audience first and foremost.

‘I don’t want to be too glib about this because if you’re a story analyst who’s worth what they pay you, on a certain level there’s this naive, fundamental “does this get me excited?” You have to have a personal response to it. And that, by the way, goes with producers as well. You don’t necessarily get into producing unless you have a great love for movies, like a good story and want to be involved. So I’m responding as a human being, that’s the litmus test. If it grabs me and I’m thinking “I’ve gotta keep turning these pages”, I am the audience; with the producer’s hat on. I don’t think of things in terms of what’s commercial or not. It’s more “is there something in the story that speaks to some kind of audience beyond myself?” Everything should be personal, of course, and the most personal projects are quite often the most impassioned and unique, right? but it’s a communicative medium.’

A producer like 1930s whizkid Irving Thalberg (the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘last tycoon’) thought that the success of a movie was arbitrated solely by the audience, director Billy Wilder’s ‘wonderful people out there in the dark’. I wonder if the classical music fear of giving so much consideration to audience response is that we would lose out on masterpieces?

Says Mernit: ‘Well, it’s not like Mozart or Verdi or Vivaldi were writing extremely esoteric masterpieces that were being foisted on an unsuspecting public; they were using the popular vernacular. But the crucial difference is that Hollywood is not attempting to make the general public watch a Godard movie. You can have a Best Picture winner like 12 Years a Slave and it’s something that people can relate to, whereas much modern classical music – unless it’s Minimalist – is very difficult for most audience members to even hear. It’s as if you were making a movie with a strange lens on the projector.’

I find myself wondering if classical music would ever get to this level of deference to the public. After all A Composer’s Cohort, an article on the Opera America website, says, ‘…try not to worry about the reception….Whether the audience likes your piece is arbitrary but informative.’ I can’t help feeling that not only would this be a strange abdication of skill in the movie world which is premised on predicting hits (and often does), school teachers wouldn’t say, ‘I have no idea at what point I lose my students’ nor would sales personnel concede, ‘I have no idea when I’ve lost the buyer.’

And it’s not as if classical music was always in such an unknowing position. A classical composer knew that if you put an A minor chord after a G while you were in the key of C, an audience would experience interruption. Wagner knew that if he kept withholding resolution of the ‘Tristan chord’ we in the audience would lean in with yearning. And I’m convinced Tchaikovsky set his audience up so that they would burst into applause at the end of the march in the ‘Pathétique’ and feel all the more excruciatingly the wrench into the Adagio lamentoso which in fact ends the symphony.

Do classical music writers want to second-guess the audience? Do they want positive reinforcement of their vision that badly? I wonder what would happen for contemporary repertoire if the practitioners began to ‘Think like Thalberg’; if classical music had its equivalents of film producers, people in orchestras who could stand between a CEO and a Director of Artistic Planning, a CAO (Chief Artistic Officer) if you like, with the authority to say, ‘Look, the audience feels you’ve got ten minutes more music than thematic material. I saw them fidgeting at the preview we set up to test their responses.’

These are just some of the thoughts that have come to me from immersing myself in a different artistic milieu. But to come back to an earlier promise, what can Hollywood learn from classical music? I said above I was thinking of writing about each artform’s lessons for the other.

So far I only have one, but it’s big, and fairly reaffirming. Paradoxically it’s something about form. In Save the Cat, probably the most popular screenwriting text of today, the book that every second aspiring screenwriter working on WiFi in Starbucks has sitting by their elbow, the author Blake Snyder says ‘Act II begins on page 25. No, please. Don’t argue’. Yes, but I will. (By the way, since screenplays are formatted so that one page equals one minute of running time, this is even more restrictive than it sounds.)

Classical music wouldn’t buy this. Classical Sonata Form, for example, is a 3-Act structure. It was a screenwriting teacher, Sydney’s Linda Aronson, who made me think about this. Classical Sonata Form contains exposition, development, and recapitulation. There are certain goals it must satisfy but look, there is a world of variation in the way Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich and others even closer to our time went about it. Classical music proves you don’t have to be rigidly formulaic.

But screenwriting may not be as schematic as I think. I put this to Billy Mernit. ‘It gets moved around a lot,’ he says. ‘The A-teamers are not slaves to those kinds of restrictive formulas really.’ And then I think of Pulp Fiction – three acts functioning traditionally but out of real-life chronological order, containing enough that’s familiar for an audience to appreciate what’s fresh. Yes, even as I continue to try to learn from classical music, Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction’s screenwriter/director) proves you can create an innovative masterpiece that is also popular.

Gordon Kalton Williams
© 2015


1. Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub, ‘Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black Talks J. Edgar, The Barefoot Bandit, and Ron Howard’s Under the Banner of Heaven’, collider Nov 10, 2011

Soundings across the Tasman – Over Time

David Garrett surveys orchestral activity in New Zealand and Australia, comparing changes in the past 20 years

devil marbles AustraliaIn the mid 1990s I spent several months filling in as artistic manager for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, based in Wellington. I went on tour with the orchestra, to most of the major cities, and came tantalisingly close to staying in the job. I suppose the main reasons the NZSO asked me to fill in for them were, first, that Australia is not far away (only three hours’ flight from Sydney to Wellington), and second that Australian and New Zealand orchestras, not surprisingly, have so many things in common.  Or do they? I had been planning artists and repertoire for the Australian orchestras, and I knew already that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra had emerged rather further than its Australian counterparts from the chrysalis of its broadcasting origins.

Through the prism of the NZSO I began to grasp more of the differences between New Zealand and Australia, in music and other spheres. My historian father’s work on Christian origins in the Pacific had shown me that New Zealand, partly through engagement with the Maoris who long preceded Europeans in settling the country, tended to have a wider perspective on the Pacific region – perhaps a greater diversity than Australia of experience and outlook. Would this be reflected, I wondered, in how European music was transplanted? How did New Zealand’s experience of this compare with Australia?

I have spent years studying the origins of Australia’s permanent symphony orchestras and turned up some real surprises. Now, I wonder, how this might compare to NZ? In this brief survey of the New Zealand orchestral scene the most informed perspective I can bring is historical and comparative, with Australia as the foil.  It is historical in another sense also, since my direct experience of New Zealand’s orchestras is now 20 years in the past.  Recent contacts with the chief executives of major New Zealand orchestras make me feel a little like Rip Van Winkle (in Washington Irving’s story) – so much has changed, but perhaps a historian from across the Tasman Sea can tell tales of the old days, to suggest what is distinctive about  New Zealand’s orchestras.

In spite of some very obvious differences so many things appear similar. Among these: in both countries the national broadcaster played the determining role in establishing permanent orchestras. New Zealand, however, formed and still has a national orchestra – but Australia has never had one.  Each country has experienced inter-city rivalries over orchestras, but Australia has had no parallel for tours by a national symphony orchestra to centres where there were also local orchestras. Then there is the music of each country to be compared. Was it an accident, I wondered back in the 90s, that New Zealand has already given the world at least one composer with major claims to distinction, at least equal to those of any Australian? And in spite of many early contacts over music and orchestras between the two countries, could the possibilities of Trans-Tasman co-operation be exploited more? My answers now might be different from answers I would have given 20 years ago.

Australia and New Zealand’s once close contacts – social, cultural and political – diminished over time, especially during the 20th century.  The adjacent land masses shared experience of European discoveries, British colonisation, Christian missions, a migratory labor force crossing the sea (especially in mining)….the interchanges were many. Before air travel, shipping made New Zealand an accessible overseas tourist destination for Australians. As for New Zealanders, from their small land they are said to travel greater distances per head of population than the inhabitants of any other country. First populated by a daring Maori migration, New Zealand has avoided isolation. 2015 marks the centenary of the Australian-New Zealand (Anzac) landing at Gallipoli, a joint military campaign on the other side of the world (Turkey), bulking large in the memory of both nations.

Before there was any permanent professional orchestra in either Australia or New Zealand, many musicians were making careers on both sides of the Tasman Sea (colloquially ‘the ditch’).  For European musicians also, who had made the weeks long sea voyage to Australasia it made sense to take in both countries. Then in the early 1920s both countries had a brief glimpse of what a good permanent orchestra could be. The NSW Conservatorium under Belgian conductor Henri Verbrugghen formed what has been claimed to be the first state-supported orchestra in the English-speaking world. Verbrugghen’s orchestra based in Sydney toured to Melbourne (arousing envy there), and also to New Zealand, twice, in 1920 and 1922. While in New Zealand, Verbrugghen said that he wished to make the orchestra ‘Australasian’, but the second tour incurred a deficit, Verbrugghen left Australia and his orchestra, losing its government support, remained a challenging memory.

Stravinsky talking to the NZSO players in 1961

Stravinsky talking to the NZSO players in 1961

That challenge was taken up in the 1930s and 1940s, first in Australia, then in New Zealand.  The outcomes were similar, except in one important respect: only New Zealand got a national orchestra. Some comparative history may help explain why. In Wellington, when I lived there, I got to know New Zealand’s leading historian of music, the late John Mansfield Thomson. What he wrote of New Zealand is true mutatis mutandis of Australia: ‘until the advent of the National Orchestra in 1946 New Zealand lacked any consistent orchestral tradition’.  In Australia the watershed was earlier, but also flowed from the national broadcasting service. The Australian orchestras under the management of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) were sometimes called ‘national’, in the sense of publicly funded, but from 1932 there were multiple ABC orchestras: in Sydney and Melbourne, and by 1948 in all the State capital cities.

My research into the pre-history of these orchestras found many advocating a single national orchestra. Before the ABC in the late 1930s became fully committed to its six orchestra policy, the press in Australia sometimes urged that there should be  a single national orchestra, and even suggested it would be more viable if New Zealand was included in its regular touring itinerary. This national orchestra idea, a path not taken, has poked up in Australia from time to time since – visiting English conductor Malcolm Sargent suggested it in the late 1930s, and so by implication did Australia’s Prime Minister Paul Keating in the early 1990s, when he favored the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to be Australia’s flagship orchestra. ‘The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service’, to give it its first full title, gave its inaugural concerts in 1947, founded by the government and under the management of the public broadcasting service.

Advocates of one national orchestra, on both sides of the Tasman, assumed that Australia and New Zealand’s population size, level of musical development, and resources could only support one full-time orchestra of high professional standard.  Whether that was true or not, national differences help explain why Australia and New Zealand diverged. Geography made touring a symphony orchestra to all major centres possible in New Zealand (to varying degrees), but prohibitively expensive in far-flung Australia (where Sydney to Perth, for example, is a five-hour flight). There were issues of local and national ‘ownership’ too – New Zealand had abolished its provinces in 1876 in favor of a strong central government, whereas Australia’s federal structure made it difficult to deny any State what was provided for another. In Australia a national central broadcasting organization, partly modeled on the BBC, founded six state orchestras. Arguing in the 1930s against a national orchestra Australian conductor and orchestral strategist Bernard Heinze claimed that any orchestra’s most vital bonds were civic and local. Given that the national orchestra Heinze feared would probably be based, like the ABC headquarters, in Sydney, he was protecting the interests of ‘his’ Melbourne Symphony Orchestra!

Half a century later civic pride had played its part in making control of the local orchestras by a centralized national broadcasting organisation seem out of touch. From the mid-1990s on Australia’s orchestras were devolved from ABC management.  New Zealand had anticipated this in 1988 when their government gave the NZSO direct funding and its own board, no longer forming part of the broadcasting organisation. New Zealand was at least a decade ahead of Australia in moving towards corporatisation and putting organisations previously in the public sector on a more competitive footing, opening them up to greater private support and initiative.  Even after the orchestras were cut loose from their radio moorings though, concerts continued to be broadcast, both in Australia and New Zealand – the broadcasts had always been part of the justification for public funding. (Radio New Zealand estimates there are 12 listeners on radio for every audience member.)

My historical reflections stimulated by direct experience in New Zealand ranged over music as well as orchestras. A vital orchestral culture has a thriving relationship with home-grown orchestral music – is duty bound, in fact, to get it heard. I had wondered whether much Australian music was to be heard in New Zealand. Percy Grainger? Perhaps that honorary Kiwi Alfred Hill? I knew working for the NZSO I would have to get more familiar with New Zealand composers of orchestral music. I even chaired the score-reading panel that considered newly-composed works.

As for the major, established figures: I’d read about Douglas Lilburn, I’d even heard some of his music, but it took my experience in New Zealand to instill wonder – a country with a  population less than Sydney’s produced, and gave due credit, to at least one composer easily comparable in stature to any from Australia, ever. I never met Lilburn. By 1995 he rarely left his home on Wellington’s Terrace, and his formidable persona was described to me by his friends such as John Thomson. The more I knew the music, the more was I impressed. John Hopkins conducted some Lilburn in Australia, but since Hopkins’ time at the ABC 40 years ago, the only Lilburn I can remember being played by an ABC orchestra was programmed by me, after my return from New Zealand.

Peter Sculthorpe was an Australian composer of comparable importance. How much of his music, even now, is heard in New Zealand? I remember recommending Tamara Anna Cislowska for a performance of Sculthorpe’s Piano Concerto with the NZSO.

But sometimes there are reasons why music does not travel readily from one country to another. My sampling of response to Lilburn’s music suggests Australians find in it the same subdued light, the greens and greys characteristic of the New Zealand landscape (Lilburn’s most often played orchestral piece bears the Maori name for New Zealand, the Overture: Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud.)  One of New Zealanders’ favorite adjectives for Australians is ‘brash’. Do they find in Sculthorpe signs of the often harsh brightness of the Australian light, and the sense of vast uninhabited spaces (think Irkanda, think Sun Music)?


Sistema Aotearoa is a programme offered by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra free of charge to students in the Otara (South Auckland) community, using orchestral music making as a tool for social development.

As I criss-crossed the ditch, 20 years ago, I also started asking myself why there hadn’t been more trans-Tasman orchestral collaboration. In particular, given the airfare costs of importing conductors and soloists, why wasn’t New Zealand more often included in Australian itineraries and vice-versa? There was exchange in the past – composer and conductor Alfred Hill (1870-1960) was so involved with both sides of the Tasman that it’s hard to say which has the greater claim on him. (Waita Poi, a Maori dance song composed by Hill, Thomson calls his ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, his ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’.) More recently Englishman John Hopkins had come to Australia in 1963 as Director of Music for the ABC, via New Zealand where he played a vital role as chief conductor of the NZSO from 1957, consolidating the orchestra in its intended national role. These people never forgot New Zealand. They went back as welcome visitors. Hopkins was one of the conductors in 1965 when the Victorian State Symphony Orchestra (now once again named for Melbourne), went to the Pan-Pacific Festival in Christchurch. Yet even the efforts of such as Hopkins seemed not to make a mark on the Australian musical consciousness – it needed a Kiwi name to do that: Kiri te Kanawa, or Teddy Tahu Rhodes…  Since Verbrugghen, and Hopkins, symphony orchestra touring has been pretty much one way traffic.  In 1974 the NZSO played in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide (Dame Kiri among the soloists), and in 2000 they took part in the Sydney Olympics Arts Festival (Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander who conquered Everest, was speaker in Vaughan Williams’s Antarctic Symphony).

My secondment to the NZSO coincided with the network of Australian orchestras instituting (or perhaps resuming) the invitation of key people from the NZSO to their conferences.  That orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia continue as Associate members of Sydney-based Symphony Services International, the corporatised descendant of ABC Concerts which once ran concerts for Australia’s broadcasting organisation. The artistic administrators of both these orchestras attend meetings of their Australian counterparts. One of the main purposes is to plan the sharing of soloists and conductors.  The Auckland Philharmonia makes itself available for parts of Symphony Services’ conductor training program. Not surprisingly, given proximity in a specialised field, both Australia and New Zealand have featured more and more in the career paths of orchestral staff from both countries.

In 1995 I experienced in New Zealand a debate within its national orchestra, about how much touring it should do, what centres the tours should visit, and how often.  The smaller centres had never had professional symphony orchestras. But several larger New Zealand cities to which the NZSO toured at least once a year had orchestras, and audiences there came readily to hear them.

Meeting New Zealanders involved with the arts, I soon realised that the two major South Island cities, Christchurch and Dunedin, both have aspirations – with some history on their side – to be cultural initiators and nurturers. They have orchestras of varying sizes and professionalism, and had them before there was a national orchestra. So did Auckland, and since my time in New Zealand, Auckland has further outstripped Wellington as the major population centre. Was bringing an orchestra from the capital to give concerts in these cities taking coal to Newcastle? Could local music movers and shakers, and the audiences, be wholehearted in their acceptance of a national orchestra that wasn’t theirs? What would be their loyalty as between that orchestra and their local one, especially if the national orchestra was taking the lion’s share of funding? Was the attitude I was sensing from Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin like what I noticed in citizens of Australia’s national capital: a greater support for the semi-professional Canberra Symphony Orchestra than for visiting orchestras (from Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, or the Australian Chamber Orchestra) – local ‘ownership’, perhaps,  sometimes reflected in ticket sales? I was told in 1995 that the Auckland Philharmonia’s concerts often outsold those of the NZSO, when it visited that city.

I was wondering, 20 years on, how things have shaped since. How, for example, does the NZSO, still based in Wellington, dovetail with other orchestras to meet the country’s need for professional orchestral services?

I got answers to most of these questions from the managements of the NZSO and the Auckland Philharmonia, and summarise them here with some risk of oversimplification. Christopher Blake, the CEO of the NZSO, told me in March 2015 ‘The landscape has changed a bit since your time here!  The main development was the government’s orchestra sector review which was the first time in NZ that all of the professional orchestra sector was included’. The professional sector is made up of the four Creative New Zealand (Arts Council) funded orchestras – Auckland Philharmonia, Orchestra Wellington (formerly Vector Wellington), Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Southern Sinfonia (based in Dunedin) and the government owned and funded NZSO. One of these orchestras, the NZSO is over 70% government funded. By contrast, the Auckland Philharmonia gets about a quarter of its revenue from each of central and local governments, and generates over 50% of revenue itself.  The NZSO receives close to 80% of the national government funding given to orchestras.

As it did when I was associated with it in the 1990s, the Wellington-based NZSO continues to travel to Auckland and present a concert series there – giving more concerts in that city than anywhere else outside its home city. The result is that half of all professional main concert hall performances in New Zealand are in Auckland. As the major population centre, that city has the audience potential. But the question has been raised, and not only by the Auckland Philharmonia, whether Auckland is getting more than its fair share, and whether the NZSO should consider using some of the time and resources it gives Auckland to service other parts of the country.

APO points to the stats that in 1946 when the national orchestra was designed, New Zealand had 1.78 million people, 12.5% of them in Auckland. By 2012 1.5 million Aucklanders comprised 34% of the population. APO was formed in 1980, and presently employs 70 full-time professional musicians. Its broadcasts on Radio New Zealand Concert (its musicians claim) make it NZ’s most broadcast orchestra.

Clearly the Auckland Philharmonia has matched the development of Auckland by raising the level of its activities, and also its artistic standard – so much so that in recent government reviews of the New Zealand orchestral sector the Auckland orchestra made a case that New Zealand now has two full-time professional orchestras of international standard.

In the government review’s Final Report (February 2013), the submissions from some supporters of the APO were noted: that NZSO could travel less frequently to Auckland, because the APO already provides Auckland with a high quality orchestral experience. But the Review concluded that Auckland was not over-serviced, for various reasons, notably that Auckland has scope for growing paid audiences (for both orchestras). The recommendation was for the NZSO to continue to tour to Auckland and collaborate with the APO to meet the needs of Auckland audiences.  The NZSO was also encouraged to provide access more evenly to live orchestral music in medium-sized cities, and to help make that more possible, not require  NZSO to include in its tours centres with populations below 50,000.

Both Christopher Blake and Barbara Glaser, the CEO of the Auckland Philharmonia, confirmed to me that there is discussion especially about Auckland programs aiming at a diverse and balanced offering. There is also some sharing of players.

The NZSO naturally welcomed the review’s affirmation of its ongoing role as an international standard national symphony orchestra providing national orchestral activities and services as a touring orchestra. NZSO was also encouraged in its ‘stronger’ leadership role in building performance quality and musicianship across the orchestral sector.

The Auckland orchestra was similarly pleased that the report acknowledged its status and standard, as a ‘metropolitan’ orchestra. The tenor of the report was that these two leading orchestras had a joint role to play.

One of the recommendations encouraged the orchestra sector to establish a leadership body to increase collaboration. The revitalised cooperative group is known as APOA (Association of Professional Orchestras Aotearoa). The managements of the orchestras meet four times a year once in each city. Another recommendation is for both the NZSO and also the APO to take a stronger leadership role. The NZSO compiles an Annual Collaborative Plan on behalf of APOA outlining collaboration work and ‘mapping’ orchestral services in New Zealand..

These updates from current orchestral personnel were a salutary reminder to a historian that inquiry into the past points us back to the present, with an extra layer of understanding. As an Australian working with orchestras in the 1970s, 80s and 90s I lived through major changes, especially in the relations between orchestras and public institutions and sources of public funding. I became all the more curious how such relationships were established in the first place.

Underlying all policy considerations is the existence of a past and living orchestra repertoire, and a commitment to perform it. This is what is meant by providing orchestral services. Over the past century, in the Australia and New Zealand corner of the world, government has played an increasing, then a decreasing role. The analogy may be drawn with public transport – government stepped in where private enterprise was not achieving – in this case orchestral permanence and high standards. Broadcasting (where, similarly, government stepped in on both sides of the Tasman Sea) was a sphere needing musical resources. Of course there were significant and sometimes admirable attempts at orchestral excellence before broadcasting took up the baton. And it could be argued – not by me – that broadcasting control of orchestral music stifled some civic and private initiative. The debate over this has moved decisively one way since the 1990s, in Australasia.

If history can suggest lessons, maybe it makes us ask if early conditions required a broadcast solution? If new markets now allow for the city-based organisations that are the best ground for a cultural institution? History allows us to hope that less-populated countries (Australia, New Zealand) can keep their orchestras thriving because, just as Scandinavia and the Baltic have provided classical music with some of its most interesting new voices, the world still has the potential for interesting new voices from this part of the world – as long as orchestras continue to survive ‘down here’.

David Garrett, © 2015

2015 YPA Finalists Announced!

The 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards Finalists Announced! The Preliminary Auditions for the competition which took place in all states across the country have just concluded. Our three national adjudicators travelled far and wide to hear each and every candidate perform selections from their recital program and were given the unenviable task of selecting only 12 performers to proceed to the next stage.  We are delighted to announce that the successful candidates who will be moving on in the competition and performing in the Finals are as follows;

  • Aaron Liu (Piano – QLD)
  • Christopher Cartlidge (Viola – VIC)
  • Doretta Balkizas (Violin – VIC)
  • Ennes Mehmedbasic (Oboe – NSW)
  • Kiran Phatak (Flute – WA)
  • Lily Higson-Spence (Violin – QLD)
  • Lloyd Van’t Hoff (Clarinet – QLD)
  • Mee Na Lojewski (Cello – VIC)
  • Peter de Jager (Piano – VIC)
  • Rachel Siu (Cello – NSW)
  • Vatche Jambazian (Piano – NSW)
  • Zoe Freisberg (Violin – VIC)

The Finals will take place in Hobart, in three stages between October 29 and November 7. The first stage of the Finals is the Recital Round in which all 12 finalists will compete. The Finals will take place in Hobart, in three stages between October 29 and November 7. The first stage of the Finals is the Recital Round in which all 12 finalists will compete. There will be four concerts that will take place at 1:30pm and 7:30pm in the Hobart Town Hall on October 29 & 30. Three performers will play their full recital program as nominated for the Preliminary auditions in each concert.

After the Recital Round, six finalists will be selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals – the Chamber Music Round. In the Chamber Music Round, the six finalists will collaborate with professional musicians to prepare and perform a chamber music work. These works will be performed in two concerts at 1:30pm and 7:30pm on Tuesday November 3 in the Hobart Town Hall. Three performers will play their chamber music work in each concert.

After the Chamber Music Round, three finalists will be selected to proceed to the next and last stage of the finals – the Concerto Round. The three finalists selected will perform their nominated concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch in the Federation Concert Hall at 7:30pm on Saturday November 7. The winner on the night of the Concerto Round will be named the 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year.

All concerts in each stage of the finals will be open to the public and broadcast live on ABC Classic FM.

Congratulations to our 12 finalists and to all performers who participated in the preliminary auditions and thank you to our national adjudicators and to each of the orchestras and state adjudicators for all their efforts over the past month.

Asia-Pacific Orchestral Librarians’ Summit 2014

Just a couple of weeks after world leaders descended on Brisbane for the G20 Summit, orchestral librarians from around Australia and overseas convened for the Asia-Pacific Orchestral Librarians’ Summit 2014 on the 29th of November. The day-long event was hosted by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at the ABC Building in South Bank and was attended by 24 delegates from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan and the USA. Having representatives for the first time from as far afield as the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was made possible through the collaboration of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) with Symphony Services International in organising the event. Many delegates arrived on the previous day to take part in the pre-conference dinner at Viet de Lites, a popular Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Brisbane’s buzzing dining district in South Bank.

The Summit opened with a welcome address by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Executive Officer, Sophie Galaise, formerly of another QSO, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. Delegates were then plunged into the deep end with an in-depth discussion on “Revisions in Contemporary Music” featuring a panel comprising representatives from the Australian Music Centre, Hal Leonard Australia and Music Sales Australia, as well as G. Schirmer in New York via Skype. The discussion dealt with a range of issues arising from revisions that almost all composers make to their works after the premiere performance and with the way in which publishers, hire agents and orchestral librarians manage the revision process. While publishers and hire agents can attempt to establish effective protocols and lines of communications with composers in order to ensure that the most up-to-date performance materials are supplied to performers, scores and parts which are out-of-date or inconsistent with each other occasionally remain undetected until the first rehearsal resulting in a hold-up or breakdown and wasting valuable rehearsal time. The panellists revealed many interesting insights, including an explanation of what makes composer Tan Dun’s specially reserved sets of parts for his own works unique, and also offered suggestions to orchestral librarians as to how to better prepare for problems arising from revisions.

The second session was presented by Patrick McGinn, Principal Librarian of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and current Board Member of MOLA, who spoke about the benefits and importance of networking amongst orchestral librarians. MOLA’s growth from a small group of twenty-five North American librarians who had their first meeting in 1983 to an international organisation today with a membership of almost 270 institutions attests to the advantages of orchestral librarians having regular and convenient means of contacting each other, including an annual conference, a quarterly newsletter, and a website with resources such as an online discussion forum and an errata database. Through the activities of its various committees and its links with other music service organisations, MOLA has also provided a unified voice for orchestral librarians to express their views and concerns in many areas of interest such as music publishing and copyright.

In the first of the afternoon sessions, I provided delegates with tips and strategies for sourcing performance materials for early music and for film music. While these repertoires were discussed together not for any apparent similarities that exist between them, these repertoires tend to pose difficulties for symphony orchestra librarians who deal for the most part with symphonic concert music from the 18th to the 20th centuries. As it becomes increasingly common for symphony orchestras to work with conductors and soloists specialising in period performance practice, demands for authentic editions to be sourced can occasionally require that orchestral librarians prepare new editions themselves by transcribing original manuscripts as was demonstrated in a case study of a rare aria by Vivaldi that was performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra earlier in the year. Much film music also needs to be transcribed or arranged for concert performance since the original performance materials may be lost after the soundtrack was recorded. Fortunately a number of established companies specialise in this kind of score preparation so that excerpts, suites and medleys of film music rescored for the forces of a symphony orchestra are now readily available.

Capping off the Summit was an entertaining and thought-provoking paper by Peter Grimshaw, Managing Director of BTM Innovation, on “Music Publishing in the 21st Century – From Paper to Digital”. BTM Innovation is a company that has worked with the classical music publishing industry since 1995 to provide software and web solutions for the distribution of sheet music. As a young student at the Queensland Conservatorium performing in the short-lived Albinoni Chamber Orchestra, Peter recounted his first experience of sourcing parts for Stravinsky’s ballet Apollon musagète in which he made the alarming discovery that the only way to obtain them was to hire them from a publisher for a fee. Little did he realise that he would end up working for Boosey & Hawkes Australia and be the person responsible for implementing HLMSW, an electronic system for managing music hire libraries which has been adopted by major music publishers worldwide. With the rise of tablet devices such as the iPad in recent years, publishers are now eager to deliver their music digitally and BTM Innovation’s current project emREADER is being developed to enable this to happen.

For some of the delegates, the Summit concluded with a rousing performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony by the QSO under the baton of departing Chief Conductor, Johannes Fritzsch.

Vi King Lim
Library Manager, Symphony Services International

A thriving Artist Development program – what really counts?


Christopher Seaman conducting. Photo: Walter Colley

I have been involved in the Artist Development endeavours of the six professional Australian symphony orchestras (known as ‘the network’) since Symphony Australia was created out of ABC Concerts, the national broadcaster’s concert division, in 1997. During those 17 years I have observed the network’s commitment to furthering the careers of countless Australian conductors, composers and performers through a range of programs that over time have expanded and grown. One of the key differences I have seen during this time is the growth of the orchestras’ own individual endeavours in this area, while still maintaining their involvement with the national program managed by Symphony Australia.

