Arts / Music, not Anzac-ery in ‘Flowers of War’ launch

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Aaron Chew on the piano and Chris Latham playing the violin. Photo Peter Hislop.
“I AM not interested in Anzac-ery”, artist in residence for the Australian War Memorial, Christopher Latham, told an audience at the Ainslie Arts Centre on Sunday (July 30) as he launched the 2017 season of his “Flowers of War” project – with music.

Christopher says Canberra has the opportunity during these anniversaries to reflect on the commemorations of the “Great War”, which is so necessaryconsidering the “obscene amount of suffering” and the fact that the European powers did it again such a short time after 1918.

Ankle-deep in a sea of red poppies, which were sent by women from the “5000 poppies” project in Melbourne, Latham joined by MC David Whitney, pianist Aaron Chew and soprano Louise Page, urged music lovers present, including Maj General David Chalmers and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to get behind this significant cultural program.

Latham especially thanked Maj General Chalmers, for having galvanised the Department of Veterans’ Affairs into funding the rediscovery of the compositions by the late Australian composer, Frederick Septimus Kelly, explaining that the department would also be supporting the coming “Diggers’ Symphony”, the highlight of the ongoing project.

Chris Latham in a sea of poppies, Photo Peter Hislop
Interspersed with music by composers of the era like Lili Boulanger and Ivor Gurney, he went on to outline the three concerts for 2017, stressing the likely cultural diplomacy outcome of “The Flowers of War”, which had the capacity to strengthen Australia’s relationships with France and Germany.

Latham, a dual citizen of Australia and France, spoke of the effects of World War I on the arts, arguing that both melodic music and artistic Impressionism had been destroyed by the war.

Be that as it may, the first of his concerts, “Monet’s Flowers of War: the last shining of the Belle Epoque”, will zero in on the work of the famous painter, described by Latham as “the rock star of French art”, who sat in his garden at Giverny, very close to the Western Front, painting waterlilies throughout the war. His eyesight was fading and his lilies were turning into violent reds, “a most unusual response to violence”, Latham said, promising those who booked into the first concert a “special surprise”.

Next up in the program will be a “pocket opera” created by Latham from music of the era about the role of women in World War I, under the title “The Healers”. Dutch soprano Simone Rickman and Australian tenor Andrew Goodwin will play, respectively, the Belgian nurse and the wounded soldier.

“I wanted to prove that healing is possible,” Latham said, explaining the influence of his own grandmother, who had been a nurse during the war.

The final concert, “1917: the Night is darkest before the Dawn” is intended to create a musical portrait of that tumultuous year, a day in which is known from a poster depicting the victorious Australian Army Band marching through the town of Bapaume, France, an event which was recreated by the Army Band earlier this year on the very same spot.

Davdi Whitney introduces the program, Latham l. Louise Page centre. Photo by Peter Hislop
As well as featuring 1917 compositions, the concert will feature a preview of the almost complete “Diggers’ Requiem”, a mighty work which will feature premieres of works by Nigel Westlake, Alex Lithgow, Richard Mills and Elena Kats-Chernin.

The Requiem will premiere in Amiens, France, on April 23, coincidentally the hometown French President Emmanuel Macron. In one section, 60,000 bells will be rung at the rate of 20 a second for five minutes.

The actual concerts in Canberra were just the tip of the iceberg, he said, and would live on in the many recordings, which have been made possible by his many colleagues, especially Page, mezzosoprano Christina Wilson, tenor Andrew Goodwin and pianist Alan Hicks.

Latham finished the launch by thanking his supporters, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Australian War Memorial the National Gallery of Australia and the High Court of Australia for their support, quoting arts patron Barbara Blackman: “When you sponsor a project it gives you closeness to it”.

“Monet: The Flowers of War”, James O. Fairfax Theatre, NGA, September 29 and 30.

“The Healers”, High Court of Australia, Tuesday, October 10.

“1917: the Night darkest before the Dawn”, the High Court of Australia, Wednesday, November 8. Bookings to

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