Metaphor for music school’s troubled times

THE powerfully conflicted music of Dmitri Shostakovich’s cello concerto, played by School of Music graduate Julian Smiles and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra last night, seemed the perfect metaphor for troubled times. 

Exit for violist Tor Fromhyr

For visible on stage at the concert were faces unlikely to be seen in Canberra for  much longer.

Already long gone from the ANU School of Music as full-time staff, but still playing for the CSO, were concertmaster Barbara Jane Gilby (violin/viola), Richard McIntyre (bassoon) and Max McBride (bass).

As well, there were staff who had recently taken the package, unable to compromise with the new structure proposed by the ANU since May – Susanne Powell (piano), Megan Billing (oboe), Virginia Taylor (flute) and Alan Vivian (clarinet.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, news had come to hand only hours before the concert that the distinguished violinist and violist, Tor Fromhyr, was one of five staffers who for professional and personal reasons (some have young families) wanted to be a part of the new structure, but whose applications were rejected yesterday by the school.

You began to wonder who will be left to perform, especially when it emerges that among the five to go were also Alice Giles (harp) and her pianist husband Arnan Wiesel.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the list of departures looks like a Who’s Who of Australian music (see below).

In fact the only classical performer left on staff was the all-purpose percussionist and enthusiast Gary France.

“CityNews” has been told that jazz saxophonist John Mackey remains, as well as educationist Susan West.

Among the names on yesterday’s list that have raised eyebrows are those of Ruth Lee Martin and Jonathan Powles, both lecturers in (theory/history).

Both have doctorates, contradicting the view that the ANU would accept staffers with Ph.Ds. Both, in differing degrees, supported changes to the music curriculum, though Lee Martin toned down her original reactions to the proposals made by the University.

Powles is a different case altogether. As chair of the Education Committee, he was deeply involved in planning the new curriculum and in June he argued at length in “The Canberra Times” that changes were needed to make the school less elitist, saying that the issue was “one of relevance”. He is widely regarded (including my members of the ANU Choral Society, which he conducts) as the architect of the changes which have now seen him rejected.

Last night Dr Powles was tweeting and Facebooking, openly blaming vice-chancellor Ian Young and chancellor Gareth Evans for the destruction of music at the ANU. Powles says this been re-tweeted  by ABC “Media Watch’s”  Jonathan  Holmes, among others.

The classical exodus list from the ANU School of Music from 2008 on, is as follows:

2008: Staff let go – Richard McIntyre (bassoon), Deborah Crisp (history/theory), Max McBride (‘bass) David Pereira (‘cello) , Barbara Jane Gilby (violin/viola), David Nuttall (oboe), Tom Burge (trombone) Steve Rosse (tuba)

2012: Voluntarily departed after changes announced – Susanne Powell (piano), Geoffrey Lancaster (keyboard), Virginia Taylor (flute), Alan Vivian (clarinet, Megan Billing (oboe), Alan Hicks (vocal coach), Christina Wilson (voice) Louise Page (voice), Olle Palmquist (aural teacher), Alistair Noble (music history/theory), Dominic Harvey (French horn) and Stephen Bennett (voice),  Jim Cotter (composition).

2012: Staff prepared to be a part of the new structure but who have not been given a position – Arnan Wiesel, (piano) Tor Fromhyr (violin/viola), Jonathan Powles (theory/history), Ruth Lee Martin (theory/history), Alice Giles (harp).