In 2015-16 Symphony Australia, now known overseas as Symphony Services International, will be introducing a range of changes to the program, following 12 months of internal review. During this time we have endeavoured to reflect on the orchestras’ substantial investment in this area and to consider what other companies around the world are doing. It has been heartening to see the long lists of successful Australian musicians who have benefitted from the Artist Development program in one way or another as they embarked upon their careers. Many of them are featured on the “Alumni” pages of our website, along with details of our current activities.

The network is naturally keen to assist those musicians who are likely to enter the profession and potentially work with the orchestras. Our support for performers includes our Orchestral Fellowship program, which in partnership with the Australian Youth Orchestra provides opportunities for talented string, wind and brass players to sit side by side with the professional musicians of the Melbourne, Sydney and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras. We are also proud to present the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards, which we consider Australia’s most prestigious concerto competition. In recent years we have changed the presentation of this event to a mini-festival format, including a chamber music round. As a result of our review, from 2015 the competition will be biennial instead of annual. This change will encourage the finest applicants to carefully time their participation, and will increase the profile and prestige of the competition. It will also bring the event in line with other similar competitions around the world, including our ‘sister’ competition the BBC Young Musician Award.

The Australian network has always done well by Australian composers, providing commissions to composers across all stages of their career from emerging to established. We plan to increase our support from 2015, including the introduction of a composer showcase event (to be inaugurally hosted by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra). Responding to feedback from the sector that indicated a need for a clearer ‘pathway’ for aspiring orchestral composers, Symphony Australia will offer at least one commission to an emerging composer, based on participation in this showcase. We hope in time to introduce a mentorship with a senior Australian composer, and to provide additional workshops and showcases for emerging composers who are identified through the range of composer development opportunities including the Symphony Australia/TSO Composer School, the MSO’s Cybec 21st Century Composers Program, and other training programs offered around the network. Symphony Australia will also continue to assist in co-commissions of works by a range of Australian composers that will receive multiple performances around the country.

We will continue to invest in a range of professional development opportunities for administrative and managerial staff of the orchestras, recognising how important it is for them to learn from the best in the world. We have enabled a number of orchestral staff to travel overseas and shadow their counterparts in orchestras in the US, Europe and UK as well as attending a range of educational and industry/conference events. Symphony Australia has itself hosted a number of national and international Summits, featuring guest speakers that have inspired our Member and Associate orchestras. In 2013 we welcomed Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Brent Assink, to Australia – two years before that we were treated to the expertise of Paul Hogle, Executive Vice President of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Other international and Australian speakers have also featured over the years

So, finally, to conductors. Since 1997 we have invested substantial funds and much time and energy to developing a new ‘generation’ of conductors. We set the goal 15 years ago of seeing at least one Australian conductor working on the international stage within 10 years. Working from a fairly basic starting point, we have created a program which has been described as unique and that goal was reached within the first 5 years.  In 2014, several people including myself, SSO Education Manager Kim Waldock and conductor/alumnus Luke Dollman have undertaken research into the world’s best practice in conductor training, and the results (still being completed and compiled) have been most interesting. In fact, we have confirmed that our own program is something to be proud of! The network orchestras are proactively engaged in the actual training of conductors in a way that many orchestras in the world are not; most orchestras do not actively provide training modules that include podium time for emerging conductors. Our activities and high quality teaching are sought after by participants from around the world.

Still, there is always room for improvement and we will be making some changes in the years ahead. What will not change is the network’s commitment to providing podium time with professional musicians – surely a young conductor’s greatest desire? We also hope to work more closely with those Australian tertiary institutions that engage in teaching conductors to ensure we have common goals and can together support the aspiring conductors most likely to succeed in this notoriously difficult of professions.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the outgoing Course Director of the Conductor Development program, Christopher Seaman. The program is now firmly established at a high international level after 11 years under Christopher’s inspirational leadership. We have therefore decided that from 2016 the network chief conductors will become involved in the teaching of the program and consequently Christopher will not continue as Course Director after 2015.

Christopher has been only the second Course Director, following Jorma Panula from 1997-2003. His energy and commitment to the role, and to the young conductors in his care, has been exemplary. Many of the graduates of the program would call him a mentor and friend, and those of us who have worked with him feel privileged for the experience. Many of Christopher’s students have gone on to successful careers, including engagements with orchestras in Australia and abroad as well as winning prestigious competitions and prizes around the world. He has brought to the program enormous experience as both a professional conductor and a teacher, and his warmth and humour will be missed. I am delighted to announce that Symphony Australia will honour his contribution through an annual scholarship to be awarded in his name to a young conductor who shows great potential, to be used in a manner that furthers their training and/or career. Symphony Australia’s board, staff, the musicians of the orchestras and most particularly the young conductors who have benefitted from Christopher’s expertise, thank him.

So, I invite you to ‘watch this space’ with regard to all of our Artist Development programs and activities. As the network orchestras continue to evolve and move with the times, so too must the training activities that we offer on their behalf and I trust that the inspiring and talented young Australian composers, conductors and performers for whom we run these programs will continue to soak up the many opportunities that the Australian orchestras have on offer.

Kate Lidbetter
CEO, Symphony Australia

Sydney Symphony Orchestra

SSO-600Founded in 1932 by the ABC, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has evolved into one of the world’s finest orchestras as Sydney has become one of the world’s great cities. Resident at the Sydney Opera House, the SSO gives around 200 performances throughout Sydney and NSW each year, and its international tours have earned it worldwide recognition.

The SSO is a leading cultural ambassador for Australia in the Asia-Pacific region and was recently named the winner of the Arts category in the Australian government’s inaugural Australia-China Achievement Awards for its ground-breaking work in growing the bilateral cultural and artistic relationship between the two nations.

David Robertson took up the position of Chief Conductor in 2014. The orchestra’s history also boasts collaborations with legendary figures such as George Szell, Sir Thomas Beecham, Otto Klemperer and Igor Stravinsky.

The SSO’s performances encompass masterpieces from the classical repertoire, music by some of the finest living composers, special events, and collaborations with guest artists and ensembles from all genres, reflecting the orchestra’s versatility and diverse appeal.

The SSO’s award-winning education program is central to its commitment to the future of live symphonic music, and it promotes the work of Australian composers through performances, recordings and commissions.

For more information visit www.sydneysymphony.com

The Pop of Vox: the rise of voice

gondwana-600March 2012: I was visiting the Savannah Arts Academy, a specialist high school on Washington Avenue in that small Atlantic Coast city. Artists from Sherrill Milnes’ VOICExperience had just finished a demonstration of operatic arias and duets. ‘Who would like to thank our visitors?’ asked the teacher. Up jumped four teenage boys and launched into….No, you probably didn’t guess it: barbershop quartets. David Starkey, General Director of Asheville Lyric Opera, was standing next to me. ‘There’s a real resurgence of a cappella going on in America at the moment,’ he said, ‘especially among young men.’

‘Resurgence’ is kind of an understatement, I was soon to discover. The growth in the area of what you’d specifically call a cappella is nothing less than amazing. There are new groups and new a cappella festivals being announced, it seems, each week. ‘VoiceJam, a new contemporary a cappella competition & festival coming to Northwest Arkansas April 10-11, 2015’, says an ad in a recent issue of one of the a cappella magazines. And if we broaden out the definition of choral singing to include choirs of all kinds, not limiting ourselves to young men, the growth is phenomenal and international. It takes in Asia and Africa. Last year, Britain’s Stylist magazine reported that ‘[t]he number of 30-something women adding chorister to their CV has grown sharply over the last couple of years…. new choir groups are springing up at a startling rate….[there are] now more than 25,000 choirs in the UK.’ The reasons given by the Stylist’s interviewees for ensemble singing ranged from ‘I would be far more stressed if I didn’t sing’ to ‘My job isn’t creative. So I love the challenge…’

‘There is indeed a huge choral movement here now in Australia, mostly at an amateur level’ says Lyn Williams, Artistic Director and Founder of Australia’s youthful Gondwana Choirs, when I contact her. ‘Having said that, I have just accepted hundreds of young people for our national Choral School in January. The young men thing is also catching on around the world. It was led here in Australia by Birralee Blokes. In the UK there are groups like Only Boys Aloud.’

Living in America though, I’m aware of a particularly American slant to this recent history. America has had a long tradition of unaccompanied, or sparsely accompanied, singing. There was the debate over Regular Singing back in the early 18th century. Reformers like Massachusetts’ Cotton Mather (credited with encouraging the use of ‘spectral evidence’ in the Salem witch trials) wanted to get rid of the irregular rhythms, unremittingly loud volume and necessarily extreme slow tempos you have when the lines of a hymn are given out one by one to a non-reading congregation. It was ‘indecent’ said his fellow puritans and, thus, the proponents of ‘Regular Singing’ won out. But the great American symphonist Charles Ives (1874-1954) idolised the degree of heterophonic individuality you got from amateur singers and he quoted from composers of this and later eras in works such as his Fourth Symphony, which makes use of the hymn, ‘Watchman’, by Savannah church musician, Lowell Mason. Of course, American vocal music has also been enlivened from another direction when you have the vocal traditions of African-Americans infusing Gospel, which has kept alive the element of rhythm in American concerted singing for more than two centuries.

I emerge, calm, from a compline service featuring Gregorian Chant at St. James’ in the City on Wilshire Boulevard and marvel at the connection with European traditions in the midst of America’s second-busiest city and the glaring neon of Los Angeles’ Koreatown. But I’m also aware that the rise in contemporary a cappella has a lot to do with its ability to incorporate contemporary pop. Ever since Deke Sharon was inspired by actor John Cusack’s use of a boom box in 1989’s Say Anything and discovered a way to get voices to mimic instruments and percussion, a cappella has had a wide-open repertoire. Contemporary college a cappella has become much more than an extension of the glee clubs that arose on American universities in the 1850s.

And it has become very cool. ‘This is, like, a thing now?’ says Beca (Anna Kendrick) in Universal Pictures’ Pitch Perfect, the 2012 musical film about college a cappella competitions. Beca’s Barden Bellas (an all-girl group) will eventually go voice-to-voice against the all-boy Treblemakers at the national collegiate a cappella championships (Hanna Mae Lee will be the Bellas’ human beatbox). Sure the film is fiction, but it’s based on Mickey Rapkin’s book of the same name, a non-fiction account of real inter-college musical rivalries, rivalries which have swelled to phenomenal levels since the mid-1990s, aided also by reality TV shows like Sing-Off and of course, series like Glee. Is it dorky, still?  Maybe, but cool people are involved. Mayim Bialik, Dr Amy Farrah Fowler on Big Bang Theory, started a Jewish a cappella group when she was studying to be a real scientist at UCLA. Thousands of people from all walks of life all over the world take part in Eric Whitacre’s virtual choirs on YouTube; the credits last as long as the musical numbers. And since we’ve moved beyond contemporary a cappella once again, Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, has his own barbershop quartet.

For young American men, singing has admittedly become – almost equal with football – the best way to pick up girls. ‘I suspect the strength of the Australian movement is as much about community as it is about music,’ says Lyn Williams. ‘The various successful and influential televised programs based on choirs both here and in the UK ( with Gareth Malone) have been centered on choirs as a vehicle for positive social change: Jonathan Welch’s Choir of Hard Knocks [involving homeless and disadvantaged people from Melbourne] and the Outback Choir [Michelle Leonard’s children’s choir, the subject of a documentary screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 20 November about a children’s choir in the most isolated and disadvantaged region of New South Wales, “where sport is king and music education is non-existent”]. Many other choirs have formed in their shadow,’ continues Williams, ‘so people join community choirs because it simply feels good to sing and belong to community. There are also groups such as Kwaya who sing together and then go to Uganda and work with disadvantaged children.’

boyandgirl-singersWhat significance does any of this ‘flowering’ have for orchestras? Conductor Richard Gill recently told Radio 774’s Red Symons that singing, rather than learning an instrument, was the best way to introduce children to music: ‘If you give them a basis of singing from the beginning, and they learn their musical literacy through singing, then going to the instrument is far less problematic,’ he said. ‘There are many ex-Gondwana and obviously Sydney Children’s Choir choristers who are now working as professional musicians or studying to do so.’ says Williams, who conducts both. ‘Orchestras around the country including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra have ex-Gondwana choristers in their ranks.’

What I couldn’t find out, however, was whether there’s any research on the number of choral participants who also subscribe to orchestras; if they’ve migrated to orchestral attendance from choir; if ‘migration’ has increased as choral singing has become spectacularly popular.

It’s something for me to look deeper into, I guess, because I’d wonder why not. Here is a potted history of orchestral music as I understand it. Harmony is the principal element of music for the period which provides the bulk of the orchestral repertoire. Harmony dominated until Wagner, Debussy and Schoenberg pushed its expressive possibilities to an unsustainable limit. Then Stravinsky turned our attention to rhythm. (Stravinsky went on in the direction of The Rite of Spring, not Zvezdoliki, you might say) After that, the most popular music of the 20th century could often be played with three chords; percussion was king.

But here in modern choral singing are people negotiating the acute dissonances in Eric Whitacre’s music. Here are young guys, like The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon, abiding by the rules of ‘circle-of-fifths resolutions’ as specified by the Barbershop Harmony Society. There must be a way to bring all these lovers of harmony to the orchestral concert hall.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2014

All photos courtesy of Gondwana Choirs

Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti performs with the MSO’s Pizzicato Effect students

MSO-600The young musicians in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Pizzicato Effect program were recently given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work and perform alongside one of the UK’s most successful classical artists, violinist Nicola Benedetti.

In town in September to perform with the MSO and its Principal Guest Conductor, Diego Matheuz, Benedetti took time out of her rehearsal schedule to visit Meadows Primary and present a workshop with the students. Later in the week she performed a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons alongside them at a special concert conducted by Matheuz.

A partnership between Meadows Primary School and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, The Pizzicato Effect is a Sistema-inspired program that forges new learning pathways for children in Broadmeadows through the introduction of instrumental teaching. A passionate advocate of music education, Benedetti is an official ‘Big Sister’ to Sistema Scotland. For further information on The Pizzicato Effect, visit mso.com.au.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra premieres Our Don

ADO-600Composed by South Australian Natalie Williams and commissioned by the South Australian Government, the five-movement work chronicles the public and private aspects of Sir Donald’s life, and is interwoven with stunning archival video, photographs and words by Bradman biographer Peter Allen. The premiere was conducted by South Australian Luke Dollman and featured a guest appearance by actor Gary Sweet.

The Guardian wrote: ‘This grand musical tribute of five movements, opening with The Boy from Bowral, is a sweet and emotional reminder of why he is still idolised. Headlines, story, music and archival footage combine into a dramatic, almost filmic experience, as rewarding as the sound of leather on willow.’

WASO performs for Anzac Albany commemorations


Photo: Travis Hayto

The eyes of the nation were on Albany, Western Australia for four days of Anzac commemoration events from 30 October. As part of the commemorations, members of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra shared the stage with three of Australia’s favourite musical acts for a special community concert on Saturday 1 November.

Joining the orchestra on stage were celebrated Albany folk band The Waifs, along with singer-songwriters Dan Sultan and Katie Noonan. Local Albany musicians performed alongside members of WASO in the concert, which also included performances by Royal Australian Navy and New Zealand Defence Force ensembles.

A highlight of the concert was a moving performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, featuring Shaun Lee-Chen as soloist. This poignant work was written on the eve of the First World War and completed in its aftermath.

The free concert, conducted by Australian Benjamin Northey, attracted an audience of around 12,000 and was a reflective yet uplifting tribute to one of the most important periods in Australia’s history.

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Synaesthesia+


A TSO wind group performing Matthew Hindson’s Resonance.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, TSO Chorus and a whole host of solo artists took up residence in Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) over the weekend of 16-17 August for Synaesthesia+, a riot of music, colour and movement.

Curated by Simon Rogers and Brian Ritchie, Synaesthesia+ presented the world premiere of Matthew Hindson’s specially commissioned orchestral work Resonance; performances of György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, conducted by Marko Letonja and featuring Richard Tognetti as soloist; and Brett Dean’s Carlo, among many other works by Australian and international composers. TSO musicians also took part in chamber music performances.

Lighting design was crucial to the event and some of the performances were lit by acclaimed audio-visual artist Robin Fox.

Synaesthesia+ was a follow-up to the TSO’s hugely successful Synaesthesia: Music of Colour and Mind, which was held at MONA in 2012.

‘Come and Be Yourself’ with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

SSO-600-Musicians-with-group-from-Sylvanvale-Disability-Services,-Come-and-Be-Yo...The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed a concert designed for people of all ages with physical and intellectual disability in October, allowing the Orchestra to engage with a new audience. Cairnsfoot School teacher Gary Page, who attended the concert with his students, said it felt like the event was tailored specifically for the needs of his class.

‘[The concert] was very educational and lots of fun,’ Mr Page said. ‘I loved seeing the students wave their hands in the air [practising conducting the orchestra].’

The concert, Come and Be Yourself, was held at the ABC Ultimo Centre. Audience members were able to express themselves without the ordinary conventions of attending a classical music concert. SSO Director of Learning and Engagement Kim Waldock said: ‘The concert was sometimes loud and fidgety as this is how the audience showed their enjoyment with the music — and this is fine. Classical music should elicit shouts of delight!’ Almost 150 adults and students attended the concert to hear the musicians play a program including Philip Jameson’s Introduction and Rondo as well as popular classical works.

QSO farewells Maestro Johannes Fritzsch

QSO-600As the Queensland Symphony Orchestra continues to reach important milestones in audience growth and orchestral acclaim, the company is preparing to farewell Maestro Johannes Fritzsch after seven years of musical leadership as Chief Conductor.

Maestro Fritzsch is set to shine in the QSO limelight in the Fritzsch Grand Finale concert on Saturday 29 November — Mahler’s triumphant Symphony No.3. With over 100 musicians under his command, this concert promises to be an emotional yet celebratory journey as he guides the QSO through the epic score. This performance will also feature mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble and Voices of Birralee directed by Paul Holley.

‘When I joined the QSO in June 2013, I discovered an orchestra of the highest calibre led by Johannes Fritzsch, an excellent Chief Conductor. His contribution cannot be overstated, he has embedded this orchestra with true musicality, the essence of musical greatness, and there is always a baton for him here,’ said QSO Chief Executive Officer, Ms Sophie Galaise.

In a move mirroring the world’s leading orchestras, and as a first for any Australian orchestra, QSO earlier this year announced a Soloist-in-Residence program with Shlomo Mintz, one of the world’s most acclaimed virtuoso violinists, set to join the company in 2015.

2015 YPA applications closed!

Thank you to all performers who submitted and application for the 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards. Details regarding your preliminary audition will be emailed to you by Friday 19 December. For anyone wishing to make changes to their preliminary audition repertoire please email the Artist Development Coordinator at howella@symphonyinternational.net

Thank you and good luck!

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra


The TSO and soloist Allison Bell at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

For more than six decades the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has been at the forefront of concert life in Tasmania. The TSO is a much loved cultural institution and ‘a source of pride’ to 90% of Tasmanians, according to a recent survey.

In addition to its core activity of giving subscription concerts, the TSO endeavours to broaden its imprint by forging links with other arts organisations. Recent partnerships have included collaborations with the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Kickstart Arts, Australian Youth Orchestra and the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM).

With more than 60 CDs in its catalogue including 20 titles in the Australian Composer Series on ABC Classics and 12 in the Romantic Piano Concerto Series on the British label Hyperion, the TSO is known and heard nationally and internationally.

The orchestra has a full complement of 47 musicians. Marko Letonja has been the orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director since 2012.

For more information visit tso.com.au.

Orchestras in our time and place: the League of American Orchestras’ conference, Seattle, 2014


League of American Orchestras conferences are inspirational affairs. It’s not just the wealth of sessions or the chance to hear orchestras and ensembles you might not otherwise hear; it’s the chance to run into colleagues, including former employees of Australian orchestras who now work, say, in Atlanta or Dallas. Mostly, it’s those moments sitting in crowded auditoria pinching yourself and saying, ‘I never realised the world of orchestral music is this big!’

This year’s conference took place in Seattle where, according to Seattle Symphony Chair Leslie Chihuly, ‘Boeing engineers helped define air travel, Amazon and Microsoft have changed the way we use technology, and Starbucks has popularised coffee culture’ (although Australian coffee connoisseurs probably won’t get overly-excited by that last boast). Seattle is also legendary for being rainy with 226 cloudy days per year (the dark green of a well-watered Pacific Northwestern forest landscape is refreshing when you arrive from arid Southern California), but in the three days of conference I attended, we experienced brilliant sunshine. From the top of the Needle the city looked stunning with its volcano, Mt Rainier, seemingly sitting in the clouds off to the right of the skyline.

Conference themes in the years I’ve attended have hovered around the rumours of classical music’s imminent death or inevitable decline. There is often an emphasis on the importance of innovation.

Clearly, classical music has issues to face, but I’ve never been convinced that innovation is a value in itself. The Minneapolis conference three years ago didn’t answer this question for me, but Seattle started to drill down. Perhaps the conference title helped: Critical Questions, Countless Solutions. One of the speakers, Alan Brown of the San Francisco-headquartered management consultancy WolfBrown, summarised some of the challenges orchestras now face:

… music is now a visual experience for those who grew up with music videos and now YouTube. With the migration of consumption from physical media to streaming audio, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of choice….Downloading music and making playlists is by far the dominant modality of music participation in the US. And billions of people worldwide have grown accustomed to listening to music in random order, with an algorithm as their DJ….thankfully, people are still showing up for live concerts…

Of course, the rise of Asia is another significant new feature in the classical music landscape and Seattle was the perfect conference venue to consider Asian as well as indigenous ‘outreach’ (even if that’s a word the Seattle Symphony has actually banished in favour of ‘partnership’ and ‘collaboration’). League president Jesse Rosen recalled Boeing’s Ron Woodward observing in 1996 ‘that America once looked from its eastern seaboard across the Atlantic to Europe for its connection to commerce, to culture, and to heritage. But today… America looks from the shores of the Pacific, with its independent and innovative spirit, to face towards Asia.’ Seattle now has one of the largest Asian communities in America with significant populations of Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Cambodians. And Seattle has a highly visible indigenous population. During the conference, we got to hear an extract from the ‘Potlatch’ Symphony, a collaboration between the Seattle Symphony and the local Duwamish people.

The tone for the conference was set at the outset in the keynote address by virtuoso flautist and founder of ICE (the International Contemporary Ensemble), Claire Chase. Having started her talk with a rivetting performance of Varèse’s Density 21.5, she spoke of Varèse’s observation that ‘possible musical forms are as limitless as the exterior forms of crystals’ and therefore of the need to spark the ‘fire’ to tell different kinds of stories. To a large extent, Chase’s address was an exhortation to create new economies, collaborative models and definitions of community by which ensembles could ‘pulsate’ with music’s life. When she started out in the world of commissioning and staging new works with an ensemble of 15 Oberlin classmates there was, she said, no decision that wasn’t creative ‘whether it was about marketing, fundraising, budgeting, education, production, outreach, where to put the chairs at the concert, or how to get people on and off stage between pieces…’ She reminded us that everything we in the orchestral world are engaged with, is storytelling – marketing, education, community building, ‘natural outgrowths of a burning need…to make music for people and tell them stories.’

But does Chase’s brand of guerilla music-making suit orchestras? Perhaps ICE can be ‘part 21st century orchestra, rock band, circus troupe, startup’ but what about an ensemble of 100 people whose most rewarding repertoire, for audience and players alike, has not been significantly increased in the past 50 years?

The conference’s final speaker Alan Brown noted the gulf between Claire’s call to “widen the space of our imagination” with the realities of the conversations I’m hearing in breakout sessions and in the hallways’ and the 2014 conference had the regular panels on fund-raising and management (what perhaps might be called bread-and-butter issues). But even here, the dominant theme, if there was one, was how to create freer structures. Boards on Fire, presented by a Seattle-based consultant on NGOs Susan Howlett, offered useful ideas on how to inspire trustees ‘to raise money joyfully’ by finding time to get into meatier, more ‘generative’ issues, rather than be stuck, as usually happens, between strategic and fiduciary agenda items. New Habits for New Times involved discussion of ways to allow decisions and ideas to percolate up throughout an organisation, although as an Australian it surprised me that the concept of Friday evening office-wide drinks came as something of a novelty.

Perhaps the session I was most looking forward to, given the theme and location of the conference (and my own concerns), was Collaborating with Asian Communities. After all Australia doesn’t just look across the Pacific to Asia, it’s in the region.

Only 20 or so people were there to benefit from the advice of a panel including Seattle-based composer Byron Au Yong; Pankaj Nath, vice president/relationship manager for JP Morgan Chase, and Mayumi Tsutakawa, manager of grants to organisations for the Washington State Arts Commission. What was clear though was that those who attended had pondered long and hard the best way to collaborate. They agreed that what must be found is ‘true collaboration’, in the words of another panel-member Kelly Dylla (vice president of education and community engagement for the Seattle Symphony), but as an audience member said, it was ‘way harder than anything I’d imagined.’ Practical advice included making sure your board represents the population make-up of your city. Byron Au Yong also advised people to be realistic. His opera, Stuck Elevator was about people from Guangxi Province in China, ‘but they won’t be the audience. They work 24/7. It’ll be their children.’ On the plus side, a couple of attendees noted that ‘there are a lot of people who get involved in music to remind them of home’.

I guess it’s understandable that only 20 people attended the session. Such collaborations have not yet produced repertoire that’s guaranteed to reward listeners and players who are used to the narrative richness of Mahler or Shostakovich or Brahms.

But that wouldn’t be any reason to give up the quest. The important thing, surely, is to make sure these collaborations are not one-offs and that orchestras continue to draw on everything that influences classical music in the world at this time. If there was any single take-away from this conference it might be that orchestras must continue to strive, in the words of Jesse Rosen, to ‘be the orchestra of and for your community, in this time, and in your place’.

‘The word “orchestra,” in ancient Greece, meant “a dancing place.” What if orchestras of the 21st century could revisit this most ancient part of their stories and be, literally, an open space? A place where change is the norm, where even the permanent collection ‐ what we call our canon ‐ is questioned, argued, retold? A place that commissions twice as much new music as it repeats? And reaches twice as many schoolchildren as it reaches patrons? Or a place where the sphere of context, the very notion of public, is constantly widening? A place where the radical reimagining of how and for whom art gets made, is a daily practice?’ Claire Chase

I don’t know how much of that can happen when people have day-to-day questions of survival to consider, but I do believe that in the three years of League conferences I’ve attended the suggested answers to those questions have gotten deeper and deeper.


Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2014

The orchestral business model – that’s no way to run a business!

Pemberton240In recent years there has been much discussion of the orchestral business model. What is the view from the UK? Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, offers his perspective.

The permanent orchestra season has, as usual, been financially a bad one all over the country. There is always a deficit, which public-spirited guarantors are called up to pay year after year. A permanent orchestra…is not at present a paying institution, and is not likely immediately to become so… Nevertheless, the prevailing note of the guarantors of the American Orchestras is one of hopefulness. Things are coming on; the public is being educated; it will support the orchestras in larger and larger numbers till they become finally…self-supporting.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from this quote from a New York Times article, in a review of the financial results of the 1902-03 concert season in the USA, it is that it was ever thus. The orchestra ‘business model’ remains a mystery to those who work outside our industry, and it is frequently the case that successful business people join the boards of our members and are surprised to discover we operate to the basic principle that every concert or performance loses money. ‘That’s no why to run a business!’ they cry. But finding an alternative is easier said than done.

In their influential study from 1966, William Baumol and William Bowen identified ‘cost disease’ as the root of persistent operating deficits in the performing arts and other activities with comparatively low productivity growth. In short, commercial businesses increase their profitability through productivity gains. But a symphony requires a fixed number of musicians. There is no more ‘efficient’ way of doing it, whatever the famous joke about finding ‘efficiency savings’ in Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony (see http://www.amyscott.com/Improving%20Orchestral%20Efficiency.pdf).

The problem of persistent deficits is a consequence of wage inflation. As salaries across the public and private sectors go up, so do they in the not-for-profit sector, and this is exacerbated in our orchestras due to their reliance on a trained and highly skilled workforce, where the musicians’ expertise carries a premium. But an orchestra’s sources of income have to struggle to match increases in labour costs. Its three main sources (earned income, contributed income, and public subsidy) must in combination rise by the same percentage as labour costs, to avoid ‘cost disease’ and a slide into deficit.

In relation to earned income, ticket pricing is market-sensitive, and at the risk of stating the obvious (and whatever politicians from the extreme left or right might say), charging the customer 100% of the cost of putting on a concert would make the tickets exorbitantly expensive and lead to plummeting sales.

Recent data from ABO members show earnings generated 48% of income in 2012/13, making it the largest source of revenue (unlike many of our European competitors, where orchestras can be subsidised to up to 85% of their income). And a paradox revealed in the ABO’s latest survey of its members, The State of Britain’s Orchestras in 2013, is that while audiences increased by 16% between 2009/10 and 2012/13, earned income declined by 11% in real terms. The likely causes are the downward pressure on ticket prices resulting from the squeeze on our customers’ personal spending power, and our members’ success in widening access through student offers and free concerts.

