Simon Tedeschi: The Gershwin Collection

ABC 481 1872

Now that Simon Tedeschi has released two recordings separately for ABC Classics (Gershwin & Me; Gershwin – Take Two), this box set (both CDs) has been released. Tedeschi, who clearly has a great affinity with the music of George Gershwin, describes the style as a combination of “Russian melancholy, Cuban rhythms, African American blues language, all gulped down with a Manhattan gusto”.

Simon Tedeschi The Gershwin CollectionRialto Ripples Rag leaves no-one in the dark. It grabs you with its strongly articulated accents and robust playing, a hallmark that permeates the entire recording. Three Preludes was one attempt by the composer to make his mark in the classical arena. Strangely, this was a lifelong quest of Gershwin’s. In the mid-1920s, staying in Paris for a short period, Gershwin applied to study composition with the noted Nadia Boulanger who, along with several other prospective tutors such as Maurice Ravel, rejected him. She was afraid that rigorous classical study would ruin his jazz-influenced style.

Tedeschi chooses some of the finest arrangements to include here; Keith Jarrett’s arrangement of Someone to Watch Over Me, which is so seductive, and then there’s Percy Grainger’s take on Love Walked in and The Man I Love, showing Grainger’s sensitivity as pianist arranger.

Three pieces (with arrangements by the composer), ‘S Wonderful, Oh, Lady Be Good!, and Strike Up the Band, were all written for different purposes, one a popular stand-alone song, one for a musical and one for film, showing the diversity that was the composer’s music-making style.

The tenderness of Dave Grusin’s arrangement of Nice Work If You Can Get It, comes from a period in which this prolific American celebrated through his arrangements the work of Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein.

On this recording, however, you are not left just hearing Tedeschi as a fine (jazz) pianist and exponent of Gershwin, but also as an arranger, giving breath to his own Summertime, and I Loves You, Porgy, with hugely improvisatory flair.

Of course, no disc of Gershwin’s piano music could be complete without one of the landmark pieces in American music, Rhapsody in Blue. In January 1924, Gershwin reportedly learned from a newspaper article that he was meant to be writing a ‘jazz concerto’ for a programme of new American music to be given by the popular dance band leader Paul Whiteman a month later. Writing at manic pace, Gershwin composed a two piano version, which was then orchestrated by Whiteman’s arranger, Ferde Grofé. The composer, himself, was the solo pianist at its premiere.

On both Tedeschi recordings are versions of this work. A live recording with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Benjamin Northey) – using the Grofé orchestration, brings to life all the colours of New York City, from the underground subways, to the hustle and bustle of the sidewalk, and the streets conjested with cabs. It is manic, verging on the breathless, and at times sleazy, and even majestic. The second version included here is the piano solo version, which is equally engaging for its muscular drive.

The second CD, Gershwin Take Two, has many more pieces that perhaps are less known these days. Solo piano music features such as Promenade, Prelude (Novelette in Fourths), Prelude (Rubato), Merry Andrew, Three-Quarter Blues, Impromptu in Two Keys, as well as extracts or arrangements from shows.

Tedeschi also invites guest musicians to collaborate with him in some tracks, such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, with trumpeter James Morrison, which also shows Tedeschi’s own skill in jazz improvisation at the piano. A very dreamy Prelude (Melody No 17) sees the trumpet and piano duo explore the lyrical and harmonic gestures in this “song without words”. ARIA award winning singer, Sarah McKenzie appears, singing a sultry Embraceable You (from Girl Crazy), which contrasts with her alluring Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (from Shall We Dance).

Other tunes from shows are Sweet and Low-Down (from Tip-Toes), Do-Do-Do, Clap Yo’ Hands (both from Oh, Kay!), Jazzbo Brown Blues (from Porgy and Bess), Liza (from Show Girl), My One and Only (from Funny Face), I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise (from George White’s Scandals of 1922), Do It Again (from The French Doll), Nobody But You (from La-La-Lucille), Who Cares? (from Of Thee I Sing), most of which had lyrics written by Ira Gershwin (George’s brother). The forgotten lyricists here are Gus Kahn, Buddy DeSylva and Arthur Jackson.

