WHEN Kirsten Williams takes the stage as concertmaster for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s coming “Richard Gill – In Memoriam” opera gala, she’ll be on very familiar ground.
Williams, while best known in Australia as associate concertmaster with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, has another string to her bow with her well-known involvement with music-for-healing purposes. In 2014 she was named Volunteer of the Year for her work playing to the babies in the intensive care unit at Westmead Children’s Hospital.
As well, she is patron of the Goulburn Strings Project, which sees violins provided to disadvantaged students from year 2 to 6 at Goulburn Public School, proving, she says, what the late CSO director Richard Gill used to say – there are classroom benefits in maths and reading to be gained from a musical education.
She is stepping down from the SSO after 16-plus years and now plans to divide her time between Sydney and Canberra – increasingly in Canberra, she hopes, with regular side trips to teach the kids in Goulburn.
She’s only been CSO concertmaster since early this year leading the orchestra for the outdoor Riverside concert in Queanbeyan – “I was surprised at how many were there, it was thrilling.”
According to Williams, the CSO musicians are having a wonderful time playing Monteverdi, Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini, Cole Porter and even Sondheim in preparation for the orchestra’s night of nights with soprano Jacqueline Porter and bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman.
Gill, whom she and many other Australian musicians revered, was a known opera-lover and in his time directed Oz Opera and the Victorian Opera, so she believes that he would be “very pleased with this”.
The gala will be conducted by Jessica Cottis, a graduate of the old Canberra School of Music, a significant conductor on the international scene and a prominent advocate for musicians in England.
“Jessica is one of the few conductors who can apply a unique level of eloquence in her ability to talk to the audience,” Williams says.
“She can hold the orchestra’s attention, too, and it’s something fresh.”
She should know. At the last CSO Llewellyn Series concert when oboist Diana Doherty’s instrument suffered an unfortunate accident, the orchestra looked nervous until Cottis held the audience’s attention entertainingly while Doherty ducked back to her hotel to fix the problem.
“It’s not just the way she delivers herself, it’s what happens when she’s conducting – communication is so important,” Williams says.
As it happens, the coming opera gala takes place on election night, so speculation is rife as to whether Cottis will be giving a running commentary on that, too.
Canberra Symphony Orchestra Opera Gala, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm, Saturday, May 18. Book at cso.org.au