Contributed income has shown encouraging growth over the past few years, particularly in the area of individual giving (corporate sponsorship has been in decline). However, it remains the smallest source of income, at 18%, so increases generated by recent government initiatives such as Catalyst, which uses lottery money to increase fundraising capacity and provide match funding for endowment building, have led to only a marginal increase in overall income, much of it restricted to capital campaigns, education projects and endowments, thereby not off-setting cuts in public subsidy. It is also worth pointing out that the crisis in American orchestras, where there have been closures, strikes and lock-outs, has been precipitated by an over-reliance on individual giving and in particular endowments, which lost both value and yield in the 2008 crash and have yet to recover. We do have to raise a wry smile when British politicians exhort us to learn from America.

Public subsidy, at 34% of income, remains absolutely crucial to the survival of British orchestras, opera and ballet companies. Not surprisingly, in light of the UK’s massive national debt, this has been decreasing over the past few years, with a 30% real terms cut between 2009/10 and 2015/16.  Our members have had to accept their share of the pain and find ways of cutting costs and freezing pay to avoid slipping into deficit. But there will be a limit to just how far the musicians can weather the continued flatlining of their pay, when the cost of living continues to go up. There is every possibility they will start to take their skills and experience elsewhere.

Our members are now being encouraged by the government to tour abroad as cultural ambassadors for the UK, and we are well aware that British orchestras operate in a global marketplace. We are in competition with orchestras in other countries, where there are higher levels of subsidy and an understanding by the state that orchestras are intrinsic to their national and international identity. Our competitors are often subsidised to tour abroad, whereas except in Scotland where there is an international touring fund, our members are expected to tour on a purely commercial basis, putting them at a disadvantage.

With the odds stacked against us, and with ‘cost disease’ intrinsic to our business model, the obvious question is, ‘is there another way?’ Well, in many ways that question was answered in 1904, by the creation of the London Symphony Orchestra as a ‘self-governing’ orchestra, in which the musicians own their own orchestra and employ their own management to get them work. And other orchestras, particularly in the chamber orchestra sector, have pursued an even more flexible model, engaging self-employed musicians concert by concert, avoiding the additional labour costs of the permanent salaried model.

But not even these more flexible models avoid the paradox of ‘cost disease’. It still costs more in labour expenses to put on a concert than can be recouped in ticket sales, leading to a continued need for subsidy and contributed income to plug the gap.

So the question remains as to whether there is a genuinely new business model that could be the salvation of the contemporary orchestra. Some politicians have latched on to new technology as a possible answer, suggesting that initiatives such as live streaming could provide an additional source of revenue, while simultaneously, and contradictorily, demanding that arts organisations give content away for free. Experiments in this area have clearly shown that new technology offers a fantastic opportunity to extend reach and engage with new audiences, but has limited application as an income generator, especially in an age when young people and the millennial generation expect web content to be free.

Orchestras in the UK have for the past few years begun to re-assess their vision and mission, and grasp that the premise for their existence must start with what they can offer society and their communities. Orchestras are no longer just about great music on the concert platform, but understand the need to be a community resource, an active educator, and a partner in the supply of public services. Working with the health sector and Higher Education, and engaging with local authorities’ drive towards ‘strategic commissioning’ (first brought to the attention of our members at the ABO Conference in 2011), is a vital step in a genuine re-envisioning and re-positioning of the 21st century orchestra.

And the musicians themselves are part of this re-envisioning. The musician of the future is likely to need to adapt to these new models and to offer their artistry and expertise in new contexts and to new and diverse audiences beyond the concert hall. It is this partnership working that is key to the survival of the orchestra for both management and musician alike.

Mark Pemberton, © 2014

2014 YPA Finals. Winner announced!

Grand Finalists for the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards. L to R: Grace Clifford, Andrew Kawaii, Anna Da Silver Chen.

Grand Finalists for the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards. L to R: Grace Clifford, Andrew Kawaii, Anna Da Silver Chen.

On Thursday 28 August, Grace Clifford was announced the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the year after a spectacular performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

The last stage of the finals was held at the Adelaide Town Hall, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman and included thrilling performances from two other finalists, Andrew Kawai (VIC) performing  the Mozart Oboe Concerto and Anna Da Silva Chen (NSW) performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

The three young performers had battled their way through two previous rounds of competition to have the chance to play their concertos in this concert which was broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and wonderfully presented by Julie Howard and Simon Healy.

The winner was announced by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Managing Director, Vincent Ciccarello in a prize ceremony following the concert.

Andrew Kawai and Anna Da Silva Chen both receive a cash prize of $7500 and Grace Clifford takes home a $25,000 cash prize, multiple copies of a CD of her winning performance, a feature interview in the ABC Limelight magazine and two concert engagements with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

The Nelly Apt Scholarship for 2014 was awarded to Anna Da Silva Chen . Anna receives a travel scholarship of up to $5,000, return transfers from Tel Aviv and a further half scholarship to attend the International Summer Mastercourse at the Keshet Eilon  Music Centre in Israel.

Applications are now open for the 2015 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards. For all the details and to apply please visit the YPA applications page –


2014 YPA Finals. Chamber Music round results announced!

The Chamber Music round of the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards finals took place on August 22 in Studio 520 at the ABC Collinswood Centre in Adelaide.

Six outstanding finalists performed a chamber music work in collaboration with professional musicians and players from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra over two concerts which were each broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and presented by Simon Healy and Julie Howard.

Adjudicators were Eve Newsome, David Barnard, Marshall McGuire and Simon Lord.

The 11 performers who took part in the finals were all presented with a trophy in recognition of their achievement and the following prizes were awarded;

  • Best Recital ($5000) went to Grace Clifford
  • Best Chamber Music Performance ($5000) went to Grace Clifford for her performance of the Dvořák String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96, American
  • Best Performance of an Australian Work ($5000) went to Kiran Phatak for his performance of Demons for solo flute in the Recital round.

The three finalists selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals are;

  • Grace Clifford (NSW) will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
  • Andrew Kawai (VIC) will perform the Mozart Oboe Concerto in C, K314
  • Anna Da Silva Chen (NSW) will perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, Op.35

These finalists will perform their concertos with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman in the AdelaideTown Hall on Thursday August 28 at 7pm.

The concert will be General Admission, Adults $20, Concession $5, Children $5. Bookings through ASO on 8233 6233 or in person at 91 Hindley St Adelaide Mon – Fri 9am – 4.30pm. This concert will be broadcast live on Classic FM (7:30pm Eastern Standard Time).

2014 YPA Finals. Recital round results announced!

The Recital Round of the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards finals took place on August 19 & 20 in Studio 520 at the ABC Collinswood Centre in Adelaide.

11 outstanding finalists performed individual solo recitals over four concerts which were each broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and presented by Simon Healy and Julie Howard.

Adjudicators were Vernon Hill, Lucinda Collins, Nathan Waks and Simon Lord.

The six finalists selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals and details of the Chamber Music round are;

Concert 1: 1pm, Friday 22 August, Studio 520

Anne-Marie Johnson (violin) will perform the Haydn String Quartet in C, Op.76 No.3, Emperor
Michael Li (piano) will perform the Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49
Grace Clifford (violin) will perform the Dvořák String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96, American

Concert 2: 7pm, Friday 22 August, Studio 520

Zoe Freisberg (violin) will perform the Dvořák String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96, American
Andrew Kawai (oboe) will perform the Poulenc Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano
Anna Da Silva Chen (violin) will perform the Dvořák String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96, American

Both these concerts will be broadcast live on ABC Classic FM (1:30pm and 7:30pm EST). Admission is free and no booking is required. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the start of each concert to take your seat.

SSO and NZSO mark 2015 Anzac centenary with simultaneous world premieres

James Ledger

Perth composer James Ledger

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are joining forces to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings with simultaneous concerts in 2015 featuring two world premieres by Australian and New Zealand composers.

The SSO has commissioned Perth composer James Ledger to write a piece for choir and orchestra titled War Music, featuring words by Australian musician and storyteller Paul Kelly, while the NZSO has commissioned celebrated New Zealand composer Michael Williams to write a new piece Letters from the Front.

The orchestras will perform these works at virtually the same time on 22 April 2015, ahead of Anzac Day on 25 April 2015.

Funding for this special project has come from the Federal Government through its ANZAC Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

QSO leader to speak at Taipei Orchestra Management Conference

Sophie GalaiseQueensland Symphony Orchestra CEO, Sophie Galaise has been invited by the Department of Cultural Affairs, Taipei City Government to be Principal Speaker for the Taipei Orchestra Management Conference – an international Asian conference with 200 Orchestra Managers and CEOs participating.

It is a three day event beginning Monday 14 July until Wednesday 16 July.

Sophie is the only Australian representative, and orchestral specialist, to be invited. She will present the keynote address in addition to a series of seminar sessions.

Sophie will address topics including Audience Development, Branding and Image, Remaining relevant in the 21st Century, Sustainable Management of Orchestra Art and Administration.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra 2014 China Tour


Rachel Silver, Leah Lynn and Emma Sholl. Photo: Julian Kingma

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has returned home on a high after a lauded seven-city tour of China and first international tour under the baton of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson.

The SSO performed seven concerts and several ensemble performances on the tour, which ran from June 22 to July 6, stopping in Shanghai, Jinan, Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

The orchestra performed to more than 10,000 people at venues throughout the seven-city tour, plus millions more with the airing of several concerts on the internet, radio and TV throughout China.

A highlight of the tour was playing to a full-house at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing in a gala concert followed by a special event hosted by the Australian Embassy.

The event included a keynote address by the Chargé d’Affaires for the Australian Embassy Beijing, Justin Hayhurst, who told attendees the SSO was “a model of how to succeed in China”, a sentiment that was echoed by senior government officials in the other cities the Orchestra visited.

Other highlights of the tour included education workshops with students at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou.

As part of its continuing relationship with China and its people, the SSO will also host staff from Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts at the end of July. Executive members of the institution will visit the SSO headquarters in Sydney to share knowledge and skills relating to subscription packaging and marketing.

For a news report on the SSO’s tour by China’s CCTV, please visit: http://english.cntv.cn/2014/06/30/VIDE1404058797680181.shtml

For highlights of the tour, visit the SSO’s official tour blog at: http://blog.ssoontour.com/

Annual Report 2013

Annual Report 13 cover

Download a copy of Symphony Australia’s Annual Report for 2013.

2014 Young Performers Awards Finals

19 May 2014 Young Performers Awards Finals

Performance and new media licensing in Australia and New Zealand

by Scot Morris

(Australasian Performing Right Association and The Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society)

Scot Morris: Thank you for the invitation to come and speak to you all, I feel a little bit like I’m here under false pretences. My role at APRA is Director of International, so essentially I’m in charge of all of our relationships internationally and try to maximise revenue for Australia and New Zealand composers to make sure that we get paid properly from overseas. But I suppose my background is that I’m a copyright lawyer and then went to an organisation called the Australian Copyright Council, and I recommend you all have a look at their website and some of the resources that are available. They also give free advice on any burning copyright questions you may have, so take advantage of that. Their website is just copyright.org.au, which I think one of you referred to?

Alastaire Bowler: Yes I did, I found some useful links and found specific documents and information sheets there.

Scot Morris: And there are also some useful books that you can order there. They’re really great, and there are ones for music, ones for librarians, and some for music teachers, just a whole range of them as well.

I’m also very happy to see my old friend Ian Coss, who I know because many years ago I took over his position at AMCOS as print music person, dealing with publishers and print rights, so I’m very happy to see him here and Chrissy [Chan, APRA/AMCOS’s National Theatrical Licensing Representative] as well. We can turn this into a bit of a general discussion and flesh out some of the questions we had from the first wonderful presentation on the basics of copyright. I did actually prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and I thought would put some of these questions into context, in particular what is the balance achieved through copyright policy, and when you can use materials without permission or having to worry about it? And when you do need permission, what are the mechanisms, who controls the rights, and how does that happen? There are some slightly complex things around the edges, particularly in the subject matter that you guys are dealing with.

So, I won’t go through this in too much detail, but in terms of print music publications, that basically dates back to the printing press, and that’s where copyright originated in the 1400s with the Gutenberg press. Initially it was set up as the Stationers’ Guild to give the Crown control of who had the right to publish things. The first compilations of notations of music were distributed in the 1400s, but music publishing per se did not develop until much later. Music publishing was all about the printing of music, and basically selling that to people who wanted to perform it, learn it, etc. Copyright then changed its focus from publishers to creators in 1710 with the Statute of Anne, and that’s where authors were given the rights to control publication of their work. So that gave them economic rights to negotiate with publishers to get paid according to the extent of use of their work. These rights come from a sort of natural rights philosophy, that people creating have human rights to benefit from the exploitation of their work, and there are two sorts or types of copyright law that have developed in the world. There is the English System (the Common Law System) which treats copyright more like property or something that can be traded, and that’s where publishers buy rights, societies also administer rights on behalf of the authors, composers and publishers. The Civil Law tradition, which is like a French tradition or Roman Law tradition, has a different philosophical basis and they call it ‘Author’s Rights’, and their focus is really on the creators, and some of those rights are inalienable to the author. So they stress more the personal relationship between a composer and the work that they create. They developed a law at the same time of something called moral rights, so how that creative work is used in the marketplace has rights related to ensuring that the creator is properly attributed and also that the integrity and purpose of the work and vision of the creator is respected. So these moral rights of integrity mean that you can’t alter a work in a way that would somehow be prejudicial to the intention of that composer. So that’s where some of these questions about altering a work do come into play. Australia now has also introduced moral rights into its legislation as has the UK, but they basically are a creation of Civil Law.

So in terms of the development of copyright, performing rights laws were passed in the 1800s, and that’s where the commercial rights to performance and ensuring that royalties went back to the creators of those works were first put into play in Europe. That spread through Europe by countries recognising on a bilateral basis composers from each of the other countries. That was then formalised in a multilateral convention that still is the foundation of international copyright today, and that is the Berne Convention of 1886. So what the Berne Convention does and is sort of interesting with some of the comments we made about how different territories have different rules, what the Berne Convention does is it set out the minimum and says that at a minimum you have to protect all these works, these artistic, musical, literary works, and photographs, films, etc. It also sets out the basic rights that each national law has to have, so you have to have exclusive rights of reproduction, of public performance, adaptation, etc. It also limits what exceptions to copyrights you can have, so exceptions for librarians or educational purposes are set out in the parameters of this convention. The question of duration comes up, and I’ll talk a bit more about duration of copyright and the extension of duration of copyright in Australia and not New Zealand because the Berne Convention minimum is life of the author plus fifty years, so fifty years from the end of the year in which the author died. So the Berne Convention is still really important today, and that’s administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, WIPO, which is an agency of the United Nations based in Switzerland, and they have developed other international conventions and treaties, probably most importantly in 1996 the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Those treaties are known as the ‘Internet Treaties’, and basically what they did was introduce new forms of rights that copyright holders have in the digital environment, and they are communication to the public including making works available digitally on the Internet for people to access at their own time. So now, the ways copyrighted works are being exploited in the digital era are covered by copyright under these treaties. In Australia, those laws were enacted in the 2001 Digital Agenda Amendment, and in New Zealand I can’t remember what year, but the new New Zealand Act is based more on the UK Act. Both Australia and New Zealand used to have the 1911 Act, prior to that the imperial legislation, then the 1911 UK Act, and then the 1956 UK Act, which in Australia was the 1968 Act.

Most of you I would assume know about APRA but just to give you an introduction, we are a non-profit organisation that is owned and controlled by our members. Our members are composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers and music publishers, all of those who own copyright in musical works. We have more than 70,000 members in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. APRA is the Australasian Performing Rights Association, so we are actually a trans-Tasman organisation, which is great even though sometimes with our database we have some issues with New Zealand law being different to ours, particularly with regard to duration, so at the end of each year we have to update our database in terms of protection given that the two countries have different duration periods. AMCOS is the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, and that was established a bit later. APRA was founded in 1926, and it was established just before radio was introduced in Australia, deliberately. We were set up by the Performing Rights Society in the United Kingdom plus all the local publishers including Boosey’s, Albert’s, Chappell. All of the Australian publishers together with the British set up APRA in the same format and the same structure as existed in the United Kingdom. That’s relevant to things like long choral works but I’ll get to that in a moment. AMCOS was established later, and it is again Australasian (Australia and New Zealand), but mechanical copyright owners, not performers. Performing rights that APRA administers are public performance, broadcast, communication to public, electronic transmission, and those sorts of rights. Reproduction rights are mechanical rights, so they are what we call ‘mechanicals’, and that’s a very quaint expression that initially was in the 18th century applied to making music boxes because it was a mechanical reproduction of a musical work, and that’s the first example of mechanicals. Of course since then we have records, vinyl, piano rolls, and of course nowadays it’s CDs and even more currently uploading works is a sort of mechanical reproduction. Downloading onto your phone is a mechanical reproduction. So they’re still using that wonderful old term that applied to music boxes in the 1800s to apply to downloading songs from iTunes. So those are the rights that AMCOS administers. As you can see, in terms of digital environment you involve both sets of rights. There is uploading onto a site, which is a reproduction. There will be making available, communicating and transmitting the work electronically to the public, which are performing rights. So in 1997 APRA and AMCOS formed an operational line so we’re basically one organisation because we deal with the same membership base and we deal with the same music community in terms of facilitating reproducing works and performing them. That’s why we’re able to deal with all sets of rights. We have different sections and different people who specialise in different things at APRA. Some specialise in just the performing rights and issuing licenses for performing rights. We have one person in the Melbourne office who just does dramatic context and assists with grand rights clearances. We have someone in Sydney who deals with print copyright issues. And AMCOS also has a print publisher committee that looks at print issues to see how we can make things a lot easier in terms of getting permission and knowing how to do the right thing.

So, collective management, this whole issue of individual versus collective management and where does that come from historically? Why are some rights administered by publishers, and some by collecting societies? Essentially, from the beginning when performing rights were established in Europe, it became obvious that for certain types of rights it was impossible for individual creators to administer them, to issue and negotiate licenses for everybody who wanted to use their works. The first collecting society made up of authors and creators was established by the French author Beaumarchais in 1777 and that was called the Société des auteurs dramatiques and basically it was set up for playwrights to negotiate with theatres in France to get royalties from the performance of their plays. That organisation still exists. It’s called SACD which stands for the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiquesand so they actually do grand rights clearance collectively in France. So you can see that there are differences in how rights are administered in Roman law and Civil law countries, to Common law countries.

For performing rights in music, it wasn’t until 1850, when three composers went along to a cafe on the Champs-Élysées in Paris where they had an orchestra playing the hits of the day. These three composers had their dinner and everyone was dancing and the orchestra performed quite a few of their hits. At the end of the meal, they were presented with a bill. Those three composers said ‘We’re not paying this until you pay us for our music, which you’re using to attract all these people and make profit.’ It went to court and that’s where the judge decided that yes, these composers should be paid for the commercial performance of their works. So that’s an early performing rights society that preceded APRA. We came in 1926. But PRS in the United Kingdom and ASCAP in America were established in 1914. GEMA in Germany was set up in 1903, and the international confederation of all our societies was established the same year as APRA, and that sets out a lot of the rules and determines how these acts operate internationally. Because what we do is acquire, APRA gets an assignment of performing rights from all its composers and publisher members. We then have reciprocal agreements with societies like us in every other country. So we grant them rights to license all the rights to Australian and New Zealand music in France or England, America or wherever, and by the same token we get rights from all of those societies. That enables all of our societies to offer you a license to say you can perform any work in the world’s repertoire because we basically represent all composers, rights holders and estates that have copyright in musical works. So that’s how that network of reciprocal representation agreements works. There are rules about distribution, and in particular we have rules amongst ourselves that say at least 50% must be paid to the composer, the publisher can’t collect 100% for performing rights. They may for mechanical or reproduction rights in Common Law countries. In France and other Civil Law countries they have the same laws that apply to mechanicals as well.

Copyright is all about this balancing of rights of ownership (to ensure that creators get recompense for the commercial use of their work) and the rights of users (to have access to materials). With technology this balance always changes, and that’s why with digital technology where scanning works, storing them and then disseminating them around the world electronically is so easy, there is a change in that whole balance again. We have looked at enacting new rights in the year 2000 and why there’s now another government enquiry, the Australian Law Reform Commission is looking again at provisions in the copyright law and how that affects new digital services that deal with entertainment material. I suppose it’s also relevant with the National Broadband Network, now everyone will have much greater access and speed in downloading multimedia content, how do you maintain this balance? There is a lot of interesting debate and negotiation going on about the different players in that value chain now, with internet service providers and companies like Google that want to scan every book in the world and make commercial applications of delivering that electronically. Also big companies like YouTube, which is the biggest digital music company in the world where a lot of people go to either post recordings of performances, promote their works, and also to access performances and recordings. Apple is probably the largest in terms of revenue for us now, the iTunes service in terms of digital revenue is by far the most important one. Recently, in the past couple of years, we’ve had new streaming music services such as Spotify launched, and that’s a new model where you can subscribe and get access to music that is streamed directly to all of your devices. So it’s changing really rapidly, and it’s very interesting for us trying to keep up and to negotiate with these new players that come from a much more IT sort of perspective. The question of digitising is really important, and I think from the dispute about the Google Books settlement in the UK that hasn’t gone ahead, the book publishers were concerned that Google would just scan all of their books and make them available with advertising and subscriptions, without actually negotiating the terms with them about how going forward in a digital environment that would be viable in terms of ensuring effective returns to the creators. So we have the same sort of debates with Google about YouTube, and it’s difficult because we’re all national bodies representing 70,000 composers, and they’re Google. So the bargaining power we have with them is not equal. It was hard enough when we were dealing with television and radio in getting an equitable rate returned to creators.

So talking about the balance, that’s where there are exclusive rights that basically mean if you want to use all or a substantial part of a work you have to get permission. But there is also a whole range of exceptions where you don’t have to get permission. Vi King [Vi King Lim, Symphony Services’ Library Manager] went through some that are important, and that issue of ‘fair dealing’ for an individual’s research or study is a good example. For a dealing to be fair, it can’t interfere with the market for existing sales. So to copy an entire work for your own research or study is not fair if you can go to the shop and buy it, because publishers publish materials for the educational market. A textbook publisher is in the business of selecting works, commissioning authors, printing and publishing works for that market, so that would not be viable if everyone under copyright law could just make an entire copy. That’s why there are in the fair dealing provisions a reference to what could be considered fair looking and the purpose that the amount or quantity is taken for, which is why they have said 10% of a work or one chapter or one article out of a periodical publication. That’s not so relevant to musical works and whether or not it applies. So those practice parts copies, those are probably fine. The other fair dealings are criticism and review, provided that an acknowledgement of the original work is made. There are also some new ones for parody and satire which were introduced about three years ago. It’s interesting because they’ve always looked at this Anglo-Saxon tradition of satire and parody that is a long standing tradition in theatre, but it’s the first time that they have actually introduced a provision saying that is a fair dealing. And now the UK is looking at enacting the same provisions. It’s funny that they are looking at what we’re doing, whereas for the last 200 years we’ve been looking at what they’re doing. They’re also looking at recent provisions we have introduced for format and time shifting, so this is a digital sort of thing-recording television programs or radio programs for your own personal use to listen to at a time that’s more convenient. Or format shifting if you’ve purchased and you want to copy it onto your hard disk or computer, and that may be acceptable. Again, they’re fairly limited, and there are sometimes interesting cases for these. With the time shifting one there was an interesting example recently where Telstra had paid millions of dollars for exclusive rights of online broadcast of football matches and Optus then decided that they would introduce this where you could ask to record it and stream it a few minutes later, and they sought to rely on this time-shifting provision and the court found that no, that was actually a commercial implication and not for personal time shifting.

Question: Really quickly, with the format shifting, not that we’re technologically advanced to do this, what comes to mind is if we were to scan printed hired parts onto screens…

Scot Morris: Which you will be able to do one day. And format shifting is that sort of thing, but it’s only for your personal use. I think for an orchestra, you’d be looking at this question of publishers that control those rights that are now developing online services. Already there is Sheet Music Direct, and I think Hal Leonard has one called Orchestra Music Direct (in the States) that will be rolled out here. Of course with the development of electronic music stands, that is the future, but you would need ones that you can notate as well. I think that’s what all those publishers are investing in now, because they know that you want to be able to get it, transpose it, etc. So with library copying provisions, and I know you are orchestral librarians, but there are provisions relating to libraries and archives generally about preservation copies of manuscripts and things like that, but with libraries that are open to the public and making copies to supply to an individual for their own research or study where permission is not required, but there are provisions that the library has to follow. Same for interlibrary loans, so, copying between libraries for certain works that may not be available at the request of the user for research or study. For orchestral libraries, you can’t do a loan for using a score or for performances under the interlibrary copying loan provisions.There is also a new section that was introduced recently that is meant to be a more flexible provision for libraries, cultural institutions, educational institutions called 200 Section AB of the copyright act. Again, you can make a more flexible use provided you look at what’s called the Berne three-step-test. The three-step-test refers to the provisions in the international convention that assess whether or not a free exception is acceptable, whether it is limited to a specially defined case, whether it affects the potential market of the copyright holder, and whether or not is unreasonably prejudices the legitimate interests of the rights holder. So that’s the prism through which national legislatures can make exceptions under the copyright act You have to pass the three steps before you can introduce this. In this flexible dealing exception, they have for the first time taken the wording from the Berne convention to say that you have to look at those three steps, which makes sense. What both user organisations and copyright holders have said is that in practice it’s really hard to determine what this applies to and what you can do with this section, and in fact the poor Copyright Council had to write a whole book on that one section. So it’s part of t Australian Law Reform Commission’s review as to whether or not Section 200 AB is actually achieving the aims of being a bit of a stopgap to allow people to use things in circumstances that are sensible, because really we want the copyright regime to operate in a sensible manner that is equitable and fair and transparent and not as mysterious as it can sometimes be.Talking about individual versus collective management, I think this is the interesting question that gets raised every now and then about small rights and grand rights. This had its origins going back to the formation of SACD in 1777, so you can’t get away from history. Grand rights works were treated as a separate type of work because they are a dramatic work that involves a libretto and music that is specially composed and created together to be performed in a dramatic context. In that case, rights holders determined in England and in America that because these were quite big productions, operas for example, that it was still quite easy for individual rights holders to control and to negotiate the conditions for the performance of those works. So these were not subject to collective administration. So grand rights were excluded from the input arrangement from publishers and composers, so that’s reflected in our memorandum of articles and the assignment that everyone signs when they give their rights to APRA, which then goes into the international system. The question of the delimitation of repertoires between different jurisdictions is slightly different, and there are different practices that have evolved. In particular, in Australia and New Zealand there are two questions: There are grand rights, which we can pretty much identify and we know that those are administered individually rather than through the society (although we will always try to put you in contact with the correct rights holder, particularly if the rights holder is overseas, and we can research if that work is still in copyright.) But dramatic context is another issue, and that has only come to light fairly recently, and it really started with a stage production put on here about 20-25 years ago called The Buddy Holly Show. What it did was take all of the songs of Buddy Holly and put them into his life story; it told his life story via the songs. In that case, the publishers said they didn’t want that license under the regular APRA concert tariff, they thought that the music played a really significant role in telling the story, and is the basis around which the whole show is created. Therefore, we should apply a hire tariff for the use of the music in that context. So that’s where the whole concept of dramatic context licensing really took off, in those dramatic shows.

Question: So, it’s not grand rights exactly?