Gershwin is one of those composers whose life was cut short too early (from a brain tumour), and one whose music sweeps you up in a rapturous experience of sheer joy.

In Simon Tedeschi we have a world-class pianist, who, probably more than any other recent musician, has placed the music of George Gershwin on a plane equal with his own musical understanding and virtuosic playing, as well as his honest performance regarding the intentions of the composer. Tedeschi’s innate sense of the style marks him out as an authentic exponent; it is as close to channeling the great composer-pianist as it could be.

In the words of the legendary harmonic virtuoso Larry Adler who worked with Gershwin himself (and with whom Tedeschi has also worked): “I just wish Gershwin were here… Simon is one of the finest exponents of his music I have ever seen.”

Cello Dreams

ABC 481 1629

The great American cellist once said, “The cello is the most perfect instrument aside from the human voice”. That perhaps explains why arias and other songs lend themselves to cello transcription so well, such as Handel’s arias Lascia ch’io piana (from Rinaldo), Par che mi nasca in seno (from Tamerlano) and Sondheim’s Goodbye for Now, as well as the folk song, I Will Give My Love an Apple.

Cello DreamsOn this double CD compilation set, there are 27 tracks of exquisite cello solos played by some of Australia’s most outstanding cellists. Dreamy is the mood of the music selections, and as a consequence the chosen repertoire is slow in speed. The cover photograph of a cello lying down (as if a person) in a grassy field is also suggestive that the music will be contemplative.

The majority of tracks are played by two cellists, Sally Maer (9 pieces), and Li-Wei Qin (5 pieces), whilst others feature Janis Laurs, Louise King, Michael Goldschlager, Julian Thompson, Suzanne Wijsman, Noeleen Wright, Daniel Yeardon, Anthea Cottee, Fenelia Gill, and Jamie Hey.

The accompanying forces should not be diminished in any way simply because this is a disc of solo cello music. The Melbourne & Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, Sinfonia Australis, and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra are put alongside piano accompanists and chamber musicians, including Anna Goldsworthy, Mark Kruger, Sally Whitwell, Genevieve Lang, Janice Preece, Catherine Strutt, Genevieve Lacey, Neal Peres Da Costa, Paul Dyer, and Michael Brimer.

As well as the expected inclusions, such as The Swan (Saint-Saens), Cello Concertos movements (Vivaldi, Haydn, Dvorak & Elgar), Cello Suites (Bach), Variations on a Rococo Theme, and Pezzo capriccioso (Tchaikovsky), Sonata movements (Boismortier, Saint-Saens), Cantilena from Bachianas brasileiras No 5 (Villa-Lobos), Winter (Largo) from The Four Seasons (Vivaldi), Sinfonia (Arioso) from Cantata BWV 156 (Bach), there are lesser-known pieces such as Promenade a l’automne (Tournier), an arrangement of the traditional Scottish, Unst Bridal March, Sicilienne (Paradis), Adagio (Zipoli), and the refreshingly new in Spiegel im Spiegel (Part).

This is a most beautiful recording, with truly delightful music, played with warmth, passion and at times charming simplicity.

The Celtic Songbook

ABC Classics 481 1981

Music of the Celts has always had a huge following, and this disc of 18 songs will find a large audience. Timeless melodies from Ireland, Scotland and Wales are performed by some of the leading musicians in Australia currently.

The Celtic SongbookSingers David Hobson, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Sarah Calderwood, Annalisa Kerrigan, Paul McMahon, Timothy Reynolds, Nollaig Casey, and Craig Newman, are accompanied by orchestras (Tasmanian Symphony, Australian Brandenburg, Melbourne Symphony and Sinfonia Australis), chamber or folk groups (Sunas, Carisma), as well as choirs (Cantillation, Brandenburg Choir, Choir of Trinity College – University of Melbourne).

There is a plethora of instrumentalists recorded here from Genevieve Lacey (recorder), James Crabb (classical accordion), Genevieve Lang & Mary Dourmany (harps), Paul Jarman, Lynnelle Moran (tin whistles), to Chris Duncan (fiddle), who all help in giving the arrangements an authenticity.

