Music festival: From bitter ashes, music’s future rises

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Music reviewer Judith Crispin.
Music reviewer Judith Crispin.
THE first days of Canberra’s 2013 International Music Festival were a bittersweet reminder of why this city has always valued its musical heritage.

For many decades the Australian musical elite would flock to Canberra, hoping to be accepted into the School of Music, the most prestigious conservatorium in the country. And for many decades the public understood exactly why they came – graduates of the Canberra School of Music left the city for Julliard, for the Australian Opera, for the European concert stage.

Music was the jewel in the capital’s crown until this time last year, when the university announced that a performance-focused music school would no longer be funded. Since then, musicians have left Canberra in droves – some by necessity, to find work in other cities, and some by choice.

Many stand-out performances of the last few days were given by musicians who will have moved elsewhere by the time of next year’s festival. Even this year, the number of out-of-State performers and composers outweighs those from our own city.

Proud Canberrans could not fail to be moved by the massed local choirs of the opening gala concert at Albert Hall, or Louise Page’s breathtaking performance of Sculthorpe’s “The Great South Land” on Saturday night.

And one might be forgiven a moment of sorrow during the Saint-Saëns on Sunday, noting that our own Max McBride, Vernon Hill and Alan Vivian may not play together many more times.

However, this festival has also planted the seeds of something new and it was heartening to see new Music School director Peter Tregear providing the narration for the Sculthorpe – whatever the university may decide, it is nonetheless clear that Tregear means to bring music back from the ashes in Canberra, and this festival may well help him do that.

Each of the concerts so far has been presented to packed audiences, thunderous applause, standing ovations and, in the case of Sunday’s concert, “Carnival of the Animals”, even appreciative dancing (by tiny music lovers).

The festival brochure lists a surprising number of local sponsors and benefactors, something more commonly found in visual art rather than music.

The people have spoken – they roared last year when the musicians were fired from the university and they are still roaring today, and every day of this festival.

Music lives on in Canberra and though we may need a little help from neighbouring performers for a while, the rebuilding has undoubtedly begun.

In the meantime, I hope we continue to honour our own local composers and performers while we still have them.

Judith Crispin is a composer, writer and artist and the director of Manning Clark House.


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