Scot Morris: It’s not grand rights because they’re pre-existing works, so they weren’t written specifically for a show but they are used in writing a show around the pre-existing work. So that’s the distinction and that’s why the rights holders determined that it should be valued differently. There are different ways it works around the world. I suppose I should explain what happens in the US because the US is quite different to the rest of the world, especially in terms of copyright and collective administration. The way ASCAP was set up, it was set up in the same way as PRS with exclusive rights given into the society, and then in the 1930s, ASCAP was negotiating with radio broadcasters, and the radio broadcasters didn’t want to pay the fees that ASCAP was seeking, which they said were too high. What happened was they referred it under anti-trust laws. They referred it to the court, saying that ASCAP was effectively a monopoly, and of course societies like APRA are a natural monopoly because we control all of the rights to make it easier to grant all the rights. But we are then subject to fairly stringent competition regulation in terms of tariff setting to make sure that we don’t abuse a dominant position. What happened back in the 1930s, and it really is an interesting story because in those days, ASCAP represented all of the amazing Tin Pan Alley composers, Gershwin, Aaron Copland, all of the American serious composers, but they didn’t actually have any of the jazz musicians or African-American musicians. So what happened with the radio stations in the 1930s was that they said,

Okay, we’ll have a strike, and we won’t perform any of ASCAP’s repertoire. We’ll just perform all of the African-American repertoire that’s not represented’, and that’s why jazz became so popular in America, and because of this ASCAP strike, African-American music really took off in mainstream America. What happened after that was the broadcasters set up their own collecting society and admitted all of the African-American writers, so then they had competing collecting societies, one owned by the broadcasters who were then responsible for negotiating with themselves to pay the rate, so the rates are much lower than they are in the rest of the world, and there is a bit of inherent conflict there that you can probably see. But it is very interesting, and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) still represents hip-hop type artists and ASCAP is much more oriented towards serious music and musical theatre. From the 1930s they had to change their input agreement and make them non-exclusive. So what that means is publishers now can and do license any public performance they want, so if they want to directly license a choral work that is under 20 minutes, the publisher can do it themselves and negotiate a rate directly. So that is one of the differences around the world, and all grand rights, in practice publishers would issue licenses for, but also for a lot more. In fact, it’s not clear and it’s not easy in the US in terms of identifying who to approach to obtain permission, but generally the publishers play a much bigger role. In the UK with dramatic context, they have a slightly different and perhaps slightly better way of doing it in terms of costs and practicalities. What they do is for dramatic context, the works are in PRS’s repertoire unless the publisher gives notice that they are going to issue a direct license. So they can identify something like The Buddy Holly Story, that they want to issue a direct license, but then maybe the London Symphony does something that has costumes or reconceptualises something with choreography, and that would still be licensed by PRS. If you’re just doing Buddy Holly songs as part of a concert (and that’s the same here) we would license that. It’s only this dramatic context thing that has become a relatively big market. The way it works for us is a little bit more complicated in that dramatic context performances are excluded from our input agreement, so we don’t get those rights from the publishers, but they do give them to us for certain types of performances and certain types of venues, and that’s the way they have approached it. We can license dramatic context for say, schools and other smaller type performances.Let’s turn now to this question of long choral works over 20 minutes. When APRA was established, it was established by PRS (the UK’s Performing Right Society) and publishers (Boosey’s, etc.) and at that time PRS had a similar restriction in terms of grand rights not being part of it and also oratorio and choral works longer than 20 minutes. When the memorandum of articles for APRA was drawn up, similar restrictions were put in by the publishers that established APRA. So that has gone on for quite a while and I’m trying to find the exact date, but in the UK PRS changed that rule in their articles around the 1980s and 90s, so it is relatively recent. But in terms of our memorandum and articles, that provision still applies therefore the licences that we give all of you for performances, we also don’t have the rights to be able to license that and we have to refer you back to the individual rights holders. There is an exception though, because that restriction no longer applies in the UK or in most other territories, that if the work is not sub published locally and APRA acquires the performing rights directly from PRS or ASCAP or the publishers there, we can give you that license. So it’s only when a work is sub published here that we have to refer you.

Question: So something like Sikorski which is not represented here, you would be able to grant a license?

Scot Morris: We would have to check with GEMA, because they have slightly different rules about how they treat grand rights works which come up every now and then. But we would approach GEMA and say that there is a performance here, and are we able to license it on your behalf? Because there isn’t the 20-minute choral restriction in our reciprocal agreement with GEMA. But if they say that no it’s a grand rights work then we couldn’t, because grand rights are excluded from our agreement.

Ian Coss: I wanted to mention that Alfred is taking over the Sikorski representation, and very consciously aiming to make it easier.

Scot Morris: Great, just a phone call away. So, that’s essentially the background on how that rule has come to be, and I know that it has been a concern with you. The whole issue I suppose of individual versus collective management is coming up again in a digital context. You may have read that there is a new, very big online service in America called Pandora which is all about streaming and discovery of music. It’s quite popular and earns a lot of money. Because collective management organisations are effectively monopolies, our tariffs are regulated, and in the case of APRA and AMCOS they are subject to review by the copyright tribunal. An independent body can set the rates looking at all the economic evidence of the value of the music, what rates have been historically, other similar types of use and what rates apply, and look at international practice as well in terms of determining what rate would be equitable. That’s the case in New Zealand as well as copyright tribunals in the UK, Hong Kong, and all the English-speaking jurisdictions. In the United States, ASCAP has its own rate court, and BMI has its own as well. They determine tariffs, and in particular they have determined tariffs in America for Pandora. The major publishers (Sony, etc.) have decided that they think that rate is far too low and they don’t want it to be subject to the jurisdiction of the rate court and administered by the collective administration organisation, so they’re seeking to withdraw the rights from ASCAP and BMI and negotiate directly with Pandora at a much higher rate. That’s the question of whether or not rights holders are able to negotiate directly with the user, and whether or not the rates that are established are appropriate for the type of music use. You’re probably aware that in terms of APRA’s performing rights tariff we currently apply a tariff of 1.5% of gross box office. That in fact is probably the lowest rate in the world sadly. It’s interesting because the UK just sought to review their tariff and make it higher. Their general concert tariff is 3%, and they apply a higher rate for some classical music, and they’re looking to increase that further. They did an international survey, and embarrassingly APRA and Australia were at the bottom of that list. I suppose in that respect there is incentive for publishers to say that 1.5% doesn’t really reflect the value of the music in those performances in certain cases, and I suppose that’s why they’re looking at this question of grand rights and choral rights as an economic issue. We act as an intermediary between publishers and composers, rights holders, and users and we want to facilitate the legal use of copyrighted material and ensure that there is equitable return to all of the relevant rights holders, but we can only do what our members give us the rights to do. So this is a question we can raise with our publishers again, but they would have some input where perhaps for oratorio and longer choral works there should be a higher rate than 1.5%, there should be some differentiation in the rates because we think that these should have a higher return to the creators. So that is I think the origins of the long choral work rule, to change it would require a change in our input arrangements with our members.

Ian Coss: And how could that possibly be prompted, such a change?

Scot Morris: I think it would require some lobbying of the publishers, and I think that if you’re supportive of such a change you could bring it up, certainly in terms of putting it on an agenda for discussion at APRA and AMCOS and we could raise that. Again, I think it would be up to our membership to pass that change, and we have rules and very strict corporate governance and oversight as to voting to make a change to our memorandum of articles. It does require a significant majority of our members to want that change, so it would require some lobbying and coordinating. I suppose to date it has been difficult because there are examples of it, but not very many in a year. How many long choral works do you perform in a year? Probably not that many.

Ian Coss: It’s really unfortunate that in that particular year it just so happens that the works in question have not come from our camp, so we couldn’t really set a precedent and say that we don’t think they should be. Unfortunately all have come from Hal Leonard.

Vi King Lim: And we’ve really only been dealing with two hire agents: Hal Leonard and Alfred. And certainly Hal Leonard has quite an extensive catalogue of publishers that they represent. So it would seem to almost monopolize the position on long choral works. It’s kind of hard to argue when you just have the one agent saying that yes, we do think that choral works should be charged at a higher rate.

Scot Morris: You also have to remember that we also represent 70,000 composers, including the choral composers in Australia and New Zealand, so perhaps they may have something to say about it.

Ian Coss: And the direct lobbying to the overseas publishers will have an effect.

Scot Morris: Yes. And you know, if overseas the collective management organisations can work efficiently in terms of granting licenses for long choral works at tariffs that are acceptable to those publishers, perhaps they can lobby and say that the same should apply here because APRA is a very well run and transparent organisation, and if they’re agreeable to the tariff that we would apply, we would deal with it in the same way as done in Europe for example. But I am but a humble servant of APRA and our membership so I can’t really have an opinion on this. So, you know that APRA and AMCOS are non-profit collecting societies administering mechanical rights and performing rights. For sound recording and performers, there is also another collecting society. If you’re using sound recordings, it’s the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia, and sadly they’re not Trans-Tasman, there’s a PPNZ in New Zealand. And how that works if you’re looking at the flow from the right to the left is the performing artist and the composer or songwriter. So the artist contracts with the record company and usually the record company administers all the rights. In the good old days it was through sale of CDs and DVDs, so usually they would collect the money. The record company would then under the contract pay the performing artist, and they’d also pay the publisher or pay AMCOS mechanical royalties for the rights to reproduce the musical work. That’s under a statutory license that establishes the rate effectively at 6.25% of retail price goes to the rights holders. In practice, there’s a much more complicated agreement that AMCOS negotiates with the record industry that sets it on wholesale price and has a lot of different provisions. So, if you’re looking at broadcast and public performance, APRA does it for musical works on behalf of publishers and songwriters,  PPCA does it on behalf of record companies and artists. For online mobile, APRA and AMCOS usually issue joint licenses to cover all performance and mechanical rights. Interestingly, it’s usually the record companies individually that license online and mobile directly. Then, what we call sync rights or reproducing music onto a film is administered for the musical work by the music publisher, and AMCOS has certain limited rights we get from the publishers to give licenses for recording, DVDs etc. of performances, although the record company does usually do all of that directly. That’s just a summary of the rights clearance and collective administration in Australia.There were some other fun questions that you had, like Russian revival for example. I talked about the Berne convention, being the treaty that essentially gives international minimal rights of protection. For a long while, neither the US nor the USSR were members of the Berne convention, and in fact Americans had to do everything their own way and set up this separate convention called the Universal Copyright Convention, mostly because in America they had a system of registration of copyright which determined duration, and we’ll talk about duration too. The Universal Copyright Convention required registration and the application of the copyright notice on all copies of the work and without that it wouldn’t be protected, that is the letter c with a circle. That’s a convention that everyone uses everywhere, but it has its origins with the fact that America was not in the Berne convention and it did not comply with international standards. Similarly, Russia didn’t. The way that Berne operates in terms of protection in various Berne signatory countries is on the nationality or citizenship of the author or creator. So works by an Australian author will be protected in all Berne Conventions by the fact that they are an Australian resident citizen. Or by first publication in a Berne country, so if a work is first published in a Berne country like Australia or New Zealand then it will be protected in all other Berne countries. Russia is outside of the Berne, so Russian citizens don’t get international protection unless they’re first published in another country, and I think the Anglo-Soviet Music Press was set up precisely for the purpose of ensuring that certain Russian composers’ works were protected in all Berne Conventions; they were first or simultaneously published in the UK through the Anglo-Soviet Music Press so those works were protected. There were some that were not subject to those publishing deals and therefore not subject to copyright protection in all Berne countries. When Russia joined the Berne Convention in around 1992, those other works were then protected throughout all of the other Berne Convention countries. This is where we have revival of copyright or ‘zombie copyrights’ coming back from the dead, and that was the case with a lot of Shostakovich works, of some Prokofiev works that weren’t previously protected in Berne countries but now were. The Berne Convention was life plus 70, so you have an anomaly in the US because they didn’t want to go along with that provision. They had set up registries of copyright that gave initially only 25 years protection plus rights of renewal. So it was actually on the publisher or rights holder to renew those copyrights to ensure ongoing protection through the registry. That meant they had different periods of protection depending on the work and whether or not it was renewed, and this is why we still have some weird things going on, like Happy Birthday being protected in the US because of registration   and renewal periods, so the question of duration in America is always really difficult. There are some interesting websites (some more reliable than others) about how to determine when the work was created, when it was published, what regime it was subject to in terms of duration. When America finally joined the Berne Convention they had to go to life plus 50 like the rest of the world, which makes it a lot easier particularly in these days where it’s all international and we’re using the works internationally and particularly online. And they changed it again, I can’t remember the year but it was relatively recently, to life plus 70. We turn back to Europe and what happened in Europe; the formation of the European Economic Area, through the Rome convention article 12, is trying to create a single market. One of the areas that they were looking at harmonising was copyright, because each country has its own copyright law, and they vary. One of the ways that they varied significantly is duration of copyright. You had Germany that is very strongly promoting and protecting the rights of composers and publishers, and they had always had life plus 70, beyond the Berne. Spain had life plus 60 and for some materials life plus 70, so there were different periods, although the rest were probably life plus 50. So when they came to harmonising the duration within Europe, there’s also a rule under European law that you can’t take away rights from anybody, so they couldn’t reduce it to life plus 50 because they’d be taking 20 years away from all those poor German publishers and they had to go to life plus 70 to make it uniform and harmonise everything to make it one market. That meant that in a lot of those territories there were zombie copyrights that came back to life. They did have revival to life plus 70; that’s why there are certain works that used to not be protected in some of those countries that now are. What the European Union also did was say, ‘Okay, we’re going to grant this not under the international principle of natural treatment which means that everybody’s works will also be protected in Europe for life plus 70, we’ll do it on the basis of reciprocity only. Only those other countries that provide life plus 70 will get life plus 70 in Europe.’

Question: So someone like Richard Meale would get life plus 50 in Europe?

Scot Morris: Right, so someone like Richard Meale would be subject to the duration period of life plus 50 because the EEC said that it was reciprocal. You only get the extra 20 years if European works in your territory get the extra 20 years. So America went, ‘Oh my gosh, Disney and Mickey Mouse are about to go out of copyright, Gershwin is about to go out of copyright, and Europe is a really important market, we better also extend.’ Tragically at the same time Sonny Bono, that fantastic singer and performer, skied into a tree and killed himself. He was a member of Congress so they passed the Sonny Bono Term Extension Copyright Act to change it to life plus 70 to ensure that American copyrights got the extra 20 years in Europe. That has become the new standard that America does their trade negotiations with. When they first did the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore, they of course insisted on it going to life plus 70. When Australia happened, they again insisted it be life plus 70. So that’s the interesting background story of how we got life plus 70, and from our perspective we’d love to have New Zealand have life plus 70 only because it’s that much extra work for us at the end of the year when we have to determine everything and there are complex rules about joint authorship whether it’s life plus 70 from the last death year of the joint authors and the question of first publication posthumously.

Question: Would it be too nitpicky, say a librettist lives a lot longer than a composer, can you play the music as long as nobody sings the words?

Scot Morris: That’s a very interesting question because yes, you could. Under our law the lyrics are protected as a literary work which is separate from the musical work. In America though, they define it as a work of joint authorship and it’s really interesting in terms of publisher mentality and international practice about what is a work of joint authorship.

Comment: And you can understand that, because the music probably wouldn’t have been written if the lyrics weren’t created at the same time.

Scot Morris: And there are possibly moral rights issues with substituting lyrics. There’s a big debate in Israel now about the rules they apply about writing new lyrics to existing music.

Vi King Lim: Well, since it is past 12:00 now I should probably thank Scot for an extremely informative presentation on copyright.

This paper is the transcript of a presentation Scot Morris gave at the Symphony Services International Orchestral Librarians’ conference, 6 December 2012.

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony OrchestraEach year the Queensland Symphony Orchestra presents over 100 performances, delivering extraordinary musical experiences to Queenslanders of all ages. In its annual season, the QSO performs with virtuosic soloists including Shlomo Mintz, Piers Lane, Sergio Tiempo and Ray Chen, led by acclaimed conductors such as Johannes Fritzsch, Eivind Aadland and Simone Young. 88 musicians-proud, the QSO plays a pivotal role in Queensland’s arts landscape – educating children; mentoring aspiring performers; touring regional centres; and performing with state, national and international ballet and opera companies. The QSO stages free outdoor performances for the enjoyment of thousands of Queenslanders, and supports many of the State performing arts companies. In February 9,000 fans of all ages witnessed the QSO’s exhilarating presentation of the BBC Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular – the biggest Doctor Who performance the world has seen. In November the QSO will present a unique 4-day event, Journey through the Cosmos, featuring renowned physicist Professor Brian Cox and a host of international stars. Visit qso.com.au.

Score reading in Studio City – Getting ‘under the hood’


Friday morning session with Ron Jones.

The cabaret room of Vitello’s in Studio City (the same suburb where Mack Sennett built his film lot in 1927; where The Brady Bunch lived in the early 1970s) is not the sort of place you’d expect to find composer activity on a Friday morning. But once a month, of a Friday, 50+ LA composers meet there as members of the Academy of Scoring Arts.

The morning comprises not only breakfast but Adventures In Listening, an hour’s critiquing of each other’s anonymously-submitted demo-CDs, followed by The Ravel Study Group – an hour-long, bar-by-bar, stave-by-stave study of orchestral scores. The last hour is always a guest.  On the mornings I’ve been there, the guests have included Mike Lang with his trio, Tyler Bates who co-wrote the theme for Californication, Jonathan Wilson (maker of guitarviols), Emmy-winner Richard Bellis (who won for his theme to Stephen King’s It) and Eddie Karam (who worked with John Williams on the orchestration of Harry Potter films after reconstructing the lost scores of Busby Berkeley musicals for Williams and the Boston Pops at a week’s notice).

The Academy of Scoring Arts is a growing operation. There are chapters in Seattle, Toronto, Portland (OR), San Diego, New York City and, soon, Chicago. And the LA-based Academy has also begun hosting ‘happy hours’ for film, music and media professionals and offers conductor masterclasses and copyright seminars. I went along to a Friday morning session after hearing that this group was aiming to maintain Hollywood’s high standards in musicianship, something I’ve been interested to find out more about since I arrived in LA a year ago.


Dara Taylor studies Star Wars on her tablet.

Some of the critiquing in the first hour is quite vigorous. ‘If you know the producer reads Emily Dickinson, sure’, says convenor Ron Jones of one particularly gentle passage of music. ‘But most producers are AAARRGGGHHH. They drink too much coffee. They meet you in Starbucks. Their eyes are like [he mimes something prised open by toothpicks.]’  ‘Be careful of too much,’ he later exhorts. ‘Whatever plays, changes the equation….If you’ve been using a lot of timpani, maybe change it to Gran Cassa…’

But the musicians comprising the Academy of Scoring Arts are not aspirants. They’re working composers and sound engineers – credited and uncredited film, TV and video game composers,  underscorers, jingle writers, the folk who write the music for trailers (yes, there are such people), staff composers, orchestrators, the people who sometimes have to make several pages of sketches sound terrific overnight ‘in time for a 10 o’clock downbeat’. In fact, the morning is mostly about orchestrating: how to use the orchestra in the most telling fashion in terms of the story to the highest level of musical excellence to the greatest satisfaction of the players – to deadline! At the moment they’re studying Star Wars. They get through about 12 bars per session.

‘This is why you need to study counterpoint’ says convenor Ron Jones, pointing to a passage in Williams’ score and explaining why a composer needs to give every player a line. ‘You don’t just stack stuff’. Jones, who writes the music for the 75-piece orchestra that plays under the cartoon series, The Family Guy, set up the Academy back in 2011 because even composers in LA feel they need to keep honing their skills. ‘Everyone in this town is great,’ he says, ‘so if you’re going to make a dent, you have to be sharper….plus you want to connect with people. If you tried to ring everyone in this room to have lunch, you’d kill yourself.’ Del Engen, vice president of the organisation, says another aim is to start getting directors and producers thinking more about the music in their films, and that’s the reason for a monthly industry networking ‘happy hour’ recently launched at Busby’s on Wilshire Boulevard.

I asked Mark Smythe (a New Zealand-born composer and former Melbourne resident) why he takes part. He’s recently signed on to write the music for Chris Sun’s ‘Aussie Horror’ Charlie’s Farm. Isn’t he busy enough as it is? ‘Because I would not be so arrogant as to think I had nothing more to learn,’ he says. He also says he loves the quotes. And Jones is full of them: ‘Don’t forget listener reaction is also a “score”.’ Or, ‘Doubling doesn’t make it bigger…. when you double everything all the time, you cancel things. You cause problems. But when you see it’s just a clarinet with the strings, all of a sudden it opens up. That’s Mozartean. Mozart was on a whole other plateau.’

Dara Taylor arrived in Los Angeles from Brooklyn, NY about five months ago and has come to every meeting since. Why? ‘We all know who the “great” composers are.’ she says. ‘But with that knowledge we can either quietly stew in jealousy or get under the hood and find real, applicable reasons WHY they’re great. I personally love being able to look at how John Williams approached a certain flute motif and then find a way to incorporate that technique in my own work. It expands my orchestration palette beyond what I learned in school.’

The thing that strikes me about the Academy of Scoring Arts is they’re studying the repertoire greats. ‘I’m studying Ockeghem because I read that Stravinsky was studying it when he wrote his late masterpieces,’ says Jones. ‘My brother,’ says Don Williams, percussionist brother of the composer of Star Wars, ‘rang me up the other night. He says, “I’m looking at the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th”. He’s always going back to the originals.’

The score study part of the morning is called the Ravel Study Group after the first score they studied: Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. I’ve come too late to participate in the two and a half years they spent on The Rite of Spring (whose composer lived almost directly south across the Hollywood Hills from here). Next up, they’re thinking of Respighi’s Pines of Rome. But if it took the group two and a half years to get through Rite of Spring and they’re only at bar 182 of Star Wars after several months, Pines of Rome might be a ways off. Of course, it doesn’t matter. The gems they pick out of a morning’s 3-minute demos or 12 bars of orchestral score intensify each participant’s own awareness of musical texture.

As I walk out onto Tujunga Avenue’s restaurant strip busy with lunchtime customers, I muse on the fact that in this capital of media entertainment there are so many composers concerning themselves with orchestral writing (and that includes emulating the nuances of human performance if they’ve only got enough budget for a Midi). I’ll probably never watch a trailer or ad or cartoon again without listening more intently to the use of orchestra as well. Of course, Beethoven didn’t have modern media, but Stravinsky’s favourite TV show was Daktari. He’d possibly be happy that his influence was spreading so far.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2014


Studio City, where the academy meets.

An Interview with Hoang Pham

Christopher Seaman and Hoang Pham.

Christopher Seaman and Hoang Pham.


2013 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year

Congratulations on your YPA win. You are the first performer to claim the prize in the new format for the competition. How did you find the new YPA?

I think the new YPA format is superb. In fact, it was the reason I entered the competition after seemingly thinking that I would never do it again after my last experience in 2004. A top musician these days needs to show a certain level of consistency and professionalism in every facet of performance, whether on their own or in collaboration with others. The new festival format demands this from the musicians and at the same time, provides a more varied and exciting experience for the audience and jury. They get to know the performers more deeply and over a long period of time.

It must have been special to do this in your home town of Melbourne. Did having your friends and family around make a big difference?

Winning the competition in Melbourne was extremely special and a once in a lifetime experience. In Melbourne, my friends and family support me in large numbers at all my major events and the YPA final was no exception. And being of Vietnamese refugee background, the Vietnamese community is always a strong presence at every performance I give. Of course, all of this tremendous support makes a huge difference. I really believe it makes me play just a little bit better!

You’re a hugely successful chamber musician and soloist, and have a long list of competition wins under your belt. Do you have any particular goals or dreams that you’re yet to achieve?

I tell people the following story all the time. After I won the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition in 2005, one of my prizes was a performance in the Impresaria Piano Series in Melbourne. The director of this series was Margaret Farren-Price. I had attended many of Margaret’s events in the past and I was always impressed by her entrepreneurial skills, her energy and her ability to connect with every single audience member. Her concerts were always full houses. I learned much from Margaret and adopted her methods when I started to present my own events over the next eight years. Margaret has retired from her work but I would like to one day present my own recital series. This is one of my dreams!

What are you working on at the moment and where can people see you next perform?

Besides further recitals and concerto performances in 2014, there is one new engagement for me next year which is unique. I will perform Tchaikovsky’s second Piano Concerto as part of the Australian Ballet’s Imperial Suite performances in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Also in 2014 I am forming a new chamber music group with a launch concert on April 6 in Melbourne. That is all I can say for now!

2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards Finalists Announced!


The preliminary auditions for the competition which took place in all states across the country have just concluded. Our three national adjudicators travelled far and wide to hear each and every candidate perform selections from their recital program and were given the unenviable task of selecting only 12 performers to proceed to the next stage.  We are delighted to announce that the successful candidates who will be moving on in the competition and performing in the Finals are as follows;

Andrew Kawai (Oboe – VIC)
Anna Da Silva Chen (Violin – NSW)
Anne-Marie Johnson (Violin – VIC)
Catherine Gregory (Flute – QLD)
David Soo (Piano – VIC)
Glenn Christensen (Violin – QLD)
Grace Clifford (Violin – NSW)
James Jae-Won Moon (Piano – NSW)
Kiran Phatak (Flute – WA)
Michael Li (Piano – VIC)
Sujin Park (Violin – NSW)
Zoe Freisberg (Violin – QLD)

The Finals will take place in Adelaide, in three stages over 10 days from August 19 – 28. The first stage of the Finals is the Recital Round in which all 12 finalists will compete. There will be four concerts that will take place at 1pm and 7pm in Studio 520 at the ABC Centre in Collinswood on August 19 & 20. Three performers will play their full recital program as nominated for the Preliminary auditions in each concert. Exact details regarding the programming of the concerts are still to be decided.

After the Recital Round, six finalists will be selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals – the Chamber Music Round. In the Chamber Music Round, the six finalists will collaborate with musicians from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to prepare and perform a chamber music work. These works will be performed in two concerts at 1pm and 7pm on Friday August 22 in Studio 520 at the ABC Centre in Collinswood. Three performers will play their chamber music work in each concert.

After the Chamber Music Round, three finalists will be selected to proceed to the next and last stage of the finals – the Concerto Round. The three finalists selected will perform their nominated concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman in the Adelaide Town Hall on Thursday August 28. The winner on the night of the Concerto Round will be named the 2014 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards and will perform their concerto with the ASO twice more in two masters series concerts on August 29 & 30.

All concerts in each stage of the finals will be open to the public and broadcast live on ABC Classic FM.

Congratulations to our 12 finalists and to all performers who participated in the preliminary auditions and thank you to our national adjudicators and to each of the orchestras and state adjudicators for all their efforts over the past month.

Young Performers Awards 2014 gets underway

The 2014 Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards is now in full swing with the preliminary auditions happening in Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth throughout February and March. Our three national adjudicators are travelling the country to hear each and every candidate play selections from their recital program with the unenviable task of selecting only 12 to proceed to the finals of the competition. The finals will take place in Adelaide between August 19 and 28.

In 2013 we launched a new format for the competition which now includes chamber music and solo recital components in the final stages. These elements were added to further challenge and extend each applicant, allowing only a truly outstanding performer in all areas of musical performance to claim the title of Young Performer of the Year.

Important Dates

Monday 10 February: Preliminary auditions in Adelaide
Wednesday 12 February: Preliminary auditions in Hobart
Thursday 20 – Friday 21 February: Preliminary auditions in Brisbane
Monday 24 – Friday 28 February: Preliminary auditions in Melbourne
Monday 3 – Thursday 6 March: Preliminary auditions in Sydney
Monday 10 March: Preliminary auditions in Perth
Tuesday 19 August: Recital concerts 1 & 2
Wednesday 20 August: Recital concerts 2 & 3
Friday 22 August: Chamber Music concerts
Thursday 28 August: Concerto Concert


All 12 finalists will be eligible to win prizes, which will no longer be awarded according to instrumental categories. The following prizes will be awarded at the end of the competition:

Young Performer of the Year: $25,000
Concerto Finalist Prize x2 (runners-up): $7,500
Best Recital: $5,000
Best Chamber Music Performance: $5,000
People’s Choice: $5,000
Best Performance of an Australian Work: $5,000

The Young Performer of the Year will be presented with the ABC Sir Charles Moses Trophy, multiple copies of a CD recording of their recital/concerto program, one paid performance with the host orchestra, as well as a feature interview in Limelight magazine.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Photo courtesy of ASO Wine Sponsor – Tim Adams. Photographer Jacqui Way

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was founded as a 17-player radio ensemble in 1936 in South Australia’s Centenary year. Along with its season of core orchestral repertoire, family, new music and commercial concerts, the ASO provides the orchestral support for all productions of the State Opera of South Australia, as well as the Adelaide performances of The Australian Ballet and Opera Australia. The orchestra has also performed at every Adelaide Festival since its inception in 1960.
Included in the ASO’s long list of achievements are two seasons of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in 1998 with conductor Jeffrey Tate and the first fully Australian production with conductor Asher Fisch in 2004. Both these seasons brought international acclaim to the ASO.  for more information visit www.aso.com.au

Orchestra Manager – ABO

The Orchestra Manager’s position at the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is a demanding and rewarding role for a consummate professional. Working closely with the world’s finest baroque musicians including leading international soloists, this is one of Australia’s most varied and fascinating orchestral management positions. You will be responsible for all the logistics and people management associated with six major concert series a year which also tour interstate. The role requires energy and initiative, excellent organisational and people skills, some technical theatre skills and a broad appreciation and enjoyment of the performing arts. The Brandenburg offers a superlative musical experience to a large and enthusiastic audience. You would play a pivotal role in making the Brandenburg experience available to people through live concerts and to a large radio audience in Australia and internationally.


For further details on this position and to make an application please contact Susan Duffy at 02-93632899 or via susanduffy@brandenburg.com.au

A musical kick-start – reflections on YPA and music competitions

2013 Young Performers Awards finalists Jonathon Ramsay, Robbin Reza, Hoang Pham, Grace Clifford, Anna DaSilva Chen, Harry Ward.

The ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards can justly claim to be the highest profile competition for Australian musicians. Having started out in 1944 as an annual, state-based concerto competition for young performers, it boasts a long and rich history and has helped launch the careers of some of Australia’s most outstanding musical talents. Overseas readers may know of ‘YPA’ from its appearance in the film, Shine, which dramatises the rivalry between David Helfgott and Roger Woodward in one of the competition’s earlier incarnations.