Those interested in Celtic music, or folk music in general, will love the selections: The Mountains of Mourne, Wild Mountain Thyme, As He Moved Through the Fair, Suo Gan, Do You Love an Apple?, Loch Lomond, My Lagan Love, The Cliffs of Dooneen, Bovaglie’s Plaid, The Last Rose of Summer, Danny Boy, All Through the Night and Fhir an Bhata.

The vocal and instrumental artistry shines through in every track. There is a genuine affinity that comes across with each performance. This is one of the best collections of Celtic music on offer. It does fall into that category of relaxation and evocative music, with its abundance of melancholic and sometimes haunting ballads, slow instrumental passages, and lack of energetic gigs. But, it is reflective music, which is so perfect for the soul.

From Broadway to La Scala

Greta Bradman, David Hobson, Lisa McCune, Teddy Tahu Rhodes
ABC 482 3700

Audiences applaud such compilations when four well-known (“popular”) singers are brought together, and a national tour is mounted, making the release of a disc of arias, duets and ensembles, an assured top-seller.

From Broadway to La ScalaMusical theatre selections are from The Sound of Music, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, West Side Story, South Pacific, Oklahoma and Carousel. From opera, we hear excerpts from The Barber of Seville, The Pearl Fishers, Carmen, and The Elixir of Love.

Best by far is the aria Largo Al Factotum, from The Barber of Seville with the splendidly grand and rich voice of Teddy Tahu Rhodes. As well, his Toreador’s Song from Carmen is another expose of fine vocal artistry.

He joins the lighter tenor voice of David Hobson in the wondrous Act 1 duet Au Fond Du Temple Saint, from The Pearl Fishers, in which the vocal ensemble is very satisfying.

Rossini’s Una Voce Poco Fa displays the widely acclaimed new voice on the operatic stage, Greta Bradman with all her richness in the low register and an ease and lightness in the upper realms. It is easy to see why Maestro Richard Bonynge, who in this recording conducts the English Chamber Orchestra, is championing Ms Bradman.

Lisa McCune gives so much joy in My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. It is a sheer delight, as is her solo from Oklahoma, Oh What a Beautiful Morning.

The finest ensemble piece is You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, even with these unequal voices at times. Individually, these voices have their own uniqueness and capacity to enthrall listeners, and I have no doubt that in concert or stage production, their performances would be enticing.

The harmonic setting of the duet, The Music of the Night, was somewhat odd, making one question why it was added at all. This is by far not the greatest rendition of this well-known song from musical theatre.

A similar curiosity arose with the opening track Hallelujah, an unusual take on this classic pop song by Leonard Cohen. Its first two verses were strangely conceived, but it settled and built effectively in McCune’s verse, and whilst Rhodes’s verse was good in itself, it was poorly mixed with the other voices. How does Cohen’s Hallelujah fit the Broadway to La Scala theme? A: Only with a stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, the inclusion of Nella Fantasia (a version of Gabriel’s Oboe with words) from the film, The Mission, seems again at odds, however, David Hobson’s solo here is perhaps his best, accompanied by the stunning voices of Cantillation.

A variety of orchestras (English Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia Australis, but primarily the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) gave this quartet of singers an authentic backdrop to enhance their performances further.

Droplets: 60 minutes – 60 pieces

ABC 481 1871

For those who have short attention spans, or as that perfect gift, this compilation album of pieces will engage every listener with its selection of music from every period, every instrumental combination, along with some choruses and vocal items.

Droplets CDNot only does the CD rip along at an almighty pace from Buxtehude to Gershwin, but it must delight radio broadcasters who scurry to find that mini track of music to fill a rare moment.

ABC Classic FM presenter, Guy Noble is thrilled with the release of this album.

“As a radio presenter, I have been searching for a CD like this for years, music by composers that bridges that awkward gap between the end of the Beethoven symphony you have just played and the imminent arrival of the Majestic Fanfare of the ABC News theme. You have thanked your producer and talked at length about what is coming up after the news, but there is still a minute of airtime to go. In the real world a minute passes by with ease, but in the world of radio it opens up like a giant ice crevasse in the Antarctic. You scrabble through discs to find a track short enough to fit the hole, but everything is too long. You know that if music is still playing as the second hand on the clock ticks from 59 to zero, it will be guillotined by the ruthless computer studio switch as cleanly as the head of Marie Antoinette.

