Sitsky’s music for the young

GIRLS Grammar School piano teacher, Suzanne Hewitt, chose an  unusual way of marking the 80th birthday year of Canberra’s most famous composer, Larry Sitsky, the first of many planned events leading up to his actual birthday on September 10.

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At a concert held in Girls’ Grammar’s recital room, 19 of Hewitt’s  students performed works by Sitsky, most taken from his  collection of compositions entitled “Century.”

The ambitious young pianists were Miranda Summersby-Mitchell, Elissa Gallop, Pip Bull, Olivia Vane-Tempest, Janine Chan, Michael Vincent, Kirsty Field, Fergus Stafford (cello), Tallulah Farrow, Dan Hirst, Liam Martin, Ellen Thurlow, Cian Boesen, Elizabeth Abhayaratna, Stephen Brighente, Catherine Barnsley, Siena Barry, Jessica Wu and Hamish Stafford.

Although to the untutored ear, many of the works seemed to be fiendishly difficult, the young artists approached them with confidence and style. Some were performed solo on the piano. Some were duo (four hand) piano performances. In one case the very tiny pianist only just manages managed just to stretch his fingers sufficiently wide to hit the notes, as he did to perfection.

All the students had something to say about the challenges, Stephen, who performed “Indian hand game,” commenting, “I can’t believe how difficult this is”, while Miranda said of “Turkish folk music”  “this reminds me of a market” and Rachel, performing “Carillon”, said “this consists of jarring sounds that somehow fit together properly.”

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In fact, the works were written for children with specific technical problems woven into each piece. Sitsky has said that he never writes down to young performers, merely composes at the appropriate technical levels, but that he still regards each work, no matter how short or simple, as a serious work of art.

At the end of the recital, Sitsky told those present how, over the years,  he’d “learnt to face the music.” He assured those present that the music he had written for younger performers was “not in any way condescending, but limiting the technical requirements.” There is no way, that he could approve the common practice of giving young people “bad classical music, simplified.”

He entertained the students by describing an occasion when an examination student in piano told him one of the works on the exam was by a  composer who “had been dead for years.” It was Sitsky’s pleasure to tell him, “I wrote that,” but he was taken aback when the student burst into tears in astonishment.


After presenting certificates and signed copies of his musical score to all the young artists, it was time for Sitsky to join them for tea, coffee, 270 Tim Tams and happy snaps.

Hewitt told Citynews that she was ex-Sitsky student and that she “thought that this would be a lovely way to start the year for him”.


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