In the light of substantial changes to the format of the Young Performers Awards in 2013, I asked several past YPA winners and finalists, who are now all firmly established in their own musical careers, to reflect back upon the nature of the competition from their current perspective. Although an article of this size and scope cannot give a comprehensive overview, it does highlight some common feelings about YPA, and musical competitions in general, amongst successful performers who have been through the competition circuit.

When I was a teenager studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England, my classmates and I all shared mixed feelings about competing against each other in international music competitions. After all, how could we be pitted against each other one day, and be rehearsing a Haydn string quartet together the next? Perhaps competitions are useful in ordering the degrees of instrumental proficiency between entrants at any one point of time. And it should probably be noted that one of the new features of YPA this year has been the addition of a chamber music component in which semi-finalists play in ensemble with established professional musicians.

One of the issues that recurs in conversing with past participants is the importance of entering competitions at the right time in one’s personal musical development. I spoke to cellist Li-Wei Qin (Young Performer of the Year, 1993) whose past season included appearances with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.  Li-Wei, who is now based in Singapore, counsels his students carefully on this: ‘Players should enter only if it is at the right point in their own progress, as the long lead-up period choosing, preparing and focusing intensively on the most suitable repertoire is one of the major benefits of taking part in any competition.’ Kristian Chong (finalist 2001 and recent YPA judge) is a Melbourne-based pianist and teacher at the University of Melbourne. He echoed Li-Wei’s advice. The issue of timing is crucial as ‘the main danger is that young performers who aren’t quite fully ready enter the competition and are disillusioned by the process….Some really promising and talented players that enter competitions are knocked out in earlier rounds – these musicians can experience negative connotations in relation to this.’

Not surprisingly, the past winners and finalists I spoke to all thought that they entered YPA at opportune times for them as individuals. Kristian stated that YPA ‘was an important step in my musical development… it gave me much confidence and reassurance in my own musical abilities, at a time when many insecurities plagued my own musical development.’ For Sydney-based percussionist Claire Edwardes (Young Performer of the Year, 1999) the competition provided an even broader sense of worth and purpose at a critical time for her. She has since gone on to perform as a soloist with many of Australia’s leading orchestras as well as being co-Artistic Director of contemporary music group Ensemble Offspring, but ‘before I won YPA having a successful career as a percussionist, let alone a percussion soloist, was little more than a dream. After winning it, it really did become a reality which helped my confidence as a performer but also my self-belief. This was so important at that point in my career path. For me this was well and truly enough to get my career as a soloist kick-started.’

The topic of ‘playing safe’ in competitions also recurred in my discussions. All the past YPA winners and finalists I spoke to agreed that it was paramount that competitors reach beyond this narrow and limiting approach. Claire Edwardes, however, recounted that though being extremely systematic in her preparation, she actually ‘felt quite free in the final YPA performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – on stage that night I was so liberated somehow! It was amazing!’

Kick-starting a career, testing one’s abilities under pressure – these are clearly reasons why people enter any competition. But the opportunity to perform with an Australian orchestra in YPA was seen by all the former participants I interviewed to be perhaps the most important aspect and benefit of the competition. ‘Performing as soloist with professional conductors and orchestras and benefiting from their words of advice and encouragement was priceless,’ recalled Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s principal bassoon Mark Gaydon (finalist, YPA 2005). According to Hong Kong Philharmonic’s principal flautist Meg Sterling (finalist, YPA 2000) ‘playing with a professional symphony orchestra under the pressurised atmosphere of a YPA final undoubtedly was the highlight, and it extended my musical capabilities in an amazingly positive way.’ For many, YPA signalled the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the orchestras as either a soloist or as a player within.

Although the subsequent journey of every musician is naturally highly personal, and music competitions in general can have their drawbacks, YPA is clearly a pivotal focal point in the early careers of the young Australian musicians who performed in the final rounds. Many believe they have gone on to significant national or international careers as a consequence of it.

James Cuddeford, © 2013

Concertmaster of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Brisbane-born James Cuddeford won 1st prize in the 1996 Charles Hennen International Chamber Music Competition in Holland. Having moved overseas to live in the UK in his teens, he did not himself participate in YPA.

Making use of the arsenal – orchestras in video game music

Austin Wintory conducting his video game music. Courtesy: Austin Wintory

Music journalist Rebecca Armstrong observed back in 2011 that video game music has come a long way from the sort of music you heard in the early days, ‘a series of bleeps accompanying pixilated figures on screen’. You can believe it when you hear the sort of full-blown orchestral score that is excerpted in video games concerts.

No-one who manages orchestras needs to be told how successful video game concerts are. The administrators have seen the new kind of audience drawn to them: the fans going nuts when they recognise the theme from ‘Zelda’; the rapturous applause from a full house for the second flute who has possibly never before had audience members scream for his/her solo.

Video Games concerts have even had their own evolution. What started out as a concert devoted to the music of one game, say Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda, has evolved into a more fluid structure drawing on an ever-increasing pool of excerpts (the beginnings of a repertoire perhaps?) Not that all the music presented in games concerts was originally conceived for orchestra, but this is increasingly the case. Indeed, video game music is a genuine new genre for orchestral composers. What intrigues me though is what it tells us about orchestras and what it might mean for orchestras long-term. Los Angeles is one of the centres of game creation and there is no shortage of people to ask.

Admittedly, I once assumed that video games were just outlets for violence – and you do come across games described as ‘an action-adventure third-person shooter video game’ or ‘containing melee combat’ – but I’d never realised the range of cultural references they might embrace. Assassin’s Creed, for example, is based on a 1938 Slovenian novel by Vladimir Bartol which was dedicated, ironically, to Benito Mussolini. Journey, whose composer Austin Wintory I interviewed for this article, ends with a song whose phrases come from the Aeneid, Iliad, Beowulf, Bashō and Joan of Arc. On a YouTube playthrough of the score, Wintory posts a comment saying he was amazed how much conversation there was on one of the producer company’s forums trying to identify these texts. 

Perhaps I am most struck by how many games are modeled on the hero’s journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell is a name you hear a lot in Los Angeles. He seems to be cited by every second film worker (and that includes musicians) from one side of Los Angeles to the other and his ‘monomyth’ can be discerned beneath movies as diverse as Star Wars and The Cider-House Rules (or even operas like The Magic Flute and Parsifal). In so many video games, even those that look like nothing more than splatting bad guys, the gamers themselves are often replicating a hero’s journey. Of course, they may ‘die’ and not get to the ‘inmost cave’ to find ‘the elixir’ (to use ‘heroic’ terminology). But I suppose that’s how video games resonate with life.

So might I be proposing a high cultural value for video games? Is this why orchestras have been brought in? Australian conductor Brett Kelly proposes that video game employment of orchestras is trying to draw on a ‘sense of cultural profundity’. I asked Bruce Broughton, the composer of the first video game score conceived for orchestra, how the score for Heart of Darkness (1998) came about:

‘Because Heart of Darkness was an early video game, it was somewhat different from contemporary games.  It contained a 30-minute animated film, the narrative of which was interrupted by game sequences.  In the game/story the hero would come to a crisis, which could be only solved by the gamer.  Once the solution was revealed, the story – the film – continued.  Essentially I was writing music for a 30-minute animated film interspersed with game sequences, the music for which I wasn’t responsible. The game’s producers liked the Disney film The Rescuers Down Under and particularly liked the score, so they contacted me to see whether I would be interested in doing their game.  I had never done a game before, and it sounded like fun.  So, my answer was ‘Of course I would.’

I asked Broughton, whose brother Bill is an Adelaide-based musician, what he thought an orchestra brought to the experience of the game. ‘An orchestra,’ he says, ‘has emotional depth at its heart. I have to think that that quality helped the animation; the story and the game become more involving and entertaining.’

Austin Wintory, composer of Journey, the first game score to be nominated for a Grammy, echoed this view when I phoned him at his studio in Burbank. ‘It’s the expressive depth and potential of the orchestra. The symphony orchestra is one of the greatest artistic achievements in human history. It has an inherent emotional communicability that fits naturally within the vocabulary of most games and most films.’

Actually, Journey was an eye-opener for me. Not violent at all, the player undertakes a mystical journey across desert (and stunningly beautiful graphics) to a mountain. It’s almost a meditative experience, supported by music which is essentially a cello rhapsody accompanied by bass flute, serpent (yes, the old medieval instrument) and strings (in this case, the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra).

Video Games concerts have been such a boon for orchestras that an instinctive doubt creeps in. Will they run their course? Will this good news story come to an end? And, while gamers are currently providing a bump for orchestras at the box office, will they migrate to what orchestras consider their main business: the perpetuation of the classical repertoire?  

There’s no doubting the enthusiasm for video game music. Derek Raycroft runs an online radio program on live365.com ‘dedicated to playing symphonic music of film, video games, television, and more’ (http://www.live365.com/stations/djraycroft). When we meet in North Hollywood he rattles off a new list of Essential Listening for me – Garry Schyman (Bioschock), Brian Tyler (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), Michael Giacchino (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault). I’d heard of Giacchino before. He wrote a highly energetic score for the 2004 animated feature The Incredibles. What’s also interesting is that I’m skipping the game and going straight to the music.

But the orchestra’s core business for 100 years plus has been the presentation of music that is to be enjoyed for its own artful elaboration. ‘And what people are mostly looking for in video games concerts,’ says conductor Jeffrey Schindler, ‘is reliving an experience.’ Schindler wonders how tolerant game enthusiasts will be of ‘variations of interpretation, of tempo’. The people who go to these sorts of concerts ‘know how this music goes on the original soundtrack.’ When gamers hear the Halo Suite, says Raycroft, ‘everybody will go nuts for that because it’s so memorable. These video tracks that the concert organisers are choosing are memorable to the players and when they listen to them, it’s instant nostalgia to them.’

There is always, of course, the possibility of video games nurturing an audience that will then follow a composer into the concert hall. Austin Wintory talks of the gamers who came to hear Woven Variations, the fantasia for cello and orchestra that he derived from his music for Journey. They certainly accepted, even enthusiastically, the change of medium. And likewise, he says, ‘I had season ticket subscribers come up and say I’m going to buy this game.’ (Wintory tells of Woven Variations influencing the Journey game: ‘We were struggling at the time with kind of a big, cathartic, grand finale. And it was not landing and we were trying different things, mainly just getting bigger and bigger. Then virtually all the studio attended the premiere of Woven Light and I got a call the next day from the game’s creator Jenova Chen saying, “We think you’ve solved the end of the game”. It kind of metastasized. The ending of the game was inspired by the ending of this piece of music.’)

And what if video games are a new way for composers to enrich their musical palette? Broughton mentions at least one technique that he might incorporate into his other writing. ‘When I worked on the animated series Tiny Toon Adventures, I learned to make very quick transitions and modulations. It’s not a technique I need often, but if I ever do, I know how to do it.’

There are possibly quite a few people invested in the future of classical music who  bemoan the fact that much of the music composed for video games is what could be described as a film composer’s digest of Richard Strauss, Mahler, Wagner, early Stravinsky, Holst of The Planets, or Orff of Carmina burana. The language almost supports mid 20th-century critic Henry Pleasants’ contention that audiences and classical repertoire parted company sometime around Wozzeck’s premiere in 1925. But there is another clue: all the composers cited above take the audience on an adventure. It may not be the sort of participatory adventure you get from playing the game, but perhaps, as Schindler says, even if people ‘aren’t looking for the meaning of life, they’re looking for an experience of living.’

As the music in games increasingly becomes a plot device – and there are signs that it is – will an audience develop that is knowledgeable about video game music in a way that nurtures concert culture? What if there is an orchestral answer to Guitar Hero in which a gamer can make decisions about orchestral performances in such a way that they develop their own opinions of tempo and interpretation? Pie in the sky, perhaps. But somehow I doubt that video games will cease to offer classical music possibilities after games concerts per se have run their course.  

The answer may lie in keeping the channels of communication open and allowing the symbiosis to gather force. ‘Part of the problem,’ says Austin Wintory, ‘is that listeners and musicians alike put everything into categories. I think that orchestral musicians who command the most powerful emotional arsenal in the musical landscape need not limit themselves the way they do. I would love to go to a concert where the first thing on the program is Prelude to the afternoon of a Faun; next, wham, the hunt sequence from Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes. Then, as soon as the dust is settled, say, Aaron Jay Kernis’s Musica celestis or the Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings and then from that something from Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VII which hearkens back a little bit to Faun. Here is music, not classical music but music.’

It could be an adventure, too.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2013

2013 Young Performers Awards winner announced

13 October 2013 Young Performers Awards winner announced

2013 YPA Finals. Winner announced!

On Saturday 12 October, Hoang Pham was announced the 2013 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the year after a spectacular performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1.

The last stage of the finals which for the first time ran in the new format was held at the Melbourne Town Hall, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman and included thrilling performances from two other finalists, Andrew Kawai (VIC) performing the Strauss Oboe Concerto and Stefan Cassomenos (VIC) performing the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3.

The three young performers had battled their way through two previous rounds of competition to have the chance to play their concertos in this concert which was broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and wonderfully presented by Graham Abbott and Mairi Nicolson.

The winner was announced by Symphony Services International Chief Executive Officer, Kate Lidbetter in a prize ceremony following the concert. The 12 performers who took part in the finals were all presented with a trophy in recognition of their achievement and the following prizes were awarded;

Best Recital ($5000) went to Andrew Kawai (VIC)

Best Chamber Music Performance ($5000) went to Hoang Pham (VIC) for his performance of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1

Best Performance of an Australian Work ($5000) went to Grace Clifford for her performance of Soliloquy: a fragment from String Quartet No.2 by Wilfred Lehmann in the Recital round.

Andrew Kawai and Stefan Cassomenos both received a cash prize of $7500 and Hoang Pham takes home a $25,000 cash prize, multiple copies of a CD of his winning performance and opportunities for future concert engagements with major Australian symphony orchestras as well as a feature interview in the ABC Limelight magazine.

All seven YPA finals concerts were recorded and broadcast live by ABC Classic FM, and an hour-long special about the finals will feature on ABC TV on Sunday 15 December, at 2.00pm on ABC 1.

2013 Young Performers Awards Chamber Music round results

10 October 2013 Young Performers Awards Chamber Music round results

2013 Young Performers Awards Recital round results

6 October 2013 Young Performers Awards Recital round results

2013 Young Performers Awards finalists announced

2013 Young Performers Awards finalists announced

2013 YPA Finals. Recital round results announced!

Top row Grace Clifford (violin), Andrew Kawai (oboe) and Stefan Cassomenos (piano) Bottom row: Harry Ward (violin), Hoang Pham (piano) and Jonathon Ramsay (euphonium)

The Recitals round of the 2013 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards finals took place on October 4 and 5 in the Iwaki Auditorium at the ABC Southbank Centre in Melbourne.

12 outstanding finalists performed individual solo recitals over four concerts which were each broadcast live on ABC Classic FM and presented by Graham Abbott and Mairi Nicolson.

Adjudicators were Ian Munro, Barbara Jane Gilby, Catherine McCorkill and Huw Humphreys.

The six finalists selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals and details of the Chamber Music round are;

Concert 1: 1pm, Wednesday 9 October, Iwaki Auditorium

Grace Clifford (violin) will perform the Brahms Piano Trio in C minor Op.101

Andrew Kawai (oboe) will perform the Mozart Oboe Quartet in F K.370

Stefan Cassomenos (piano) will perform the Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1 in D minor Op.49

Concert 2: 7pm, Wednesday 9 October, Iwaki Auditorium

Jonathon Ramsay (euphonium) will perform the Brahms Horn Trio Op.40

Hoang Pham (piano) will perform the Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1 in D minor Op.49

Harry Ward (violin) will perform the Brahms Piano Trio in C minor Op.101


Both these concerts will be broadcast live on ABC Classic FM. Tickets are free and available at the door an hour prior to each concert.





Will Bruckner survive the 21st century? Should he?

Orchestras and the quest for relevance.

Brent Assink

Thank you, Kate, and a special thank you to each of you for your flexibility.  Scheduling this presentation has been an enormous challenge and I am really grateful for the opportunity to be here today.  This is my second visit to Australia in as many months after never having been here before.  What can one say?  It is beautiful here, and we are having a wonderful time.  Before I begin, let me also acknowledge upfront that I am somewhat aware of the differences between Australian and US orchestras in our funding and governance structures.  Clearly, I will speak from the perspective of a career spent in the US;  I hope you will make allowances for that and my rather one-sided perspective.

I’ve chosen today to talk about Anton Bruckner with you as a proxy for the ongoing debate about orchestras and relevance.

You all know  Anton Bruckner, the Austrian composer who died in 1896, a social misfit to the end.  Painfully shy, he was even mocked for the old-fashioned way he dressed.  He was insecure to a fault, endlessly revising and re-revising his symphonies.  He adored Wagner, which immediately placed him in the camp opposing Brahms who was roughly his contemporary.  His compositional output was relatively small—several masses and nine symphonies which are so clearly from the same pen that some critics claimed he wrote the same symphony nine times.  Even though he lived during the period of high Romanticism in art, he stayed away from those crowd pleasing virtuosic showpieces that were, and are, so characteristic of that period.  Were he alive today, he would probably be shocked that he, this humble Austrian church organist, is being mentioned here, in Sydney, Australia, in 2013.  You might be, too.

And, yes, he’s still around.  The Sydney Symphony performed his ninth symphony last week three times.  The San Francisco Symphony has included his works on 48 of our programs since 1971—and given the length of his many of his symphonies, those probably WERE the programs.   American orchestras programmed his works over 660 times in the first decade of this century.  Over on YouTube, the performance of the Eighth Symphony by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Christian Thielemann, has garnered 140,000 views in the last several years.  Not exactly Beethoven or Mozart, is it?  But he is still with us.

Why?  Some of our musicians don’t particularly enjoy playing Bruckner.  The unrelenting patterns in the strings are exhausting to play.  Because of the size of the orchestra, his music is expensive to mount—lots of extra musicians are required.  Our audiences aren’t clamoring for his music—checking the last four performances that the San Francisco Symphony gave of his music from 2008-12, the percentage of our hall sold ranged from 50% to 66% compared with a season-long average of 80-84%.  His music doesn’t carry the emotional temperature that Mahler’s does and that seems to speak so vividly to our audiences today.  His symphonies are not conductor showpieces—they are long, repetitious, and full of such dense counterpoint that only a music theorist could love them.

And yet, he is still with us.  What are we to make of this?  Is Bruckner, in some mysterious way, relevant?  Our dictionary’s definition of “relevant” is “having practical and especially social applicability.”  Whatever else one may say about Bruckner, you might not call him “relevant,” by that definition.  Bruckner is, I suggest, a bit like orchestras.  These centuries-old organisms are still around.  For those of us not in Europe, these types of collections of musicians are not only from centuries past, they also were created to perform music from a culture that is imported to our shores.  Like Bruckner, our orchestras specialize in delayed gratification.   Like Bruckner, there is something stiff and formal about our concerts.  Like Bruckner, our attire of white tie and tails is old-fashioned.  Like Bruckner, we can be socially awkward—gathering people together for a social experience and then limiting their opportunity to interact.

And WE are still around.  There are almost 1000 member orchestras of the League of American Orchestras.  In the seasons of 2005-2009, American orchestras performed between 3600 and 4700 concerts per season.  The San Francisco Symphony performs or presents over 225 concerts in each season, performing for over 500,000 people at our home in San Francisco.  Like Bruckner, are our orchestras, in some mysterious way, “relevant?” 

I don’t know about your experience here, but we in the US are constantly challenged to be “relevant”  by funders, by Board members.  I think that is the wrong term.  Our tendency is to focus on the first part of our definition, and I suggest that most people think of it in that way.  We are not practical; orchestras never have been.   So when a funder or Board member or donor challenges the San Francisco Symphony to be more “relevant,” I immediately ask them to clarify exactly what they mean.  I find that they almost invariably want us to be more “meaningful.”

I like that term much better.  It’s clearer and more easily understood.  And it lays out a blueprint for how we might proceed as orchestras.  Let’s review eight ways in which our communities seek meaning in their interactions with music and examine how effectively we deliver on that quest for meaning.  I have chosen to present this from the perspective of eight potential or current audience members.

1. MY MEANING IS CHOICE.   Have you ever seen this catch phrase in an orchestra’s brochure:  “Our Music:  What We Want to Play and When We Want to Play it…Come Pay To Hear Us If You Want to.”  No, I haven’t either.  But this is how orchestra concerts are perceived by many in our communities.  To be fair, almost every performing art form, every sporting event, places similar expectations on its community.  We are called to join together at an appointed time to observe an activity for a fixed period of time—whether that is going to the Opera or Symphony or Ballet, watching a movie, or watching football (of any kind).  This works as long as there is a significant percentage of our community that finds meaning within a structured ritual to experience something over which they have had little choice.

But we now live in a world of practically limitless choice, in practically anything.  I can listen to any type of music that I want to, for any duration, at any place and at any time.  We have become so quickly accustomed to this that we don’t often realize what a recent phenomenon this is.  Interestingly enough, this desire is not limited to the “younger” generation.  In the US, the percentage of adults with a college degree is increasing, the population is growing, and income is rising.  But with each passing year, the percentage of those people who would have traditionally been in our audience has been declining.  The post-war Baby Boom generation, the largest generation in history, has now aged into the typical demographic of loyal subscribers.  We should have full halls at all of our concerts.  One reason we don’t, I suggest, is that there is limitless choice—how they spend their leisure time is one choice they need to make, and then whether they get to curate part of the experience is another choice.  We can’t or don’t give them the latter choice, so the former choice tilts away from us to other activities where they might have that choice.

2. MY MEANING IS PARTICIPATION.  For many years, our communities have asked us to help them educate their children in music.  And we have responded.  Since 1987, for example, the San Francisco Symphony has essentially been THE provider of music education in the San Francisco Public School District, grades 1-5, because of significant cutbacks in California state government support for music education in the previous decade.  This has consisted of ensemble visits into the classrooms, teacher training, curriculum materials, and a visit by each of the students to hear a concert performed by the full orchestra in Davies Symphony Hall.  This type of exposure gave these students a desire to make music, not only listen to it.  Because they saw real live musicians on stage and in their classrooms, they began to imagine that they, too, could be musicians.  Well over 70% of American orchestral audiences played a musical instrument or sang in a choir in their youth.  So providing opportunities for instrumental instruction means not only that we are being good citizens, it also means that we are helping to build the pipeline for future audiences.  We leave instrumental instruction to the schools or to the home at our long-term peril.  It’s important to note that this desire for participation doesn’t suddenly magically end when you finish school.  So a number of orchestras have started providing adult musical participation activities.  In 2010, the Symphony launched a program called “Community of Music-Makers,” giving those adult amateur musicians a chance to play on our stage and be coached by members of our orchestras.  We have evenings for strings, for winds and brass, for percussion, and for singers.  They fill up as soon as they are announced.

3. MY MEANING IS VARIETY.  Many of our audience members are still completely comfortable showing up at the appointed hour, usually 8 p.m., hearing repertoire selected by others within a total window of time of about 2 hours; sitting in seats they have occupied for many years and occasionally reflecting on how their many, many years of subscribing to symphony concerts has affected them, enriched them, broadened their appreciation for music, for beauty, for all of the arts.  We LOVE these people, in part because they are perfectly aligned with our delivery mechanism.  These are the people who are served through the construction of our collective bargaining agreements and around which our weekly schedules are built.  Our institutions are well-oiled machines to deliver top-notch performances in two-hour chunks several times a week.  But for many people, this predictability does not have musical meaning.  They are interested in shorter, more varied programs—perhaps less formal, perhaps even with some say in what is played.  They’re not interested in paying the same price for that shorter concert as they would for a full two-hour concert; they want to hear this music at different times and to encounter it even during the day.  They don’t care if they’re hearing a full orchestra, a small orchestra, a chamber group, or a percussion group.  They find meaningful experiences in unpredictability and variety.

4. MY MEANING = SOCIAL MEDIA.  I recall a number of years ago how scandalized many in our audience were when one of their fellow audience members made an outgoing phone call during a concert, and said into the phone:  “You gotta hear this,” and held out the phone for the person on the other end to experience what she was hearing in the hall.  This was a sign of things to come.  Our daughter takes a photo of what we’re eating in a restaurant in Spokane, Washington, and instantly transmits it to her friends here in Sydney so they can share in our experience while it is happening thousands of miles away.  Telling our audiences to shut down electronically for two hours is giving some of them withdrawal anxiety.  We now have Board members from Facebook and Twitter, and they can hardly wait until intermission so they can see what they’ve missed in other people’s lives.  I make no value judgments right now, for fear of sounding like a member of the Baby Boom generation (which I am).  For purposes of this discussion today, though, we need to be attuned to the fact that experiences like the ones we provide are increasingly meant to be shared.  Instantly.   That Beethoven Fifth Symphony was awesome, they say; I want a link to that performance so I can send others to it and let them know I heard it live.   This sounds like pretty good viral marketing to me.  Another aspect of the growth in social media is emerging in the San Francisco Bay Area.  According to some reports, people who work in social media look at that work as bringing fulfillment and meaning into people’s lives.  Their efforts to connect us, to make our lives “frictionless” is a way that applies technological advances to give us meaning, usurping—perhaps—the historical role of religion or the arts as a way of building community.   In a May 27 New Yorker article, George Packer quotes a young entrepreneur:  “Many see their social responsibility fulfilled by their businesses, not by social or political action.”  This, if true, has enormous implications for us in the philanthropic sector in the US.  If someone who believes he is “doing good” in his work (i.e., solving social problems) that person is much less likely to use his most precious commodity—time—to serve on the Board of an organization that might also be “doing good.”  This attitude clearly colors attitudes for philanthropy as well.

It seems to me there are least three implications for us as social media becomes an ever more pervasive aspect of our work in orchestras:

  1. Individual and organizational reputations are built or diminished instantly and constantly, even during our concerts (no more news cycles);
  2. Technology as the great “gatherer” can be viewed as a replacement to the live experience or anything else that gathers communities together;
  3. These communities information streams are becoming more decentralized—“friend” or “unfriend,” opt-in or opt-out, and impacts your organizations directly

While the future of social media is difficult to predict, it is comparatively easy to understand why those who live their lives “in this space” might build in different ways a sense of loyalty and longstanding commitment to our orchestral institutions.

5. MY MEANING = KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN.   Our community increasingly values a much more in-depth knowledge and relationship with what’s going on behind the scenes.  Who are those musicians anyway?  What are their individual stories?  Would they talk with me?  How long have they played their instruments?  What is their favorite piece of music and why?  But our musicians arrive and leave by a door on one side of the building; the audience comes in another.  For two hours, they interact in a most profound way with each other—playing and receiving the most sublime music ever written.  Afterwards, they go their separate ways—audiences discuss the concerts with other audience members, and musicians discuss the performance, the conductor, with each other.  They rarely reflect on the experience together.  Our communities would value more of that.  And many of our musicians would too.  But in order to provide that, we need to change our physical plant a bit, and again modify the concert ritual.

6. MY MEANING IS VALUE.    If our audience is paying $100 for a ticket, they place high expectations on the overall experience.   This audience has less tolerance for any aspect of the concert experience that does not meet their expectations—parking, food service, wine (quality, quantity, and price), seat locations—all work together to help our communities decide if the experience is worth the price.  But this is also a bit more complicated.  When you buy something in the store for $100, you have a pretty good idea if it is good quality and if it does what it was designed to do.  Our communities increasingly have a hard time distinguishing high quality as opposed to a more mediocre level performance.  And, to many of them, value means a recognized work, performed by a recognized name.  What WE place value on,  high artistic quality, for example, is not necessarily where our community places value.  If they heard the best performance of a Bruckner Symphony imaginable, but thought the wine before the concert was second-rate, we are going to have to work that much harder to get them back.  In other words, magnificent Bruckner isn’t going to be enough to tip the scales if the rest of the experience wasn’t completely perfect.

7. MY MEANING IS A RICH CIVIC LIFE.  Our communities may bring less background, exposure and knowledge to our concerts, but many of them still have a sense that a night at the Symphony is something that an informed and engaged citizen should “do.”  Learning how to play a musical instrument is perceived as a lofty and beneficial goal.  Donors recognize the value proposition of their philanthropic support; politicians view orchestras as contributing to the common good of a civil society; business leaders recognize the importance that orchestras bring in economic benefits, attractiveness to potential employees of their companies, education to their children.  For this community, simply knowing that their town has an orchestra adds meaning.  In 1989, San Francisco was severely damaged and traumatized by the Loma Prieta earthquake.  A few days afterwards, the Symphony performed a free performance of Beethoven Nine in Golden Gate Park to draw the community together;   we also performed for thousands on the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  Communities around the world look to their orchestras to build community during a time of sadness and tragedy or a time of celebration.  Or…they look to their orchestras to provide services like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers through their “Citizen Musician” program—music in assisted living facilities or hospitals.