“Now finally a CD that presents a delicious selection of minute-sized morsels of music that fill that pesky space…. (It is) a musical slide show of place and time,” said Noble.

There is Purcell, Beethoven, Handel, Orff, Warlock, Elgar, Goossens, Britten, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Granados, Schubert, Chopin, and Grainger amongst the selected composers.

But don’t count on Mahler, as there is none. His compositions never took less than an hour. No Wagner. And curiously Chopin’s Minute Waltz doesn’t feature. Why? Well, it lasts for one and a half minutes!

This is a great easy listening classical album. For the studio teacher, it would be a great end of year student gift, or even studio prize.

The Secret River

Original soundtrack by Burkhard Dallwitz
ABC 481 1824

The recently broadcast ABC TV Mini-series, The Secret River was richly supported by a stunning soundtrack, written, arranged and produced by Burkhard Dallwitz, who is one of Australia’s foremost screen composers.

TheSecretRiverCDcover The drama is based on Kate Grenville’s best-selling novel of the same name, which is an epic tragedy about early colonial times. It’s set in the early nineteenth century, on what was then the frontier, the Hawkesbury River, 50 miles beyond Sydney.

William Thornhill, an illiterate Thames bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep feelings, steals a load of timber and is transported to NSW in 1806. Like many of the convicts, he’s pardoned within a few years and settles on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. The Governor grants him land, but of course, conflict arises with the indigenous over the land.

The soundtrack is very beautiful, lyrical and evocative of the time without being pastiche, and is orchestrated for violin, mandolin, viola, cello, double bass, harp, flutes, whistles, bodhran, guitar, piano and virtual instruments. Interestingly, the strings were performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded in Prague. The composer captures a full range of expression, at times dramatic and powerful, whilst at other moments, sinister, poignant or eerie.

The composer writes: “As the drama builds … my approach was to have the music become more minimal and still. Perhaps this is best demonstrated by the tracks Staking a Claim, and I See You Dickie. These seemingly very different pieces are essentially the same theme. Staking a Claim, with its 6/8 time signature and harp and piano ostinato underscores Will’s (William Thornhill – main character) ambition to secure a future for his family, no matter the cost. The much slower and reflective tempo of I See You Dickie follows the same harmonic progression, yet underscores the terrible secret that Will has to live with for the rest of his life.”

The title track however is not composed by Dallwitz, but written and performed by Shane Howard and Archie Roach.

Sneek Peak at the Ashkenazy Steinway

Audiences and musicians were delighted when world-famous pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy was chosen as the Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2009, a post he held for five years.

But audiences had experienced the magic of Ashkenazy years earlier, when he toured in recital as a concert pianist in the 1960s. As an exclusive Steinway artist, Ashkenazy said, in 1957 that “Steinway is the only piano on which the pianist can do everything he wants, and everything he dreams. Steinway gives the pianist every opportunity.”

Ashkenazy AutographIt was from these earlier tours, that the Maestro was invited by the Sydney Opera House to select for purchase in 1991 a Concert-size Steinway grand piano. Known in the piano world as a Model D Steinway, the piano became known as SD6 in the Opera House as it was the sixth Steinway owned by the House.

Following this purchase, it was the star instrument that a galaxy of international artists played, including Lang Lang, Diana Krall, Evgeny Kissin and Ben Folds. Later in its life when Ashkenazy took up his conducting position with the SSO, this magnificent Steinway took up residence in the Maestro’s Opera House suite backstage. Before his departure from his post in 2013, Ashkenazy autographed the frame inside the instrument to remind those who played it of its unique providence.

So it was with some trepidation, that I agreed to play this most beautiful of pianos. Whilst having graduated in piano performance from the Sydney Conservatorium in the early 80s, my life had taken a different path in education. Of course, an opportunity like this was too good to pass up. Afterall, I had followed Ashkenazy as a pianist all those decades earlier, even collecting an autograph from him on one of his Decca recordings of Beethoven Piano Sonatas. As well, there were the countless concerts with the SSO that I had so enthusiastically attended.

Waking early one morning, I found myself with a terrifying fear. Here was the day that I was going to encounter this very instrument. It had not only been played (and autographed) by the legendary man himself, but had also been played by so many of the world’s finest pianists. The fear was, of course, based on the knowledge of the extraordinary hands that had caressed the keys of this Steinway.