8. And, finally, MY MEANING IS MY MUSIC.  Our communities are becoming increasingly diverse ethnically.  The Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethnic group in the Bay Area by far.  The Asian community is so large and so engaged in musical life in the Bay Area that our Youth Orchestra is predominantly Asian; diversity in this case might mean bringing in more Caucasians.  This incredible mixture of backgrounds and ethnicities adds to the complexities and opportunities facing our orchestras.  Over 10 years ago, the Symphony started a Chinese New Year concert, drawing on the rich musical tradition of China and mixing in the Western instruments.  This event has grown to the point where it is our second-largest fundraiser of the year and is THE event of that time period for many in the San Francisco Chinese community.  The Symphony helps provide meaning to this community as they gather to celebrate a family tradition.  Five years ago, we started a similar program called “Day of the Dead” to celebrate the musical heritage of the Hispanic community around this big holiday in that community.  The orchestral tradition in the Hispanic community is rich and programming these concerts is a real joy. 

So…we have Choice, Participation, Variety, Social Media, Knowing and Being Known, Value, Civic Life, My Music.  If you agree that our communities seek to engage in meaningful musical experiences through one or more of these doorways, it doesn’t take a decades-long career in orchestra management to conclude that we face challenges.  We are just not set up to provide those experiences very often or effectively.  I really believe that orchestras ARE at a crossroads today—we can hang onto the pattern of fixed subscription concerts that appeal to the segment of our communities that subscribe and renew year after year.  And let’s be honest with each other:  there is enormous pressure to continue on exactly that path.  Let’s look at a few reasons why we stay on this course:

  1.  Economic.  Since 1992, the San Francisco Symphony has performed 106 subscription concerts per season.  Our net contribution to fixed costs for each one of those concerts has ranged from between $85,000 and $100,000.  By contrast, the holiday concerts, or summer concerts, or presentations may struggle to net $30,000.  Why would I, as Executive Director, reduce the service allocation from something that nets this well towards something that might net only a fraction…even while I see the attendance at these subscription concerts gradually diminish year over year?
  2. Personal Love.  I started in this field in 1980.  Subscription concerts are  what I love—I love hearing the orchestra playing the same repertoire several times a week and hearing how they settle into it, how they take different chances musically at each concert; how each performance is slightly different.
  3. MusicianInterests .  Generally speaking, our musicians love to play concerts of the standard repertoire for which they feel they have had adequate rehearsal.  This is what they were trained to do.  Add the challenges of a collective bargaining agreement that in most of our orchestras limits scheduling flexibility, there is much work to be done to address the issues of choice, participation, variety, social media, value, and civic life.

You have probably heard the saying: “When the tide goes out, you find out who hasn’t been wearing swim suits.”  While some of our orchestras have been in various stages of undress for many years, I submit to you that, especially since the dramatic economic downturn of 2008, the outgoing tide has ripped off much of the attire that many of us were wearing and that we thought was securely fastened about us.  I hope we learned a lesson:  the time to be sure we are wearing swim suits is when the tide is in because it most definitely WILL go out again…and it might never come back.

So are we as orchestras going to take the safe route—maintaining the status quo that many of us love and offering the occasional education programs or other programs at the fringe?  Or are we going to engage in serious self-examination about how we relate to our communities’ quest for meaning and be prepared for that rapid or gradual reduction in the tidewater level around us? Let me suggest five steps to take that should send us at least partway down the more dangerous , and ultimately more rewarding, road:

  1. All real or virtual barriers to getting our music widely disseminated digitally simply must be removed.  The casual curious music-lover can fall in love with, say, the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra if given a chance.  But how or when is this person ever going to have a chance encounter with this music?  It’s not on the radio anymore, they don’t stumble on it in record stores, and they never check it out on iTunes or YouTube.  We need to turn our audiences into viral marketers and give them all the tools to do so. 
  2. All musicians coming into conservatories today need to assume they will be educators, community engagement professionals, and local celebrities in addition to great orchestral musicians.  And they need to be given the training to do so.  Education is, and will be, everyone’s responsibility.  Further, our musicians need to be THE superstars, the household names, and freely provide us with the tools to get their stories told.  I was so impressed by the brochures of your orchestras—almost all of them not only showcased the members of the orchestra, but also listed them by name.  While this might introduce a level of discomfort in some of our musicians, added variety in their responsibilities can and should be enormously enriching.
  3. Our orchestras as organizations need to be fully present in the lives of our communities.  We cannot only show up for 1000 or 1500 people 3 or 4 nights a week, playing repertoire that we select at a time and for a duration that fit well with people’s schedules a generation ago.  We still need to do that, but we also need to provide different encounters.  I’m referring to carefully planned musical encounters by the orchestra such that the community is caught up each week by the music and the great value of having these musicians in their communities.  This will likely engender much more variety in the musicians’ schedules in the future.
  4. We need to be unified organizations in addressing these challenges.  We need to work together to be sure that our boards and donors are reminded what a great gift our orchestras are to our communities and the amazing talent that is rolled up into the musicians of our orchestras.  Our boards need to know that this music and the community service that our musicians provide is a cause worthy of their best thinking at board meetings, of their personal philanthropic support, and of their willingness to ask friends and colleagues to support this cause.  Likewise, our musicians need to acknowledge the incredible pressures that boards and staffs are under—brought on by these changes in audience expectations, by rapidly rising health care and pension costs, by weak economic activity.  Musicians need to thank their audiences and donors like never before.  And internally, we all need each other.  Just as our staff members recognize that we need the best musicians possible, our musicians need to recognize that they need THE best chief financial officer, or general manager possible.
  5. Finally, we need to be true to who we are.   We are orchestras, specifically designed and created to perform symphonic repertoire.  No other entity is made to do that, and we can easily abandon our responsibilities when we only REACT to how our communities seek meaning in their musical experiences.  We also need to mold and direct them.  I’m happy that the San Francisco Symphony’s mission statement intentionally calls for us to “shape the Bay Area culture.”  We need to be the Steve Jobs or Henry Fords of our art form—giving people something they never knew they needed.   We have to be willing to lead.  By doing so, we will only become more meaningful to our communities and will have enriched countless lives of millions of people around us.

So this brings us back to Bruckner.  Keep programming and playing his music.  But do so within the quest for meaning that our communities seek.  Give him context—get your trombone players talking about why they love to play Bruckner or your strings talking about why they don’t; get your social media sphere debating about why Bruckner speaks today, or doesn’t; give your audience links to the performance when they leave.

You see, the richness of Bruckner is that he didn’t write the same symphony nine times.  He wrote works of endless variety and power that reward inquisitiveness and open-hearted listening.  We can scrape away the encrustations around our concert delivery systems to connect Bruckner and others to the meaning that our communities seek.  It requires hard work, creativity, risk-taking, unity, and great ingenuity.  I wish you all great success as you continue to chart the path forward for your orchestras.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.


Brent Assink,
Executive Director, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Keynote address
Symphony Services International Orchestral Summit
Sydney, Australia

August 15, 2013

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Photo: Toby Burrows

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is Australia’s national baroque orchestra and 2014 marks the 25th year since the Brandenburg’s establishment. Under the charismatic leadership of the Orchestra’s Co-founder and Artistic Director Paul Dyer AO, the Brandenburg features the finest period musicians from around Australia. We bring to life the original colours of baroque and early classical masterpieces with the beautiful sounds of instruments of the 16th 17th and 18th centuries. Works performed include those by del known composers of the period as well as exhilarating new discoveries. As a member of the Australian Major performing Arts Group and winner of five ARIA awards for Best Classical Album in Australia, the Brandenburg is a leader in Australia’s cultural landscape. Visit their website.

A Postcard from Asia’s World City and its Orchestra

China is undoubtedly the place to be for classical music. Since I arrived in Hong Kong three years ago, barely a month has passed without the news of some major strategic alliance between a western music institution and a Chinese one. The touring traffic of great orchestras and artists seems more like a flood, as eyes move to the startling Chinese growth industry in classical music. And the eyes boggle – an estimated 40,000,000 piano students, thousands of concert halls (with more under construction), and a strong curiosity and engagement in our artform. In other parts of the world classical music seems to stutter, but China is forging ahead, and even if the nature of these connections is still being defined, they bear witness to huge optimism about the future of Western art music in Asia.

Hong Kong is also part of that world, but its unique history and overlapping identities as a former colony and a ‘Special Administrative Region’, not to mention Hong Kong people’s own feelings towards Mainland China (which are often ambiguous), continue to hold this city apart. We trade on a long-established identity of being ‘where east meets west’. Hong Kong’s current tag- line is ‘Asia’s World City’. Its flag features the Bauhinia flower, an introduced species; the ‘barren rock’ of Hong Kong island is lush with plants which are not native, and crowded by skyscrapers which trumpet western cosmopolitan style.

Where does a western orchestra fit into such a picture? Could it, too, be viewed as a transplanted relic of the departed colonial influence? Could it be part of the exciting new wave which is happening to our north? Should it be a local ensemble, focused inwards on servicing the city, or a truly international ‘flagship’ orchestra, with the sole purpose of bringing the world’s music stars to Hong Kong? These are all questions which the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra has asked itself in recent years, and it’s a challenge to provide a snapshot of such a rich combination of factors.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic in action under the baton of new Music Director, Jaap van Zweden.

The HK Phil is in many ways the perfect reflection of its home city; we are about to commence our 40th professional season, but the origins of the orchestra go back more than 100 years, to the foundation of our ancestor the ‘Sino-British Orchestra’ (whose first conductor was a moonlighting property auctioneer – an apt historical footnote for such a commercially driven city). Today, 45 of our 90 musicians come from China or Hong Kong, and of our internationally recruited musicians, 25 now are permanent residents, meaning that they have chosen to lead their lives here.

As for our audience, they are our biggest blessing, young and highly engaged. Hong Kong’s population may be ageing, but its concert-going public is youthful and musical. Learning an instrument is a vital part of a good upbringing in this city. Within a five-minute walk of my home are a dozen small music colleges, with a steady flow in and out of kids and their instruments. These children are often brought to concerts, and our hall is always brimming with (mostly) attentive young children, brought along to hear a noted soloist, and to be given something to aim for as performers. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, the youthfulness of our audience was a source of wonder. Nowadays, when I attend concerts outside Asia, the reverse skew of average age can be just as surprising. In Hong Kong, we ‘get them in young’.

Students vying for places at certain schools are even encouraged to choose their instrument strategically. Double bass, bassoon or harp, for example, are popularly chosen, in the hope that this will make winning a place at the desired school more likely – the orchestra is more likely to need them. A few years ago when we programmed a harp concerto in our subscription series, we discovered that nearly 500 young people in Hong Kong were studying the instrument.

This sort of ‘white heat’ in music study has another potential benefit for the Hong Kong Philharmonic; when we recruit for administrative positions, I’m constantly amazed by the very high proportion of applicants who have their instrumental diploma. It’s tantalizing that so many skilled musicians might be interested in artistic administration. But there is a flip-side: very few seem to continue as active musicians once the achievement is on their CV. The competitive arena often dictates that they will pursue other goals. With the diploma, the musical mission is accomplished, and one is left wondering how much deeply-felt love for music this system is actually engendering.

The main limitation on the orchestra and on most other artistic enterprises in Hong Kong is the venue situation. This is a crowded city; facilities are at a premium. For graphic artists the competition for gallery and workshop space is fierce. For an orchestra, there are no more than a handful of halls in Hong Kong which will take a symphony orchestra’s footprint. These spaces are run as democratically as possible, for obvious reasons given the demand on them, but it means that artistic planning is limited by the shorter timelines by which the venues plan their schedules. A solution is on the horizon; the West Kowloon Cultural District will add over a dozen performance venues for theatre, music and dance to Hong Kong. It’s hoped that this important development will make Hong Kong a true creative hub in East Asia, but a new orchestral venue is still years away.

In the meantime, we have worked towards broadening the appeal of the HK Phil, introducing new concert models and starting times with great success. Even though there is a long history of pops and ‘Canto-pop’ concerts, the Orchestra’s image still reflects the traditional model of what an orchestra can offer. It’s fun to play against this image: in addition to a number of multimedia concerts last season, we presented a jazz concert starring James Morrison and a band of Hong Kong’s best ‘jazz cats’. In the lead-up, I was fielding questions from intrigued journalists about how the fusion of jazz music with orchestra would even work. But in execution, the concerts were hugely popular and attracted a new audience to our hall.

One challenge which I think many orchestras are facing around the world is particularly pronounced in a city like Hong Kong: the many stories and legends which inform repertoire, and by which we can help explain it, are less and less well known. To introduce a work like Holst’s Planets, for example, it’s extremely helpful to know the back-stories of Greco-Roman deities. One can then move directly to the conceptual leaps that Holst made between the planet, the deity and the observer. It’s not a case (as it might be in the West) of people being less acquainted with these old stories and archetypes. Here, an equally complex and rich tradition of Chinese astrology renders the Greco-Roman version an obscure reference, which itself needs introduction and explanation for many people.

Another example is the Jupiter symphony. At what point does one give up splitting hairs, and resort to the bare fundamental of the name as the vast majority of people know it – to market the symphony with a visual of the planet? I was once told that Haydn’s Creation would be a tough sell, since the general public “no longer really knows the story” – this was in reference to the Australian public. How much trickier when the story is itself not fundamental to the cultural tradition where the performance is taking place? Working in Hong Kong has made me especially aware of this challenging gap, and that we can make no assumptions about the familiarity of narratives which were deeply ingrained in the composer’s culture.

The HK Phil has big plans, coming off the back of Edo de Waart’s eight-year tenure as Chief Conductor – a period of unprecedented musical development for the orchestra. With our new Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, a series of international tours is in preparation. We have begun a recording project of Chinese composers conducting their own works, for release on the NAXOS label. Tan Dun and Bright Sheng are the first composers to be thus featured. During the past season we have renewed our local relationships with local cultural institutions such as Hong Kong’s Space Museum, its Polar Museum, Academy of Performing Arts, and many others.  The orchestra is in a period of growth in all directions.

As for the hurdles we face, a unique one is the annual typhoon season, beginning in summer and continuing through the first weeks of our season. All of Hong Kong stays glued to the weather report, as tropical storms brew in the South China Sea, then wend their way towards land. An alert system tells us when to close windows, take pot plants inside, avoid coastal areas, and eventually cancel orchestral services, because leaving one’s home is too dangerous. It doesn’t happen often, but it lends an extra intensity to a week of rehearsals and performances when a typhoon is bearing down on us!

Looking around the region, the relative isolation of the orchestras of East Asia means that each has a unique story to tell. In Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Macau and Hong Kong, orchestras evolved more or less separately, responding to the (largely expatriate) hunger in each community for music. The distances are still too great for us to be competitors, and cultural differences mean that we often don’t share programming priorities. But we are facing similar challenges in our own environments, and also the opportunity of the current turning of tables: the world engine of classical music will soon be China. Being so close to the giant to our north, it’s a fascinating time to be working here and contributing to the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s exciting journey.

Raff Wilson, © 2013

Formerly Artistic Administration Manager of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Raff Wilson has been Director of Artistic Planning for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra since December 2010.

Experimental City – Los Angeles’ operatic dimensions

Marie Laveau (Gwendolyn Brown) emerging from her Tomb in The Industry's production of 'Crescent City' (Photo: Joshua White Photography)

When people think Los Angeles, they often think Hollywood and ‘Hollywood’ tends to be a byword for glitz and superficiality. But Los Angeles is also a home to musical experimentation. The groundbreaking Monday Evening Concerts that started on the roof of Peter Yates’ home in Silver Lake in 1939 are still going strong (though no longer on the rooftop), and I try never to forget that John Cage was born in the Good Samaritan Hospital on Wilshire Boulevard in 1912.

One of the significant ways in which Los Angeles contributes to musical life is in opera. Composer Anne LeBaron, who is interviewed later in this article, has written that living in Los Angeles, she’s ‘fortunate to be in physical proximity to nimble companies that embrace risk-taking, companies that are beginning to make history (or have been doing so for some time) by presenting challenging new work’ [i]. She mentions Long Beach Opera (soon to do Peter Lieberson’s ‘campfire opera under the stars’, King Gesar), Opera Povera and also The Industry, which established itself last year with a production of her ‘hyperopera’, Crescent City.

The Marassa Jumeaux (Maria Elena Altany, Ji Young Yang) in 'Crescent City' (Photo by Joshua White Photography)

Founded by director, Yuval Sharon, and producer, Laura Kay Swanson, The Industry aims to ‘present new and experimental productions that merge music, visual arts, and performance in order to expand the traditional definition of opera and create a new paradigm for interdisciplinary collaboration’ (according to their website). In October they’ll be presenting Invisible Cities, an opera by Christopher Cerrone based on the book of the same name by Italo Calvino. As The Industry’s kickstarter fundraising campaign said of this work, ‘Imagine yourself in LA’s historic Union Station, surrounded by passengers and passersby, wearing a comfortable pair of top-of-the-line Sennheiser wireless headphones with crystal-clear sound technology, listening to a new opera while discovering the live singers and dancers appearing and disappearing throughout the space.’ It’s a project that takes cognizance of Sharon’s desire to exploit opera’s capacity for multi-perspectives. It also has the support of the City and new mayor, Eric Garcetti – the kind of collaborative experimental work that Los Angeles is ripe for.

The big buzz last year, however, was Crescent City, the Industry’s first production in an old warehouse in Atwater Crossing [ii]. Its composer Anne LeBaron is a New Orleanian who now teaches at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) based in Santa Clarita in one of Los Angeles’ northern valleys. A former student of Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti, LeBaron has pushed the boundaries not only of opera, but of instrumental music. I heard her monodrama Some Things Should Not Move (about her experiences in a haunted apartment in Vienna) at The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall in March and can well understand how an eventual production of that opera, when it is complete, might make a virtue of positioning the audience in a haunted space (if indeed that’s the direction it goes in).

Crescent City is what LeBaron calls a ‘hyperopera’. Not so much a genre, says LeBaron, as a ‘state of mind’, hyperopera takes opera’s collaborative potential and ‘ramps it up to another place that is more collaborative than anything you might imagine’. Hyperopera grew out of LeBaron’s courses at CalArts where students from various disciplines would get together and create an opera in a semester. There might be several writers, a composer for each character, negotiated ensemble writing…Crescent City took that concept to the highest professional level. Though there was only one composer, LeBaron and director Yuval Sharon storyboarded the opera before the final libretto was drafted. Sound designers and visual artists became members of the collaboration, ‘the creative family’, at an early stage of the process. They created the city that was the character behind everything else that went on in the opera [iii].

Crescent City is set in a city like New Orleans, just after a post-Katrina type event. Expecting another hurricane, Marie Laveau, queen of the voodoos, rises from her grave and approaches the Loa, the voodoo gods, pleading with them to spare her beloved city. At first indifferent, they eventually agree to save the city if they can find one good man in the debris.

‘The overall idea of hyperopera,’ said LeBaron when I met her in Santa Clarita, ‘is to diminish the hierarchy in opera, so that it’s not top-down composer, director, librettist and then the servants.’ In fact, LeBaron’s desire to change the hierarchy is inspired by the free interchange and fresh results of jazz. (Her score for Crescent City was described by Culture Spot LA as ‘Preservation Hall on acid’.) The big thing with this Crescent City production, however, was the use and design of the performance space. Six installation artists – Brianna Gorton, Mason Cooley, Katie Grinnan, Alice Könitz, Jeff Kopp and Olga Koumoundouros actually evolved a city in the Atwater warehouse. There was a supervening authority (Brianna Gorton was the curator) but separate ‘architects’ for the ‘buildings’ – cemetery, hospital, ‘dive bar’, swamp, Good Man’s Shack and junk heap – eventually amounting to a distinctive ‘civic character’.

The Good Man (Cedric Berry) in his shack (designed by Mason Cooley) (Photo: Joshua White Photography)

What made this opera such a unique experience? Audience members sat in the city with various options on where to sit in relation to the performers and musicians. ‘Our Dive Bar, the “Chit Hole”,’ says LeBaron, ‘was actually a long tongue of a runway – the tip was a tongue – and we had some of the audience sit around it in beanbag chairs. The highest-priced tickets were the skybox where you could have an overview of the city. And you could get a pedestrian ticket, too, where you could walk on planks behind and around the action.’ So the audience was fluid. It was possible to come on separate nights and gain new perspectives on what you might already have seen and heard.  Views were blocked just as in a city but live video on large screens around the space provided insight into areas you may not otherwise have been able to see. Video also served for surtitles or enhancement of stage action. The Loa, for example, were first seen onscreen, nonchalantly munching on chicken legs, before assuming human dimension onstage with other members of the cast.

But why do this in an opera? Firstly, the maximum development of the opera’s constituent parts enlivened other aspects of the work. With regard to composition, different heterogenous configurations of instruments (including strings, woodwinds, didgeridoos and electronica) in varying spatial arrangements accompanied strikingly different scenes. Olga Koumoundouras’s desire to do the dive bar as basically one enormous anus got LeBaron thinking that the dive bar should be all trombones and this led to the idea of bringing in the chromolodeon, the Harry Partch organ that has 43 tones to the octave. A big part of the payoff for all the various elements knocking together like this was increased vigilance on the part of the audience, multi-perspectives keeping the audience’s critical faculties active.

Yuval Sharon was the director of Crescent City. An Illinois native and graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Sharon was Project Director for four years of New York City Opera’s Vox program where he first met LeBaron and presented concert presentations of Crescent City. He has worked at houses such as the Mariinsky and Komische Oper, Berlin, and was Associate Director for the world premiere of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch aus Licht with Graham Vick for the London 2012 Cultural Olympics.

Deadly Belle (Timur Bekbosunov) (Photo: Joshua White Photography)

I asked him about the value of what LeBaron calls ‘meta-collaboration’. Why do it? ‘All operas are inherently collaborative,’ he says. ‘It’s not as if the composer is not being influenced by singers he or she is working with or the librettist and the source material. There are lots of influences. To take all of that away and say that this person is a monolithic creator is something that is not quite honest as to how operas actually come to life. It takes a village.’

Sharon was Assistant Director to Achim Freyer on the LA Opera’s Ring cycle. ‘Wagner is a huge part of my background,’ he says, ‘but much as I love the idea of the gesamtkunstwerk [Wagner’s theory of opera as a union of the arts], I can’t forget the Brechtian critique that Wagner takes all of the arts and throws them into one stew and makes a mush out of it. The music and text and scenography all become one general flow that puts the listener into a sort of catatonic state, whereas Brecht [whose plays and theories influenced 20th century theatre] wanted to separate the elements, to really wake up the audience and keep them alert and critical.’

Mention of Brecht, who wrote his classics The Caucasian Chalk Circle and the American version of Life of Galileo in LA’s beachside city of Santa Monica, takes the discussion into deeper theoretical areas. It may be objected that most opera lovers go to opera for the emotional experience, but Sharon doesn’t see emotion being excluded from the equation. ‘The idea of breaks and disruption in Brecht’s work was not at the expense of emotion. They were something that made the audience realise the construction of the emotion and woke up their critical faculties. I think opera is an emotional experience but it shouldn’t be manipulative. I don’t go as far as other people to say that Puccini is super-manipulative. But Puccini’s music almost always only means one thing. His orchestral writing’s very deep but the emotional life is ultimately, somewhat one-dimensional. And depth doesn’t always have to be multiple things happening at once. Verdi can create depth but almost lengthwise through a piece.

‘But you talk about being able to view things from different angles?   


‘And this is part of the reason why the audience can re-position themselves?

‘I’m really interested in that.

‘They will see things differently?

‘That’s right. That’s a key idea for me really, because what opera really does provide is multiple perspectives and multiple viewpoints onto the same action, same idea or same character. The multi-headed beast that is opera actually really encourages this type of thing.’

Which is all well and good, but are we talking about an area opera could legitimately move into and attract a completely new audience? ‘Oh absolutely’, says LeBaron, noting that The Industry’s goal was that everybody in Los Angeles should have heard about Crescent City and just about did. ‘It was a very mixed audience,’ says Sharon. ‘I’m really excited about that because that’s certainly been the mission for The Industry. I see opera as being a very solid 21st century possibility. And so I very much wanted to speak to people outside of the traditional world. There were certainly opera lovers who came. But we had just as many visual arts people. We had just as many people from all works of life who just wanted to see this spectacle. For a lot of people Crescent City was their first opera and they would come up to me and say, “Oh, is all opera like this?” And I’d say, “Well not exactly,” but that’s not bad either. We don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s exciting to see people’s gears turning a little bit and saying, “Oh wow, if this is opera what else is possible?”’

Sharon doesn’t believe the pieces he’s developing will replace the old operas or that the directorial ideas he came up with for Crescent City would necessarily be appropriate for them, but the sort of work he’s doing reveals directions for exciting new development in this 400 year-old form. After all, he says, ‘the potential for re-reading – that’s what’s really great about the standard repertoire.’

And the exciting thing is that there’s an audience for this in LA, and not just an audience but, as Sharon has noted before, ‘an amazing audience’ that has been developed here ever since Schoenberg and Klemperer came to town in the 1930s. Why look, even the Los Angeles Opera is doing the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass work Einstein on the Beach next season, right after that old favourite, Carmen.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2013

[i]  ‘Crescent City: A Hyperopera (Anne LeBaron), Journal of the International Alliance for Women in Music, Volume 19, no.1 2013, pp1-6

[ii]  See The Industry’s page on Crescent City

[iii] See Yuval Sharon’s blog Building Crescent City, chronically the construction of Crescent City’s set in The Industry’s warehouse theatre

Inside Conducting by Christopher Seaman

Inside Conducting is Christopher Seaman’s humorous and witty take on the art of his profession.

What does a conductor actually do? How much effect does he or she have? Can the orchestra manage without one? Why don’t players look at the conductor more? Is it necessary for the conductor to play every instrument? What about interpretation? What happens at rehearsals Why do some conductors “thrash around’ more than others? Who’s the boss in a concerto: the soloist or the conductor?

These are some of the questions that receive lively and informative answers in this book.

There are many books on the art of conducting, but none like this. Music lovers wondering what the figure on the podium actually does, and aspiring conductors eager to learn more about the art and craft of leading an orchestra, will all treasure this wise yet humorous book.

“This book is simply typical Christopher, something I would consider one of the highest compliments. Typical of Christopher to combine so much wisdom with so much wit. Required reading, I think, and one of the friendliest books about music ever penned.”

SIR SIMON RATTLE, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

“With humor, clarity and wisdom, Christopher Seaman gives insight into the mind of a conductor. A feast of inside scoops for music lovers.”

YO-YO MA, cellist and Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project

“To hear the human truths from an experienced music director, enriched by examples from his life, is marvelously illuminating. I learned many little things and some big ones.”

NORMAN LEBRECHT, author and critic

Inside Conducting can be purchased in all reputable book stores or online;

Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Conducting-Christopher-Seaman/dp/1580464114

Boydell and Brewer – http://www.urpress.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=14177

2014 Conductor Development Program

Applications for the 2014 Conductor Development Program are now open!

Symphony Services International’s Conductor Development program represents a major investment in Australian talent. One of our goals is to assist a new generation of conductors to reach their potential by providing the highest quality training possible and we are now also welcoming applications from international conductors.

We are delighted to welcome back guest teachers Johannes Fritzsch and Eckehard Stier who will each teach mastercourses in 2014 with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Course Director Christopher Seaman will teach mastercourses with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestras as well as the Summer School with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

For all the details and information please download the brochure here.

To apply you must complete the online form here.

Applications close Friday 26 July 2013.

Annual Report 2012

Download the Symphony Services International Annual Report for 2012 .

2013 Orchestral Summit

In August 2013, Symphony Services International will be hosting the 2013 Orchestral Summit for Member and Associate orchestras.

Our guest speakers this year will be Brent Assink (Executive Director, San Francisco Symphony) and Joseph LaPosta (State Operating and Major Projects Manager, AFL NSW/ACT). Their biographies appear below.

Keynote addresses and workshops will be presented on the mornings of Thursday 15 and Friday 16 August, and constituency meetings for CEOs, Artistic Administrators and Human Resources personnel will be hosted on Thursday afternoon.

Download the  Registration Form.

Note: This event is only open to staff from our Member and Associate orchestras.

Day 1: Thursday 15 August, 10am-4pm
Day 2: Friday 16 August, 10am-1pm
Venue: Macquarie Bank, 1 Shelley St, Sydney
Cost: Free to staff of Member and Associate orchestras

You can view the full two-day schedule of the event here.

Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), leads one of North America’s most forward-looking arts organizations with a distinctive combination of business skills and musical passion. He brings over 30 years of experience in orchestra management to his role at the SFS helm as he continues to steer the organization in new directions, forging a path for classical music in the 21st century.

A native of Washington State, Mr. Assink has been a pianist since childhood and is an accomplished organist. After taking a master’s degree in musicology and business administration from the University of Minnesota, he joined the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s (SPCO) artistic operations department in 1981 and six years later was named SPCO Manager. In 1990, he was named SFS General Manager, then returned to the SPCO in 1994 as the organization’s President. He was named SFS Executive Director in March 1999.

Now in his thirteenth year as Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Brent Assink heads an institution that presents more than 220 concerts each year with an annual budget of more than $69 million. He has implemented initiatives that have put the SFS into the front ranks of the world’s most innovative and successful orchestras, including television, radio, Internet, and recording projects. His passion for music has spearheaded education projects and community engagement activities, and the Orchestra’s reputation has assumed new dimensions through its national and international tours, with annual performances at Carnegie Hall.

Among the high-profile projects the Symphony has launched under Mr. Assink’s leadership is the establishment in 2001 of its own audio and video recording label, SFS Media. The label’s releases have featured Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra in an acclaimed Mahler cycle that includes all of the composer’s symphonies and works for voices, chorus, and orchestra. The Mahler recordings have won seven Grammy Awards and widespread international acclaim. The label continues to feature works of the core repertoire as well as adventurous and infrequently recorded contemporary material.

Assink spearheaded the Orchestra’s Keeping Score project, an unprecedented global multimedia endeavor designed to make classical music accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds. Keeping Score’s components include television documentaries and concert programs seen by over 9 million Americans on PBS television, a Peabody Award-winning national radio series, interactive web sites and an education program that has trained elementary school teachers nationwide to incorporate music instruction into core subjects. The educational Web site for children sfskids.com, first introduced in 2002, will re-launch in 2013 using the latest web-based learning tools and gaming techniques. Under Brent Assink’s leadership, the SFS has expanded Adventures in Music, the longest running and most comprehensive education program among U.S. orchestras, now bringing music to every child in grades one through five in all San Francisco public elementary schools, and reaching more than 23,000 students. In 2011-12, its Instrument Training and Support program has expanded to reach more students in every public San Francisco middle and high school with a music program, with professional musicians teaching and coaching at schools and helping provide students with music supplies, instrument repairs, and other needed resources. As part of the SF Symphony’s Centennial initiatives, Assink oversaw the development of Community of Music Makers, an ambitious amateur music program serving adult musicians and promoting active participation in music-making and lifelong learning. The popular program extends the Symphony’s role beyond its historic performance and teaching model by creating opportunities for SFS concertgoers to participate in music-making under the auspices of the SFS and with the support of SFS players and artistic staff.

Other successful programs initiated during Mr. Assink’s tenure, and designed to serve San Francisco’s uniquely diverse community, include an annual Chinese New Year Concert that celebrates Asian and Western musical traditions; the popular Deck the Hall holiday celebration for children from local community organizations; and an annual Día de los Muertos community concert and celebration.

As SFS General Manager from 1990 to 1994, Brent Assink oversaw a major acoustical modification of Davies Symphony Hall, launched several new concert series, expanded ticket revenue, and augmented its education and community activities.

As SPCO President from 1994 to 1999, he recruited new board leadership, appointed Bobby McFerrin and Nicholas McGegan to the artistic staff, launched an educational initiative in partnership with St. Paul and Minneapolis public schools, and solidified the ensemble’s program of national and international touring, including the SPCO’s first tour of Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The SPCO presented annual balanced budgets, retired its accumulated deficit, and launched a new endowment campaign that raised more than $14 million under his direction.

Brent Assink holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and piano performance from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. He is a regular faculty member for the Orchestra Leadership Academy, sponsored by the League of American Orchestras and Co-Director of the League’s Essentials of Orchestra Management Seminar. He serves on the board of the League of American Orchestras and on the Advisory Council for the University of Minnesota’s School of Music, and is a regular panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has published articles on church music, is a published composer, and has been recognized as a distinguished alumnus by Dordt College. He and his wife, Jan, have three adult children.

Joseph Laposta, State Operating & Major Projects Manager – AFL NSW/ACT. Joseph has been with AFL NSW/ACT for 4 years based at their Head Office in Sydney.  Prior to working with the AFL Joseph was involved in Town Planning and Infrastructure Development, both in the public and private sectors throughout Sydney and Melbourne.

Joseph’s current role with the AFL is State Operating & Major Projects Manager – NSW/ACT, leading business operations with a strong focus on their people, partnerships and infrastructure projects. This role oversees a staffing structure of 75 full time staff and $10.5 million in annual budget.

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

A performance by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra reflects the city’s independent spirit and distinctive cultural identity. Under the artistic direction of legendary Australian violinist William Hennessy, the orchestra captivates audiences with its world-class artistry, dynamic stage presence and stimulating programming from the vast chamber music repertoire.

Founded in 1995 as Australia Pro Arte Orchestra, MCO has a core of string players drawn from Melbourne’s outstanding community of orchestral artists. The orchestra presents an annual series of concerts in the world-renowned acoustic environment of the Melbourne Recital Centre. Recent highlights included performing in the world premiere of Deborah Cheetham’s Indigenous opera Pecan Summer and a festival conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

With a particular focus on being an agile, regional orchestra for all Victorians, MCO delights audiences outside central Melbourne with its regular touring and series in metropolitan and regional locations. The orchestra has performed over 50 concerts outside Melbourne since 2008. MCO also offers an innovative Regional Advanced Strings Education Program in selected Victorian centres. For more on Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, visit their website.

The Problem of Popularity

Cover page of program for 1885 premiere production of 'The Mikado'.

by James Koehne

When Donald Mitchell set out to write an appreciation of Malcolm Arnold in 1977, he felt compelled to rescue the composer from the ‘curse of popularity’. Even in his symphonies, Arnold’s music indulges in big, beautiful tunes, and this, Mitchell points out, ‘gives rise to suspicions that we’re being seduced by something vaguely improper, that we’re succumbing to the blandishments of the popular while the composer is somehow abandoning the pedestal of high art…’ Accordingly, ‘there is a real sense in which Arnold’s extraordinary melodic gift has, ironically, made things difficult for him rather than easy’.

The defence Mitchell built for Arnold was to say that the composer himself actually knew much better, and that he was being ironic with his big tunes – he was only presenting them as ‘illusions’. Mitchell couldn’t simply propose that Arnold’s popular appeal and gift with a good tune was cause for celebration – he had to show that Arnold was a ‘serious’ composer at heart.

Mitchell borrowed his concept of the ‘curse’ from his mentor, Hans Keller, who had used the term the ‘problem of popularity’ in a similar 1950 defence of Australian composer Arthur Benjamin, who was mostly associated, like Arnold, with ‘light music’, usually regarded as watered-down classical music with popular touches to it. In making his pitch for Benjamin, Keller took a much more well-judged line than Mitchell, pointing out that music like Benjamin’s, which had genuine popular appeal but did not forsake artistic quality, is a necessary thing for a healthy musical life. Observing that the advancement of music – under the influence at that time of Arnold Schoenberg – had ‘left the majority of listeners far behind’, Keller framed the ‘problem’ as a real quandary: namely, ‘how to be popular’.

In suggesting that it was a problem worth even considering, Keller was a rare voice in his time. While declaring his belief in the ideal of the eternal, absolute work of great music, Keller also proposed that we should never ‘underestimate the importance, even for great art itself, of art that was not great, but art nevertheless’. All around him, however, ideologues and musicologists were urgently sequestering popular music – or music tainted by the traces of popularity, like Light Music – away from and far below the musical mainstream.

The eminent musicologist Carl Dahlhaus, in compiling his history of 19th-century music, had to find some way to account for the likes of the Strauss family, Offenbach and Arthur Sullivan, from whose loins Light Music sprang. Dahlhaus labelled it all as Trivialmusik, ranging ‘from the salon piece to the hit tune, from the periphery of operetta to entertainment music’. This whole mass of music arose, Dahlhaus said, from the broadening of education to ‘all levels of the population’, resulting in a ‘mass acquisition of music and an emphasis on the emotional affects of acoustic phenomena, even those of minimal or dubious artistic qualities’. The extension of educational opportunity more widely in society unfortunately exposed music to two ‘new dangers’: ‘low’ taste and commercial exploitation. The ‘philanthropical’ good intentions of education were to become ‘perverted… by a process of commercialization or industrialization which took hold in virtually all areas of society as a compulsion to mass-produce and distribute commodities’. Dahlhaus assumed his mission to be to preserve the autonomy of great composers from the threat of popular trivialization.

The element of The Popular became classical music’s ‘Other’, the thing to be excluded so that proper attention could be lavished on the serious side. While people like Dahlhaus were making a philosophical argument for downgrading the popular, in a more practical way too, popular music was excised from our concert programs.

In his history of Classical Music in America, Joseph Horowitz recounts the story of how the Boston Symphony Orchestra changed its programming practice to separate its popular content from its serious. Under the orchestra’s original conductor, George Henschel, concert programs had routinely concluded with selections of light overtures and numbers, intended presumably to send the audience away with a smile on their face. But with the arrival of the much more earnest German conductor Wilhelm Gericke, that all changed, as he disciplined his audiences to follow his lead into more elevating musical realms. The popular content – at that time represented in the music of Gounod, Auber, Waldteufel, Rossini, Suppé and Zeller, etc. – was therefore hived off into a separate program of ‘promenade’ concerts, originating in 1885, under another conductor.

This division – in some ways a specialisation of labour – proved highly successful as both the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops flourished long thereafter. But for concert programs, the separation of these worlds meant that a Beethoven symphony would never again be heard in the company of, say, Gounod, Grétry, or Waldteufel. The Boston split symbolises how the separation of the galaxy of Great Symphonies and Eternal Masterpieces from a parallel universe of Popular Dances and Ephemeral Tunes, became firmly entrenched.

Today Hans Keller’s quandary – how to be popular – is more potent than ever. It is one we have to face, and find our own answers to – so that orchestras are not relegated to the periphery of social and cultural interest, quite regardless of the issue of economic sustainability. Having devoted so much effort to getting popularity out of our system, we now have to contend with finding ways to draw it back in… much to the chagrin of many involved in the orchestral enterprise!

It is now a regular practice for orchestras around the world to bring in ‘popular’ shows: sometimes it feels like gigs with rock bands, pop divas, film screens and the like are taking over. We try to sequester these events away from our ‘real’ product (the serious stuff), and gain some consolation from the fact that we can use the money earned by the pop shows to present Mahler and Bruckner… or pay salaries. But perhaps there is another, more creative way to deal with the problem. Instead of resenting the fact that we have to deal with this stuff, would it be possible to actually take ownership over popular content, and even to develop ways to integrate it as a core part of our concert offerings?

This is a suggestion put forward by philosopher Richard Shusterman, whose book Pragmatist Aesthetics provides the classic antidote to Dahlhaus’s aesthetics of separation and alienation. Shusterman takes his inspiration from a branch of philosophy known as Pragmatism, in particular, the work of Thomas Dewey. From Dewey, Shusterman gained a transforming insight: art is not a thing, but an experience.

As musicians, of course, we know that keenly. But Shusterman (following Dewey) puts this notion at the centre of artistic judgment and value. Like a tree falling in the woods, art only has value when it is experienced, and it is the quality of this experiencing that determines the value of art. From this idea, Shusterman develops a series of observations about how we might think about art and music. We should not restrict our sense of artistic value to the lineage of masterpieces, judged by fixed criteria – instead we need to be flexible, adaptable, responding to changing social and individual values. We need to think of art again as a primarily sensual experience, not an intellectual or written-down one. We must not be content to sustain our musical life within the confines of the concert hall alone – we have to take it out there to the people, so that it becomes ‘a normal part of the processes of living’. And finally, we need to start thinking of all musical styles not as separate – even opposing – categories but as parts of a spectrum of continuity, each type of music feeding and inspiring the other. Shusterman even suggests that popular art will be the salvation of the high arts, by showing us how to make ourselves popular again, how to overcome our stagnating social and aesthetic inwardness.

If we treat the element of the popular as something more than a mere ‘cash cow’, we may find a new creative energy that will bring back to us the broader audience we have been losing in the last few decades. The great thing about the way Keller has phrased the quandary – how to be popular – is that it suggests there is more than one way to skin this cat. That is, popularity can be – in fact has to be – achieved by a variety of means.

The admonitions of Richard Shusterman do not provide us with a pat or simple set of answers to the popularity quandary, but they do contain the seeds of different ways of thinking and valuing that could take us to a better place. Instead of just seeking the quickest and easiest way to answer the quandary – picking up a cheap profitable Beatles Tribute concert here and there – we need to think seriously about popularity. ‘How to be popular’ is no longer a question only for the marketing department – even philosophers are thinking about it!

Programming for Popularity

Discovering new ways to achieve popularity deserves to be considered as our new quest, so that it actually becomes the focus of our efforts at experimentation and innovation. Like any quest, it involves a process of change and adaptation, which will be full of successes and failures, but here are a few ideas, some potential principles, to begin the journey:

1. Take a broader view of what constitutes the mainstream of our repertoire, embracing Malcolm Arnold and Arthur Benjamin and their ilk as part of the mainstream of concert life. Even more obviously, make space to include the classic repertoire of film music (Korngold, Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre, etc.) as core repertoire. Deliberately set aside that gazillionth regurgitation of the Egmont Overture to make room for them!

2. Invent new formats for concert programs, beyond the meat-and-potatoes diet of Overture-Concerto-Symphony programs. William Weber’s history of 18th- and 19th-century concert programming, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste, offers an illuminating historical perspective on the art and science of concert programming. It deserves to be required reading for all concert professionals. Concerts before the 20th century strove constantly to achieve an integration of the popular and the serious, or at least engaged in the battle between them. Concepts like ‘miscellany’ and ‘promenade’ which Weber reveals in the history of concert-making, provide ways for us to think freshly about the construction and materials of concert programs.

3. In preference to focussing only on the enclosed demographic of our existing audience, think outwards to draw in additional audience groupings. The point is not to think of one big ‘mass’ audience, but to identify extra groupings, more or less on the fringe of our existing audience, progressively spreading wider to incorporate those we might seduce into our world of orchestral experiences. Such a strategy must become a continual pattern of mainstream concert-giving in order to effect a permanent change in concert culture.

4. Integrate ‘classical’ content with popular concert experiences. There are often, if not always, opportunities to add in orchestral works when programming popular presentations, and without any sense of didacticism or condescension. A favourite example from my own experience came in the context of a Led Zeppelin Tribute concert (the idea had been forced upon me, I admit), into which I incorporated Mosolov’s Iron Foundry and Matthew Hindson’s Headbanger – to the sheer delight of the audience! On the orchestra’s part, of course, it meant paying for additional music hire and adding in extra rehearsal time – but the investment is worthwhile if taken as a long-term direction.

These are just four actions that can help to deconstruct the Berlin Walls of concert programming: the divide that separates the kind of concert thinking that goes on among those within the world of orchestral music-making from the kinds of concert thinking of those who live outside of that world.

James Koehne, © 2013


Books and articles referred to (in order of appearance):

Donald Mitchell, ‘Malcolm Arnold: The Curse of Popularity’, in Cradles of the New: Writings on Music, 1951-1991, London: Faber, 1995

Hans Keller, ‘Arthur Benjamin and the Problem of Popularity: A Critical Appreciation’, in Tempo, No. 15 (Spring 1950), pp. 4-15

Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989

Joseph Horowitz, Classical Music in America: A History of its Rise and Fall, New York: Norton, 2005

Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, Second Edition, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000

William Weber, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste: Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

James Koehne is currently writing his PhD dissertation on the light music of Sven Libaek and Don Banks. He was Director of Artistic Planning for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, 1997-2010

A Culture in Exile – Classical Musicians in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s

Los Angeles skyline. Photographer: Navid Serrano

by Gordon Kalton Williams

A number of times over the past few years, the contemporary German film director Werner Herzog has described Los Angeles as the most culturally substantial city in the United States. It’s why he and his wife decided to move here he will say, often citing the number of writers, philosophers, and mathematicians who are also in residence.

To anyone in classical music, Los Angeles has a further claim to cultural substance: in the 1930s and 40s, mostly because of Hitler, Los Angeles ended up with the highest concentration of great composers, writers and performers per square mile of any place on the planet, probably at any time. Just think who lived here – Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, singers like Lotte Lehmann and instrumentalists such as Jascha Heifitz. Nearly all of them lived walking distance from Sunset Boulevard’s arc to the sea at Santa Monica. People ask whether Angelenos have profited from the time these greats spent among them, but it’s certainly inspired me as a newcomer. I’ve walked the streets with a copy of Dorothy Lamb Crawford’s A Windfall of Composers in hand and Carol Merrill-Mirsky’s Exiles in Paradise 1991 exhibition catalogue tucked under my arm. I’ve shared the same initial experience as the Stravinskys who marvelled at ‘the sun, the climate, the beautiful countryside, the charming homes…’

An Australian who wants to retrace the steps of a world-famous composer can walk up Caroline Street, South Yarra and know that that’s where Percy Grainger lived. Here, you can see the houses owned by even bigger names and meet their children, grandchildren and students. Phil Azelton, a music copyist I met, studied under Ingolf Dahl and remembers the day Dahl came in and told the class how sad he was that his good friend, Paul Hindemith, had died. I love the everyday-ness of it. I’ve shopped at the farmers’ market at the corner of Fairfax Ave and Third Street where Vera Stravinsky met Natalia Rachmaninov and invited her and her husband to tea with Igor and her and the Rubinsteins; where the Stravinskys took W.H. Auden to shop while he was working with Igor on The Rake’s Progress. Getting around the county on the Rapid Transit, around that huge amphitheatre which is the coastal plain backed by the Hollywood Hills, I know exactly what Otto Klemperer meant when he came here to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1933 and spoke of ‘distances such as we can hardly conceive of’. Even now, it takes on average two hours to get anywhere one-way.

But the city has also served as a kind of map by which to learn about other less well-known musicians.  I’d heard Hanns Eisler’s music in productions of Brecht, but never before delved much into his concert music. And I’ve wondered why Ernst Toch is so little represented in concert programs; his Symphony No.5 Jephta could easily sit alongside Barber’s First or Roy Harris’ Third as one of the great one-movement symphonies of the 20th century. Toch didn’t go in for ‘systems’, but Schoenberg thought enough of him to let him know when he was retiring from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) so that Toch could go for the job. (Schoenberg didn’t go in for systems either, of course. One of the great anecdotes in Crawford’s book concerns Milhaud’s visit to Schoenberg upon returning from a post-war visit to Europe. So many post-war European composers are writing with twelve tones, he told Schoenberg, thinking Schoenberg would be pleased. ‘I hope they’re putting some music into it,’ said Schoenberg.) Carol Merrill-Mirsky, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Hollywood Bowl Museum and Archives Director, mentions other less well-known musicians whose presence here contributed to the artistic activity of the city, people like Leon Levitch, an émigré from Yugoslavia who got interned in Italy, then upstate New York – ‘an excellent composer’ ‘who made his living here in Los Angeles as a piano tuner’.

But to go back to Toch. He had studied music despite the disapproval of his parents and learnt from ‘secret early study of Mozart’s scores’ the emotional wellsprings of music. You’d think that Toch’s music (‘from the heart – may it go to hearts’, as he described Poems to Martha) would equip him to write for the movies, the town’s principal industry. But he was not the only composer to be disillusioned by this experience.

Reading about these composers’ experiences with the film studios you sometimes see Old World sensitivities butting up against those of the New World. Crawford in her book suggests that the relative age of a composer when he arrived in Los Angeles was a factor in the success or not of his (and it was usually ‘his’) dealings with Hollywood. Franz Waxman, Frederick Hollander and Erich Wolfgang Korngold did well because they were comparatively young. But perhaps there’s more to it than age. Those three allowed that a film’s rhetoric trumped music’s when it came to making movies. Max Reinhardt, the great German director, said that Frederick Hollander could have been a dramaturg if he hadn’t been a composer. According to Hugo Friedhofer, Korngold could go to a director and say, ‘I feel that there’s a first act curtain there,’ and ask if there was any more footage so his music could make more of the moment; he always got his way. The complaint of composer Alexandre Tansman – that the entire city of Los Angeles would await the latest offering from MGM – seems beside the point. Films were the principal storytelling medium of the town. But of course, present-day orchestral artistic administrators are wrestling with the idea of concerts that may not have ‘the music’ as their principal rationale.

Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky hoped to get work in the movies when he moved here in 1940. A number of his concert works, such as Four Norwegian Moods, started out as film music that couldn’t be fitted into the final filmic result. You can still go past Stravinsky’s house up in West Hollywood. He had an easier time of living in Los Angeles than most and that may be because he had no problem prioritising the making of money. (The American composer, George Antheil, couldn’t quite believe Stravinsky’s way of ‘invariably turning idealistic musical conversations into mercenary channels’.) But Stravinsky also expected America to create ‘the new things in music’. According to a story by David Raksin (famous for the film score, Laura), Stravinsky could go along to a nightclub and be delighted to hear Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown while Pierre Boulez and Robert Craft, his companions (on the particular night Raksin was describing), ‘looked like two guys out of a Daumier drawing, disparaging something’. Thirdly, Stravinsky was used to emigrating and had already done so a couple of times.

There is great poignancy, however, in reading of the suffering of some of the other émigrés, the German-speakers mostly, in adapting to their new home. German novelists felt greatly the loss of German-speaking readers, for example, and many returned to Europe after the war. There’s ‘an element of personality that makes it possible for some people to assimilate’, says Merrill-Mirsky. ‘Bon-vivants like Rubinstein or Stravinsky could live anywhere.’ Of course, if I get homesick, I can walk to the ocean and look out in the direction of Australia. And I can stave off ‘heimweh’ by creating an Australian plant-species distribution map for Los Angeles county. I saw a huge Moreton Bay Fig in a garden on Burlingame Avenue, Brentwood on my way to the Schoenbergs’ house. Importantly, my homeland is not at war. Many were the émigrés in the 1940s who couldn’t quite appreciate the swaying of palm trees in balmy breezes while the streets where they grew up were being bombed into craters and childhood bonds with family and friends were being extinguished (or not – they just didn’t know). But, says Merrill-Mirsky, a lot of the modern-day Angelenos who are taken with the story of this period are Jewish people, ‘because when you’re inundated with stories of the Holocaust this almost looks like a good news story. These are the few who made it, who came here, were successful, raised families, many of whom are still living here.’ At the beginning, in 1934, Schoenberg likened it to entering Paradise: ‘I…came from one country into another, where I am allowed to go on my feet, where my head can be erect, where kindness and cheerfulness is dominating, and where to live is a joy and to be an expatriate of another country is the grace of God.’

Living here and studying this period from an artistic point of view I get a huge sense of how deeply Schoenberg and his 12-tone technique were steeped in European culture. California offered its distractions (and Schoenberg was swayed enough by the climate to be obsessed about tennis and ping-pong) but apart from that, he maintained his path, or shall we say his voice, with granite-like integrity. I get a new sense of how much his music burned from inside, but also a sense of his courage, ‘his refusal to be whittled down to mortal size by adversity’, in David Raksin’s phrase.

Ronald and Barbara Schoenberg at the Schoenberg family home in Brentwood

I visited his son and daughter-in-law, Ronald and Barbara, retired California trial judge and professor of German literature and language respectively, at the Schoenberg family home in Brentwood. Ronald showed me his father’s workspace. When his father worked here, there was a board over the archway (the house is in a Spanish style), so that he could have privacy. There are still things on the desk that reveal little character details about Schoenberg – the box that once housed the chess set Schoenberg made for Ronald, a piece of paper with a method for scoring tennis. You get a sense of the broad creativity of a truly creative person. And you also get a sense of the person behind the monument. Ronald mentions that a visitor to the Schoenberg archive in Vienna objected to footage of Schoenberg laughing and smiling – ‘That shouldn’t be shown’ – but that’s also the Schoenberg the family saw, the smiling person was Dad. Barbara shows me a cabinet containing her composer father, Eric Zeisl’s memorabilia – a letter from Alma Mahler, a letter in French from Igor and Vera Stravinsky saying how shocked they were by Zeisl’s sudden death. She tells me about Zeisl’s radiant Requiem Ebraico. You get the sense that both Schoenbergs would wish for more performances of their parents’ music, but ‘Christian Tetzlaff is playing Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic next season’ and Barbara says they’re getting more and more people coming to look at the house these days. Many of them are Austrians or Germans. ‘They hover,’ she says. ‘If I’m out in the garden, I ask them if I can help, and they say, “Oh, no thank you”, and I can tell by the accent, so then I ask in German, and they say, “Is this where the composer Schoenberg lived?”’

Over torte and coffee, our conversation soon turned to US politics, which made me realise how thoroughly American the children of the émigrés have become. ‘Who is your favourite US president?’ I ask Ronald. ‘Until I read about them?’ he quipped. And we talk about traffic, the excruciating inconvenience of going east of the 405 after 4pm. Nevertheless, afterwards Ronald drives me to Wilshire Boulevard where I’ll have more transport options. On the way out, we pass O.J. Simpson’s place. He tells me about the crowds that used to go up there to gawk. In his father’s day, Shirley Temple lived across the road and his father hoped that the sightseers were coming to see the composer Schoenberg’s place. Down Bundy Drive, we pass the former home of cellist, Piatigorsky. ‘His wife died last year,’ says Ronald. Last year? Have we only just emerged from this era of Los Angeles’ history? I wonder.

Part of Schoenberg's work room

Which makes me muse about the lasting legacy of the ‘exiles in paradise’. Certainly, many of the most famous pieces of classical music’s 20th century repertoire were composed in Los Angeles. Not all owe their existence to Los Angeles. But it’s interesting to note that Schoenberg’s Kol nidre, Toch’s Cantata of the Bitter Herbs, Korngold’s A Passover Psalm, Op. 30 and Prayer, Op. 32 (the only pieces he composed ‘for myself’ during World War II), and Zeisl’s Reqiuem Ebraico all came about from commissions from Rabbi Jacob Sonderling of the Fairfax Temple. Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw, Ode to Napoleon and String Trio were written in LA. So too, Stravinsky’s Circus Polka, Symphony in Three Movements and Agon. We still experience some of this period’s legacy in film scores of people like John Williams who studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and worked with Franz Waxman, or in the concert hall with André Previn who also studied with Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director of the opera company, The Industry, credits this period of LA’s history – this period when people like Klemperer and Schoenberg came here, and when UCLA and USC (the University of Southern California) were staffed by people of this quality – with why Los Angeles is so ripe for the sort of artistic experimentation he’s interested in. Because, he says, ‘There’s not just an audience, there’s an amazing audience here that has been developed through what’s already been here culturally.’

Local musicians, mezzo-soprano Bonnie Snell Schindler and Jeffrey Schindler (known in Hobart for performances they’ve given with the Australian International Symphony Orchestra Institute) have a recital program called From Hitler to Hollywood. The concept is the music a bicycle messenger might have heard as he couriered an urgent package from Korngold’s place at Toluca Lake (right near Warner Bros) to Hanns Eisler on the beach at Santa Monica. Stopping at Gershwin’s, Schoenberg’s and the Werfels’ he might have heard such pieces as Alma Mahler-Werfel’s Ich wandle unter Blumen, Schoenberg’s Gigerlette or Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Whether there has been a continuing influence of this period, this recital program proves there was a time when the Los Angeles basin gave rise to a most phenomenal outpouring of music. It looks like cultural substance to me.

Gordon Kalton Williams, © 2013

2013 Finalists announced!

After a grueling month of nation-wide auditions, 12 young performers have been selected to proceed to the Finals for the 2013 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards. The 12 talented musicians vying for the title of Young Performer of the Year are;

Stefan Cassomenos – Piano (VIC, 28)
Grace Clifford – Violin (NSW, 14)
Anna Da Silva Chen – Violin (NSW, 16)
Anne-Marie Johnson – Violin (VIC, 21 )
Andrew Kawai – Oboe (VIC, 14)
Sarah Kim – Cello (VIC, 23)
Hoang Pham – Piano (VIC, 27)
Alex Raineri – Piano (QLD, 20)
Jonathon Ramsay – Euphonium (NSW, 19)
Robbin Reza – Piano (NSW, 18)
Brijette Tubb – Flute (QLD, 24)
Harry Ward – Violin (NSW, 17)

The Finals will take place in Melbourne, in three stages, over nine days from October 4 – 12. There will be four recitals concerts that will take place in the Iwaki auditorium at the ABC Southbank Centre on October 4 and 5 with three performers playing a full recital program in each concert.

After the recitals concerts on October 4 & 5, six finalists will be selected to proceed to the next stage of the finals – the chamber music round. In the chamber music round, the six finalists will collaborate with musicians from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to prepare and perform a chamber music work. These works will be performed in two concerts on Wednesday October 9 in the Iwaki Auditorium with three performers featuring in each concert.

After the chamber music concerts on October 9, three finalists will be selected to proceed to the next and last stage of the finals – the concerto round. The three finalists selected will perform their nominated concerto with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman in the Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday October 12.

All concerts in each stage of the finals will be open to the public and broadcast live on ABC Classic FM.

For more details regarding the concert and broadcast times please visit our YPA page.

2013 Symphony Australia TSO Composers’ School

Paul Stanhope, Andrew Schultz and Maria Grenfell.

Applications for the 2013 Symphony Australia TSO Composers’ School (October 14-18) are now open. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is calling for 5 – 8 minute orchestral works, scored for double wind orchestra only. The School is a unique opportunity to experience an intense week of compositional training in one of Australia’s most beautiful cities and have your work rehearsed and performed by the TSO and recorded by ABC Classic FM. The 2013 staff includes Ken Young, Maria Grenfell, Andrew Schultz and Paul Stanhope.

The application form is available on our applications page and the TSO web site

Applications close 5pm on Friday 31 May 2013. Late applications will not be considered.

A new direction for YPA

2013 is the first year that YPA will run in its new format. The new look competition comprises of two stages: a preliminary round of national auditions, and a finals period held over nine days during which 12 young musicians will compete in recital, chamber music and concerto rounds.