And there I was, staring in absolute awe. I started by playing a Bach Prelude, and then the Chopin D Flat Nocturne. It was just perfect. The tone and touch was simply wondrous. The instrument itself was astonishingly seductive, somehow miraculously enhancing the sound. I could have enjoyed its company all day. But this was just a tantalising taste of perfection in piano technology.

In terms of its craftsmanship and reputation, Steinway pianos are widely regarded as the benchmark of excellence in piano construction.

“Because Steinways are painstakingly and meticulously hand-crafted over a twelve month period, each instrument develops a unique sound and personality over the course of its life,” said Australia’s leading piano technician, Ara Vartoukian.

“Like a musician, the instrument matures, so people can develop a real attachment to their pianos over many years,” he said.

Whilst owning a Steinway may see like a luxury for some, of course for others in the piano world, it is an absolute necessity. Lang Lang, another exclusive Steinway artist has said: “If I am to play my best, there is no way but Steinway”.

And the list of those cognoscenti who adore these pianos is not limited to the classical music arena. Of course the jazz world’s Harry Connick Jr, Keith Jarratt and Ahmad Jamal are also big fans.

It is no wonder that the world’s concert halls, conservatoires, and colleges are equipped with the very best in pianos. Many a family and aficionado also know of the great worth and long-term appreciating investment that is Steinway. With Steinways holding their market value so well, it always will be a remarkable investment and talking piece for any lucky owner.

The Ashkenazy piano will be available for sale at the Theme and Variations Showroom, 451 Willoughby Road, Willoughby on July 10-12.

(This article first appeared in Fine Music magazine, July 2015)

Bohemian Rhapsody: Choral Pop

ABC 481 0120

Fifteen of the world’s favourite pop songs are assembled here in choral settings that retain all the excitement, verve and vivacity of the original songs. Of course, pop songs set for choir often do not succeed, but these arrangements (by Dan Walker, Sally Whitwell, Daryl Runswick, Ward Swingle and Roderick Williams) are quite exceptional. Sung by the glorious Cantillation, Australia’s leading chamber choir, this recording is a real winner!

481 0120 Bohemian RhapsodyAll great selections, this recording covers many legendary pop artists or bands, such as Queen, Lennon and McCartney, David Bowie, Powderfinger, The Beach Boys, ABBA, Chicago, Toto, Sting, and Radiohead.

Resplendant vocal resources of the 21 singers of Cantillation are clearly evidenced in the title track, Bohemian Rhapsody, along with other tracks, such as If You Leave Me Now, Blackbird, Summertime, and Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves), These select singers produce an appealingly blended warm tone throughout, and the close harmony work is quite exceptional.

Vocal harmonies in Toto’s Africa are complemented by the inclusion of drums and percussion to retain authenticity in this song.

The solo voices of Dan Walker and Philip Chu are tantalisingly beautiful in Moon Over Bourbon Street, and How Can I Let You Go? respectively.

Mack the Knife brings to life the flavor of the Swingle Singers, with a rhythmically dynamic arrangement by the great Ward Swingle. No choral pop album could be complete without an ABBA song, and this disc ends with Mamma Mia, in a less predictable, but equally enjoyable version by Sally Whitwell.

Audio available on Soundcloud:

Truth Seekers, Lovers and Warriors

Joseph Tawadros
ABC Classics 481 1632

Immediately captivating, this twelfth recording by the Egyptian-born Australian Oud player, Joseph Tawadros is another extraordinary exploration of styles, blending authentic Arabic instruments and idioms with those of the West.

Truth Seekers, Lovers & WarriorsThe unusual soundworld created here combines Oud, Accordian, Trombone, Piano, Req (tambourine) and Bendir (drum), the latter two played by Tawadros’ brother, James. Other musicians are James Crabb, James Greening, and Matt McMahon.

Composed by Joseph Tawadros, the music’s spontaneity shows a deep heart-felt connection to melody and rhythm (with all sorts of twists and turns), as he pulls all these elements into an array of outstanding pieces with a unique story to tell.

From Odd Tango, to the centerpiece, Truth Seeker Suite in A, and the elegiac Three Sketches of Gallipoli (Dawn, Dusk, and Remembrance) replete with its references to The Last Post at the opening, there is a strong beauty that unfolds.

Each player’s virtuosity comes to the fore throughout, resulting in a passionate display as melodies are thrown from one player to another, creating layer upon layer of an intricate musical tapestry. At other times, the reflective side of the musicians is shown, such as in Dream with Me, You Take Over, and House of Tomorrow. One Note Nostalgia, however, is an exercise in rhythmic and timbral discovery, with contrasts evolving throughout various registers and dynamic.

This is a recording that should be heard many times, as it continues to excite the aural palette with its ability to reveal new sounds with each playing. This recording is a real gift of artistry to the world.

A QandA with Professor Karl Kramer

The following is the complete transcript of questions and the answers given by the Dean and Principal of the Sydney Conservatorium – University of Sydney, Professor Karl Kramer in February, for the purposes of an article to be printed in the March 2015 Fine Music magazine. On April 17, Professor Kramer tendered his resignation from that post (to take effect on July 17).

Karl Kramer

Karl Kramer

Q: In your survey of the past 100 years of the Conservatorium’s existence, what do you think would be the high points?

The Con has had numerous high points in its first century, starting with the conversion of the historic government stables into a palace for music education and performance in 1915. Founding Director Henri Verbrugghen (1915-1921) set the vision for the Con to ‘provide tuition of a standard equal to that of the leading European conservatoriums’, and several pre-eminent directors followed, including Dr Edgar Bainton (1934-1948) who established the opera school, and conductor and composer Eugene Goossen (1948-1955) who fashioned it into a world-class music institution. Other important milestones include:
• the expansion of the curriculum into pre-tertiary and university degree programs, as well as other music opportunities for the wider community; the founding of Australia’s first jazz course in 1973;
• the amalgamation of the Sydney Conservatorium with the University of Sydney in 1990, enhancing the Music Faculty’s international reputation and connections;
• the redevelopment and expansion of the Con site from 1997-2001, resulting in the acoustic marvel and world-class facility that the people of Sydney enjoy today; and, of course,
• the tens of thousands of talented alumni that have been nurtured at the Con and have carried the flag for Sydney throughout the world.

Q: In the short time that you have been at the helm of this institution, about what are you most pleased?

The Con is blessed with a hardworking team of staff and a talented and focused student body. The continuing support from the University of Sydney, the State Government, professional arts partners and our Sydney audiences make for a perfect storm of total community engagement.

I am most pleased with these initiatives of the last three years:
• the creation of the Pacific Alliance of Music Schools (PAMS) in April 2014 that saw the 12 elite music institutions from the Asia-Pacific gather at the Sydney Opera House to create an agenda and draft a narrative that would establish closer ties and foster exchange;
• the establishment of Estivo in July 2014, our annual European Chamber Music Summer School based in Verona, Italy, with over 45 tertiary music students from the Sydney Conservatorium taking part to perform over 20 concerts in three Italian cities in a two-week period;
• the creation of the Westheimer String Quartet Development Program and two new annual conducting and piano scholarships, thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors;
• outreach programs such as the University of Sydney’s annual Wingara Mura summer music program that offers an intensive music workshop to indigenous high school students (years 9 and 10); and
• this year’s launch of the Con’s brand new contemporary music performance program—the Bachelor of Music Studies (Contemporary Music) — to meet the changing interests and needs of the music world.

Q: As the premier performance institution in the country, what do you see as the Conservatorium’s current strengths?

We provide a comprehensive degree offering (Bachelors through to Doctoral) across the genres of performance, composition, music education, jazz, and musicology. Our incredible mix of distinguished teachers from Australia and abroad gives us an international edge. Our students learn from practicing composers and musicians from the Sydney Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Opera Australia, as well as other professionals. While performance-based training sits at the core of our curriculum where musicians may develop the skills and aesthetic to become successful performers, composers, or educators (or all three for that matter), students may also utilise a musical education in careers other than music. Additionally, programs of study such as the contemporary music degree help us remain current and relevant in a changing world.

Q: In your opinion, where does the Conservatorium fit in the world’s tertiary music scene?