The Preliminary auditions are happening in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane throughout March. Over 200 applications have been received from performers around Australia all vying for the chance to compete in the finals which will be hosted by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in October.

Finalists will be announced in early April so stay tuned!

Notes from the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras (AAPRO) Summit, November 2012, Macau.

Kate Lidbetter, CEO of Symphony Services International, attended the AAPRO Summit in Macau, from 3-6 November 2012.  The report that follows notes some important themes that gleaned from the various speakers at the event – it is not an accurate transcription of what was said (unless indicated) and reflects only the notes that she took throughout the event.  This document may contain some inaccuracies or errors, and some sessions were translated into English.  Please note also this report does not cover all sessions of the Summit.

Delegates were welcomed by Raymond Zhou, Executive Editor-in-Chief of the China Daily website.  He invited Madame Guo Shan, Chairwoman of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras, to speak to the delegates.

Guo Shan noted that she had attended other events that had attracted attention around the world. Classical music may have a shrinking market, but now we have events such as ClassicalNEXT. Why do we attend international conferences and events? It is very important for the growth of AAPRO. We will be able to influence more people. Since the Moscow Summit, the Alliance has attracted new people. Three new board members have been confirmed, and new members have been attracted to join because of our efforts. We welcome all these new members. We have maintained close contact with other organisations and orchestras, for instance from Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. The General Manager from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra has come to Macau.  We can see that in countries around Europe, many countries have participated in more Summit related activities. I have also travelled to China and attended China Dream. Mr Zhou will present to us what has been covered in these tours.

A number of video welcomes/apologies were presented from delegates unable to travel to China.  All wished the Summit well.

Raymond Zhou then introduced Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and invited him to give the keynote address to the Summit


Jesse Rosen

President and CEO, League of American Orchestras

Summit of Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras

November 4, 2012 Macau

Thank you Madame Guo! You and your colleagues, and many of you in this room have traveled to the United States to attend the League’s annual conference, and I want to express my gratitude for your participation. I am very happy to now be able to reciprocate by being with you at this important meeting, which promotes learning among our organizations and across international boundaries. Whenever I have the chance to speak at a conference, other than our own, I have two very powerful feelings. The first is admiration for the conference planners and organizers. I know with absolute certainty how much work goes into this! So I’d like to begin with a big thank you to Madame Goh, Rudolf Tang and everyone associated with the AA-PRO for creating what promises to be a very stimulating few days on innovation, a subject of great concern to all of us.

The second powerful feeling I have is enormous relief — that I can be here as a participant just like the rest of you. If the room is too hot or too cold, or you can’t find your way to a session; or if your PowerPoint projector doesn’t work, I know you won’t be calling me!

My remarks are titled “The New Work of Orchestras.” It would be more accurate to call it “the new work of American orchestras.” I don’t want to presume that the American scene, our issues and opportunities, are the same as any of yours. But I think I can best serve the spirit of this international meeting by speaking about what I know of the American situation. Then, we can look at what is the same and what is different, and begin learning from one another.

Today I will give you a brief look back at the evolution of certain basic values and practices in American orchestras. Then we will move to today’s changed environment and how it has affected our orchestras. Finally, I would like to take you through a series of new questions our orchestras are asking as they confront this new world, and add some thoughts on what those questions require of leaders.

Let’s start by going back to the early 1960s, the time that the modern American orchestra began to take shape. Under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the country passed legislation designed to eradicate poverty, improve education, put a man in space, and to finally confront — through federal policy and enforcement — the imperative to bring civil rights to all Americans. On the international front, the United States was determined to prove that it was now a world power in every arena, including the performing arts. So the arts held a significant place on the national agenda in the 60s and 70s.

In 1966, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities, as well as the first national park dedicated to the performing arts. In 1969, the Ford Foundation poured a half billion dollars into 50 American orchestras. Orchestras, ballet, and theater all were broadcast routinely on network television, when there were only three networks and no cable TV. Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, for example, were carried to millions of viewers on CBS television.

Under President Richard Nixon’s administration the National Endowment for the Arts budget literally soared, leveraging increasing corporate and foundation investment with it. This major new investment was intended to expand artistic activity to meet the demand of a population ready and eager to participate, train professional arts administrators, and improve the livelihood of performing artists.

So what changes did American orchestras experience during this period? Well, their 2 managements became more professional, mostly through the work of the League of American Orchestras, which launched its first annual orchestra management seminar in 1962. The largest orchestras also lengthened their seasons, with 18 of them playing year-round and thus able to offer their musicians a living wage with job security. The subscription system took hold, and endowments were built, to ensure a reliable income stream. Artistic excellence became the galvanizing ideal, expressed in mission statements that talked about becoming “the best, world-class,” and performing at “the highest standard of excellence.” And a single vision of success came to define that excellence: 52-week contracts that included domestic and international tours, recordings, at least one Carnegie hall appearance, and international caliber guest artists.

These practices and values were innovative for their time, and served orchestras well during this period of growth. Here’s a telling image that sums up just how well: In the 1960s the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s subscription renewal campaign consisted of nothing more than a one page letter listing the dates of the concerts — no artists, no repertoire, just the dates. And they were sold out on subscription!

From the 1960s through some time into the 1990s, audiences grew and the quality of performance achieved new heights. American orchestras not only toured internationally but played an important role in cultural diplomacy. Wages increased for many musicians, and practices in operations, marketing and fundraising solidified.

Now let’s fast forward to today. It’s no secret to any of us that the business and cultural environment in this second decade of the 21st century is profoundly different than the recent past I’ve just described. And it continues to change at a dizzying rate. Digital media has created an explosion of access to the arts and creativity. At the age of five my son – who is now only 9 — was making mash-ups and had produced his own recording on a CD, a technology that is now almost obsolete. Digital media has also challenged our ideas of excellence, quality, and even professionalism.

Think of the mp3 file — an inferior sound by any estimation — yet we accept it because it is the technology that permits ease of access and the widest distribution. Crowd sourcing and digital tools now make it possible for virtually anyone with a computer to create and distribute their content on a global platform, blurring the lines between amateur and professional. There are now 9,000 apps for creating music!

In the United States a huge generational shift is taking place: every 8 seconds someone turns 65, and by 2015, the American work force will be dominated by Generation X (people who are now in their 30s). Some major American cities now have majority African American populations and by 2050, whites will be a minority throughout the country.

Print media is rapidly giving way to social media, whose platforms continually change, causing unbelievable communications confusion for those trying to deliver their messages. And the new do-it-yourself, get-it-on-demand mentality wreaks havoc on those whose product delivery requires physical attendance at a fixed time and place. Meanwhile, the growing quality of Internet is closing the gap between live and virtual reality.

There are also big changes afoot in philanthropy. As I’m sure you know, the American system of government arts support rests primarily on tax policies, more than direct subsidies, to encourage individual and institutional giving. These policies, which form the backbone of our arts support, are now in jeopardy, since for the first time both political parties have included in their platforms a reduction in incentives for charitable giving.

Accompanying this public policy challenge is the growing demand for non-profits to create and demonstrate public value. The civic agenda of America’s cities places high priority on community building, on help to the underserved, economic development, and cultural equity — that is, on giving a fair share to all art forms, not just those who present the western canon in music, theater and dance.

So what impact has all this been having on orchestras? Straight lines are difficult to draw but we can certainly observe some correlations, including these key trends: The audience for orchestras is getting older, and Generations X and Y are participating in classical music at substantially lower rates than the Baby boomers did when they were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Next, subscription sales are steadily giving way to single sales and last minute purchasing, which has added significant cost and volatility to marketing efforts. And in philanthropy, funders and donors are challenging the amount of resource consumed by large, western canon arts producers in relation to smaller groups that focus on specific cultures. The arts’ share of total philanthropic support is decreasing.

Meanwhile as orchestras have confronted these challenges they have found that the standard responses of working harder, refining marketing and fundraising techniques, and getting back to fundamentals are no longer enough. My colleague Ben Cameron from the Doris Duke Foundation is fond of this quote from the American poet Adrienne Rich: “We’re out in a country that has no language, no laws…Whatever we do together is pure invention…The maps they gave us were out of date by years…”

Well if our maps are out of date, what are the new maps? And what are the questions orchestras have to ask that will lead to new levels of innovation? What is our new work?

I believe orchestras must re-examine seven key areas. They are: Mission, Artistry, Community, Audience, Sustainability, Collaboration, and Leadership.

The first question is about mission: Why do we matter? As I said, in the past orchestras’ galvanizing value was on artistic excellence. They offered audiences a simple transaction: you buy a ticket or give us a donation, and we’ll give you a concert — a great one. Of course I’m oversimplifying to make the point. But today orchestras must ask themselves –and many of them are — “Is this simple transaction still relevant?” A crystal clear answer is essential — not only to guide strategy and inform innovation, but also to grow support from both private and government funders.

This work has begun in the States, and we are seeing a shift in orchestra mission statements toward a greater focus on access and service for audiences and communities. Here is one old example: “The mission of Orchestra Blank is to foster and maintain an organization dedicated to the making of music consonant with the highest aspirations of the musical art.” Now here’s a new one: “The Blank Symphony Orchestra exists to create meaningful experiences through music.” Remember, there is no right or wrong here. The important thing is to ask and answer the question.

The same is true of the next question: How do we define artistry in today’s world? Artistic excellence has been our rallying cry, yet it is one of the least defined terms in our field. I suspect it was meant to encompass the quality of musicians, conductors, and soloists; the collective level of orchestral execution; and an acoustical environment that supports the conveyance of the true sound of the orchestra. Thanks to our friends at the Australian Arts Council, we now have a new term that seems more in tune with how orchestras are beginning to expand their thinking. This new term is “artistic vibrancy,” which the Arts Council define as the combined factors of community relevance, artist development, stimulating the audience, a fresh approach to preserving and growing the art form, and of course, excellence.

This new “vibrancy” framework poses a clear and broader set of questions for orchestra leaders to consider in their artistic activity. It adds the important outward facing considerations of audience and community, while also deepening the potential of our institutions to invest in the growth of their musicians. And did you notice that this new definition places the questions of relevance and audience squarely in the artistic realm, instead of relegating them to marketing or community relations?

I recently observed a fascinating example of a “vibrant” event initiated by the NY Philharmonic’s music director Alan Gilbert. Alan’s program was Ives’ Unanswered Question, Boulez’s Rituel, the 3rd scene of the 1st act of Don Giovanni, and Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras. Quite an unusual program, to say the least. But it was also done in an armory: a huge empty space that was set with the audience in the round on bleacher seats; three platforms for the orchestra spaced between the bleacher sections; and in the center, more audience on the floor. The action took place all around you, you were very close to the musicians and the action, and you could see your fellow audience members. The performances simply enveloped you. With marketing as creative as the program, it’s no surprise that two performances were sold out. The orchestra’s director of marketing told me that he saw barely a regular Philharmonic subscriber – it was an entirely new audience.

That leads us to our third question: What about our future audiences: Where will they come from? In our old way of thinking, the audience was defined as the people who bought tickets and came to the concerts. The audience mattered a lot because their purchases paid our bills and established our success. We believed that our audiences had always been primarily people older than 40 years old. We also believed that if we could just keep them buying big subscription packages and paying more every year, and if we could find more people like them, all would be well.

This worked for a while, but over time attendance began to decline. At first orchestras raised prices to keep income steady, but eventually both attendance and revenue began to slide. The price was simply too high.

As I mentioned, today we no longer have another generation waiting in the wings that is ready to replace our aging audience in the same numbers. Nor is seeking a new audience that look like the current one a formula for long term success. That would simply give us a larger share of a shrinking market. Today, we must be learning everything we can about people who are not yet members of our audience but could be: people who teach music, amateurs who play music at home, and other listeners who don’t come to concerts.

We know that classical music engagement online is high and 20% of the American public reports enjoying classical music. The question we must ask today is “How can orchestras create engagement and access for these people? What must we change about our pricing, customer service, concert design, and venues?”

For some people the answer may be about merging live and virtual experiences. In Miami, Florida the New World Symphony has a wonderful new concert hall that enables them to broadcast their performances live on the exterior wall of the building, which faces a park with a state of the art sound system. Often as much as half of the concert audience will go outside after intermission to watch the second half on the “wall cast,” joining thousands of listeners who are already there.

Several other orchestras have run successful experiments in lowering their prices, trading near term revenue for higher attendance and long term loyalty. And recent research on first time attendees, 80% of whom don’t come back, has identified promising strategies to convince them to return and eventually become patrons. In Memphis, Tennessee, symphony musicians have started a concert series in blues clubs. The programmer, the orchestra’s concertmistress, told me, “We need to grow our audience, and as musicians we think we have a role to play. This is where a lot of the musical people in Memphis happen to be.”

Closely related to the question of audience is the next one: Who is our community, and how do we relate to it? Traditionally, orchestras viewed the community primarily as the source of audience and support. Both were essential to generate necessary income streams, but the model was that the community gave and the orchestra received. The orchestra’s presence alone was reason enough for people to support it.

Today, orchestras must compete for resources and leisure time against an extraordinary array of opportunities. At the same time, civic leaders are turning to their non-profits to play a role in meeting community needs. So our old notion of community is not so well aligned with today’s expectations. For orchestras to remain vital and well supported they must ask new questions about community that extend beyond how much resource can be obtained. They need to ask, “How can the orchestra contribute to the advancement of civic health? How can we create access and engagement with more segments of the community? “How can our repertoire– both current and still to be written — relate to the themes coursing through our society?” In short, “how can we become good citizens?”

One avenue, of course, is through education. Many orchestras have deepened and broadened their educational activity, often partnering with schools. But there are so many more opportunities to expand the role of music in our communities. I am tantalized, for example, by the Atlanta Symphony’s new partnership with Emory University. Together they will explore the theme of “creation” from the perspectives of the arts, theology, and the sciences through a series of public symposia. Emory will develop a new curriculum to coincide with the project and the symphony will commission a new “Creation.”

Now here’s another example of orchestras responding to community needs.

I know some of you are familiar with El Sistema, the exciting movement from Venezuela that combines music education with social justice. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and more than ten orchestras across the United States have created similar programs with partner agencies, to reach children in underserved neighborhoods.

It can be difficult for orchestras to know how to advance their community work. The League has helped by creating an online tool that can guide them through the questions they need to ask.

Now so far we have looked at mission, at artistry, at audience, and at community. These are all familiar concerns. But the question that is creating the greatest tension today is, “What does true fiscal health require?” In fact, many orchestras may need to acquire new knowledge in order to answer this question.

There is a saying in English: “When the tide goes out, you find out who is swimming without a bathing suit.” The recession of 2008 exposed the financial fragility of many orchestras. But our data tells us that even before the harsh impact of the recession, which is still being felt today, long term negative trends had been in play for many years. From 2000 to 2010, attendance dropped and costs rose faster than income, yet orchestras continued to add concerts. This is not only unsustainable, but it leaves too many orchestras persistently fragile.

There were other risky assumptions. For many years, orchestras believed that a balanced budget and an endowment four times the size of its operating income were enough to assure fiscal health. Today, the high volatility in the stock market has made endowment returns less reliable while also greatly increasing pension liabilities. These factors have combined with continually rising health care costs to exert enormous pressure on some orchestras.

And here are other critical financial questions for today’s boards and chief executives: How can orchestras align cost with income? How can they understand their local markets, and avoid the trap of comparing themselves to those in different markets with different conditions?

How can orchestras achieve greater liquidity, and acquire enough capital to build sufficient cash reserves and invest in the research and development necessary to innovate and transition into this new world?

I don’t for a minute believe this is easy work and I don’t have all the answers. After all, just balancing the budget seems to take all of our ingenuity and energy. But I do know that if we are to make progress on these challenges, boards and executives will need to be transparent about their true financial position with all who have a stake in their success. They will need to plan and model for 10-20 years into the future, and to base that planning on facts rather than aspirations. That means resisting the pressure to satisfy near term needs at the expense of long term stability.

Here, again, the League has been working to help our members improve their knowledge and skills. This year we introduced a diagnostic tool that helps orchestras understand their true financial realities, their levels of risk, and how to plan accordingly. It is already creating greater transparency and promoting new conversations within orchestras.

Now the next question may surprise you: How can orchestras work with one another to meet their shared challenges? In the private sector, when demand changes or declines and resources to address the challenges are in short supply, companies often turn to collaboration. Orchestras have much to learn from this practice. How can collaboration within and across organizations help us generate solutions and mutual benefits?

In one example, the Chicago Symphony has created a ground–breaking concert program called “Beyond the Score.” These theatrical presentations use film, video, photography, spoken text, lighting and actors — along with the live orchestra — to help the audience delve more deeply into a specific work, its composer, and its context. Eighteen orchestras have already licensed Beyond the Score presentations. That has defrayed Chicago’s large up-front production costs, while putting into circulation a high quality product at a fraction of the cost that participating orchestras would otherwise have to pay.

In another example, a few years ago the League’s own “Ford Made in America” commissioning program brought together 68 orchestras from all 50 states to award a major commission — at a cost that averaged less than $1,000 per orchestra.

And remember the important research I cited earlier on capturing first time attendees? That was undertaken by a consortium of nine orchestras in major markets pooling their resources to support the work.

There is yet another type of collaboration that is very much part of the new work of American orchestras. Some of you probably know that our last conference featured a joint presentation by the lead negotiators from the United Auto Workers and the Ford Motor Company. Why did we do this? Because when American musicians, boards and managements struggle over extremely challenging negotiations, they tend to see one another as the enemy. But the level of conflict in some American orchestras today pales compared to the physical combat that occurred in 1937 when Ford was unionized. Today, Ford’s management and labor have found a new way of doing business: they collaborate. Things changed when labor and management realized that they were not each other’s enemies. That instead, they needed to work together to address a shared challenge: globalization. And that success in meeting this challenge would result in benefits for all parties.

While I have both appreciation and sympathy for the pain that today’s aggravated situations in our orchestras have been causing to musicians, board, staff, and communities, ultimately the challenge all of these parties face is how to adapt to the 21st century. If we put our collective energies into that work, I believe we have a chance for a vibrant future.

This brings us to leadership, and the last question for today: What changes are required of leaders? I realize that I have told an American story to a group of peers whose organizations may bear little resemblance to those I’ve just described. Funding schemes, relationships with musicians, audience dynamics, artistic opportunities, missions, may all be quite different for many of you from those I have discussed.

Perhaps some parts of what I have shared are relevant to some dimension of your work. But I believe that there is one overarching idea around which we can all engage on equal footing. And that idea is the need to grow our capacity to navigate and lead change. No matter how secure any of us may feel about the durability of our organizations, we can all count on changes that will present new opportunities and new threats. In both the US and Europe, the traditional funding schemes are now at risk. And in every country, to greater or lesser degrees, orchestras and the performing arts are subject to changes in political direction. Tastes continue to change, and there is every indication that the speed of developing technology will continue to accelerate, and impact our cultures and behaviors.

When my predecessor Henry Fogel was CEO of the Chicago Symphony, he solved one of the most vexing problems for audiences: how to find the concert program in a program book stuffed with advertising. Henry’s innovation was to simply have a tab created that could take the reader directly to the program. This is surely a great idea, but it was developed to solve a technical problem.

Today, our challenges are of a different order. We are being asked to adapt to an entirely new set of conditions. So instead of the problem Henry faced, his successors and all of us must confront the adaptive challenge of ensuring that we continually have robust audiences to read our program books. And, we might reasonably ask, are program books even still relevant given all the new platforms for delivering information about our concerts?

To meet adaptive challenges, leaders must have special skills. In fact, I propose that our ability to achieve meaningful innovation depends upon our ability to lead change and adaptation. There is a great deal of literature on this subject, but one writer whose work resonates with me is Ronald Heifetz, a top leadership scholar based at Harvard. Heifetz offers these four principles for leading change:

One: Step back in the midst of the action to get some perspective, so you can find out what’s really going on. Or as Heifetz says, “get off the dance floor and onto the balcony.” This paves the way for a clearer view of the bigger picture.

Two: Foster adaptation. That is, help people develop the “next practices” that will enable the organization to thrive in a new world, even as they continue with the best practices necessary for current success.

Three: Embrace disequilibrium. It is important to keep people in a state that creates enough discomfort to induce change, but not so much that they fight, flee, or freeze.

And finally: Give the work back to the people. Let others lead experiments that will help your organization adapt to changing times. You don’t have to shoulder this all on your own!

For us as stewards of an art form and of performing artists, the most exciting thing about change is the art itself. The western canon wasn’t born as a canon; it was born of the immediacy of the time and place that inspired its creators. As leaders we must insure that the orchestral experience, whether new music or old, continues to be supple and fresh, and that it is presented in ways that deeply engage our current and future audiences.

This suggests that arguably our most important role is to foster creativity in the context of our time. This work extends far beyond finding the hottest new conductor or soloist. We can look first to the members of our orchestras, whose talent and creativity extend well beyond the narrow roles we ask them to play. We can look to the 20 year olds on our staffs, whose knowledge of social media is far greater than ours and manages to stay current. We can look to the artists outside our field in videography, dance and even the circus– for creative collaborations. To the animateurs of all kinds who bring the unique ability to bridge the orchestral experience to audiences unfamiliar with our work. And finally, today’s young composers and performers possess a new found spirit of invention, entrepreneurship, and innovation, offering a tremendous opportunity for orchestras to be at the leading edge in artistry.

Our new challenge as leaders is to encourage, guide and shape these creative forces – along with all of our stakeholders – so that they work together to help orchestras better serve our time and remain central to our society.

This conference offers a wonderful opportunity to challenge each other and advance this vital and innovative work. I look forward to learning from all of you.

Thank you.

(Speech reprinted with permission from Jesse Rosen)


Jennifer Dautermann – Director, Classical:NEXT

Classical:NEXT is an international professional forum for classical music where people can meet with all sectors in one place. Each sector has its own meeting (eg AAPRO) but it’s also important to look beyond your own sector. All sectors engaged with classical music are involved. Classical:NEXT is brand new – there has been only one event to date.  But it’s very popular – 750 professionals from 41 countries came.  Over 4 days there were presentations, artists performing live, speakers and delegates. We want to build on this through cross sector networking. Users generate the content and anyone with a good idea is encouraged to propose it.  The event has 3 main parts – an expo, a showcase, a conference.

The expo is where most of the networking takes place. There were stands for 74 exhibitors in 2012 but it will be expanded in 2013. Showcases are for creatives to present themselves both live and via video showcases in which one person can present an entire orchestra. The person who presents doesn’t pay to attend, though they have to fund their own travel. A jury selects from proposals and is looking for high quality and what’s next. The deadline is 9 November but this could be extended by a few days if delegates are interested in applying.

The conference focuses on knowledge exchange and again, the Jury selects participants. They are looking for current issues, what’s next as special presentations.


Kate Lidbetter, CEO of Symphony Services International (Moderator); Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras; Saneyuki Yoshii, Managing Director of the Association of Japanese Symphony Orchestras.

Kate Lidbetter introduced the panel as follows:

Thank you for the invitation to speak to delegates at the AAPRO conference and congratulations to Mme Guo and her team for putting together such a wonderful few days of discussion and networking.

Innovation is the lifeblood of our orchestras.  Without it, we can’t build audiences, especially younger audiences.  Without it, we fulfil the cliché of simply being “heritage arts”, playing the music of dead white males.  Without it, we will stagnate.

Before I introduce our panellists, I’d like to tell you a bit about innovation in the orchestral sector in Australia.  As many of you know, I run a company called Symphony Services International, based in Sydney.  We provide a range of products and services to our members, the six symphony orchestras located around Australia.  More and more, we’re also providing those same services to orchestras around the world.  In addition to a truly wonderful artist development program providing training for performers, conductors and composers, we have a database of over 3500 program notes and annotations available for re-print.  We offer surtitles for orchestral works with a vocal component, we have a music library that we believe is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with over 460,000 individual items available for hire.  We have also started selling our groundbreaking Goodear Acoustic Shield internationally, with strong sales in the US and UK to date.

I’d like to give you a taste of some of the innovations implemented by our Member orchestras; the Adelaide, Melbourne Queensland, Sydney, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony Orchestras.  These orchestras range from just 47 players to over 100, most of whom are employed on a permanent, full time basis.  The Sydney Symphony has just returned from an extremely successful tour of China, where it performed 6 concerts in 10 days including Guangzhou, Tianjin and Beijing where the orchestra contributed to celebrations of 40 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and China (get pronunciation).  The SSO’s blog nominates some of the education concerts as highlights, including presentations and workshops with schools and tertiary institutions.

Earlier this year, the Sydney Symphony announced a major partnership with the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in Guangzhou.  This partnership is designed to assist the Australian government in creating closer political, economic, social and commercial ties with China.  Clearly it will also create closer musical ties as well.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is undertaking a unique program in 2013.  Later this month, the orchestra will present a concert called Symphony of Legends: Video Games Unplugged.  This is a compilation of some of the most widely heard music today from popular video games such as Starcraft II. QSO believes new audiences are best reached through new and innovative marketing and they have therefore created the position of Gamer in Residence. Believed to be a world first, QSO’s Gamer in Residence will provide a link between the orchestra and game players in Australia and will enable the orchestra to raise its profile in relevant ways among new audiences.

The Gamer in Residence is Australia’s leading Starcraft II player, a professional gamer who also has an interest in video games music and orchestral performances. He will work with the orchestra to promote the concert by actively participating on facebook and twitter and in gaming forums where people interested in music from video games are likely to be. He’ll also participate in interviews about the concert and professional gaming, lending a unique perspective to the concert’s promotion and the music being played. QSO hopes to hold a Starcraft II tournament in the lead-up to the concert, to create awareness of the concert and highlight its relevance to gamers. The tournament will offer prizes and attract the interest of professional gamers throughout the region; tournaments such as these can be live streamed or watched by non-professional gamers, introducing QSO’s activities to a new audience. This would be aligned with concert merchandising including mousepads and t-shirts as well as advertising on selected websites frequented by gamers.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra also has an innovative new program titled Secret Symphony.  It’s designed to give Melbourne audiences “up close and personal” experiences with the orchestra.  Unlike a traditional concert program, many of the performance details will remain secret until just before the opening bars are played.  Potential audience members must “like” the MSO facebook page and follow twitter feeds to get clues to what’s happening, where and when.  Concerts are not held at the usual times, or in the usual venues and to date, the activity has been a huge success.

These are just a couple of examples of innovation in Australian orchestras.  When I asked my colleagues to provide me with some information to bring here to you, I was flooded with great ideas and plans – I had to choose carefully just a couple that I thought might be of interest.  Now I’m very excited to hear what’s going on in the United Kingdom and Japan.

Our first panellist is Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras.  

  • Director of the Association of British Orchestras, which exists to champion, connect and develop professional orchestras across the UK.
  • Graduated Oxford University,
  • Administrator of the professional touring theatre company Quicksilver Theatre for Children
  • General Administrator of leading drama conservatoire Drama Centre London
  • Head of Development and Marketing, Mountview Theatre School
  • Chief Executive of the National Operatic & Dramatic Association, the UK’s representative body for amateur and community theatre, during which time he served as chair of Voluntary Arts England.
  • Currently chair of the National Music Council, which exists to promote the interests of the music sector as a whole.

Our second panellist today is Mr Saneyuki Yoshii, Managing Director of the Association of Japanese Symphony Orchestras.  Yoshii-san joined the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at age 21 and remained there for a decade.  He worked in marketing and planning for the Yomiyuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and was General Manager of the Miyagi Philharmonic Orchestra (currently known as the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra).  He was awarded the 9th Nippon Steel Music Award (Special Award) in 1999.  From 2000 to 2007 he oversaw the management of this orchestra as Concerts and Operating Manager and since his retirement he has been an advisor to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mark Pemberton speech:


British orchestras have grasped the opportunities afforded by new technology for some years now. Indeed, two years I gave a presentation to this conference on just some of the exciting developments we’d seen from our members. But before I show you some more recent initiatives, I want to ask a question.  Why innovate? Why do orchestras feel the need to embrace new technology, when their core business is to present the great classics on the concert platform?

Well, the key to answering this question lies in an orchestra’s mission. British orchestras now understand that their business needs to extend beyond the concert hall and beyond their traditional audience.  A common mission across our members is to perform the highest quality music to the widest possible audience. And it is the “audience” that lies at the heart of the innovations I want to present to you today.

Some of the motivation for this comes from funders. Both public and private investment is increasingly linked to maximising the reach of the orchestra and generating a social return on investment. But there is also this sense that the audience is changing. There will always be an audience for the traditional two hour concert in the hushed confines of the concert hall. But we have the potential to go so much further than that, to engage with a wider audience with different expectations of contemporary art and entertainment.

So the three presentations I want to show are all about reaching that different audience. The first springs from some research carried out in London which showed that, contrary to the assumptions of the orchestras’ marketing departments, they did not each have their own distinct and loyal audience. Instead, it showed that many people made little distinction between the 7 orchestras – it was the attractiveness of each concert, with some bias towards the concert hall, that drove the audience into the hall. And it also showed that the student audience (and there are over 400,000 students in Higher Education in London) was particularly fluid and under-developed. So those marketing departments broke the habit of a life