There are no official rankings of tertiary music schools internationally. However, based on the student musicians I have seen perform over the last 25 years at the tertiary music schools in the US, Europe and Asia, students from the Con are competing on the same level and world stage. As a member of the Pacific Alliance of Music Schools (PAMS) and the International Benchmarking Exercise (IBE) group, the Con takes a leading role in calling the agenda and shaping the narrative of both these organisations. Subjectively (and totally unbiased of course), I am confident that the Con sits at the leadership table of comprehensive music schools throughout the world.

Q: How has, or how is the Conservatorium addressing the needs of a new generation in its acquisition of music skills?

Entrepreneurship is the current buzzword in arts education. But in my view, as John Cage used to say: “You can’t teach the Avant Garde; you can only increase the odds of it happening.” I celebrate the renewed vitality of the heritage we hold dear. I point to the intrepid soloists and chamber players who are colonising clubs and art galleries from state to state. I salute the superstar champions of the Western canon who reach out to unsung peers in jazz, folk, international pop, and world music, cross-pollinating traditions once rigorously kept apart. And I rejoice in the power of social networks to forge in real time a solidarity among multitudes, such as Beethoven envisioned in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony. When the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, numbering 101 musicians from 33 countries, played at the Sydney Opera House in 2011, a worldwide audience of 33 million tuned in.

We are equipping our students with technical and critical aesthetic thinking/reasoning skills, creating for them a wealth of diverse performance opportunities and exposing them to a faculty that sets the bar high and leads by example. We give our students the chance to excel and, equally important, to fail within the walls of this incredible institution. For Con students to make their mark in the decades ahead, they must assimilate the lessons of today’s trailblazers. More than that; they must acquire a habit of constant self-renewal. And we as their teachers must help them invent and nurture that skill set.

Then we kick them out of the nest and let them fly!

Q: Do you think classical music still has an impact in today’s society?

The need for music — the need to play it, to take it in, to share it with others — has been with us since the dawn of recorded time. The harps of Ur, discovered in 1929, date back some 5,000 years, which makes them as old as the invention of writing. Long unrivaled in their antiquity, they are in fact quite recent. In 2008, archaeologists discovered in a cave in southern Germany an exquisitely crafted bone flute, virtually intact. Carbon dating assigns it to the Upper Paleolithic period, some 40,000 years ago. Indeed, Australia’s own Aboriginal culture has survived continuously, on these very grounds of the Sydney Con for over 50,000 years.

Music is both universal and fundamental. Every culture in the world, it seems, has taught itself to coax sounds from a stretched hide, a hollow reed, or a vibrating string. Wherever a child is born or a couple marries or one of us leaves this world behind, we pour our joys and sorrows into music. As the expression of individual or collective spirit, music makes us human, as much as family, as much as language itself.

So does classical music matter; you betcha! You only have to attend a concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and other performances at the Sydney Opera House, as well as the many halls, clubs, and theatres in Sydney to see the large audiences that are regularly attending classical and jazz music events. If you have a minute read, Lawrence Kramer’s (no relation) book, Why Classical Music Still Matters (2007); he makes an eloquent and compelling argument. And by the way, Jazz IS classical music!

Q: Being an American, how does our tertiary music education differ from that found in the USA?

Where there is a love and passion for music, there are few differences. Music is a universal language and profession. We all read the same clefs and, in the end, want to tell a story to those who listen. I have found great joy in witnessing a consistently high standard of musical talent here in Australia and the great determination that the staff and students of the Sydney Con have shown in achieving musical excellence.

What I do notice, unlike the US, is that there is a great yearning and affection by Australians to learn about the music of their own country — classical, popular, folk, ethnic. In fact, the teaching of Australian music is embedded in the secondary school curriculum. This is a beautiful thing!

Q: Looking forward, where would you like to see the Conservatorium in the next 100 years?

Currently, the Con enjoys a strong position both nationally and internationally, as we wield considerable influence because of our teaching, research, and service to the musical community. It is my hope that we build on our strengths and influences, while continuing to serve the people of Sydney and, indeed, all of Australia as a cultural hub with the finest musical education available for a lifetime of learning.

* * *

To read Professor Kramer’s letter of resignation, go to