It is truly extraordinary what happens when Sydney’s classical music community bands together. Within just a few weeks a committee of dedicated musicians and organisations created and presented a heartfelt and uplifting bushfire fundraiser concert, including a live broadcast by the ABC. Alongside many of Australia’s leading musicians, over 200 artists and 50 technical and support personnel donated their time to be part of this concert which was held at a packed out City Recital Hall. Venue fees were waived and 100% of ticket and bar sales were donated to the Australian Red Cross, WIRES Wildlife Rescue and a number of other charities. What a privilege to be one of the lucky few who bought their tickets early, the concert sold out 10 days before the event!
After a beautifully melancholy acknowledgement of country by William Barton and Veronique Serret on digeridoo, violin and vocals, MC Margaret Throsby announced that already over $70,000 had been raised through ticket sales and ABC listeners who had donated the price of a ticket in lieu of being able to attend in person, and this figure was rising by the minute. All this generosity was rewarded in spades as the performers presented an eclectic but incredibly well performed program of music.
The music ranged from brand new Australian works (such as Luke Byrne’s Earth Rise, which was premiered at the Dawn Chorus concert at Sydney Opera House just a few days prior to this concert) to early music on period instruments (Monteverdi, Rameau) and popular classics (Schubert, Mozart, Bach). Works chosen by the performers all had a connection in some way to the theme of the concert, for example pianist Sally Whitwell and flautist Sally Walker performed Whitwell’s Road Trip, inspired by her frequent long commute through the green bush-lined freeway (now blackened) between Sydney and Newcastle. Elena Kats-Chernin chose pieces that evoked the much yearned for sound of rain. Erin Helyard led an orchestra of superb musicians from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Pinchgut Opera and Australian Chamber Orchestra, among others, in Peter Sculthorpe’s musical description of an Australian rural community, Small Town.
With so many talented performers including singers from Cantillation and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Kathryn Selby (Selby and Friends), James Burke (clarinet), Helena Rathborne (ACO), Julian Smiles (Goldner Quartet – complete with musical themed socks) it is terribly difficult to call out individuals, but I will say how much I enjoyed watching conductors Luke Byrne and Erin Helyard literally dance through the program, it was such a joy.
Probably the most hilarious performance of the evening was also the most poignant. Christine Johnson’s alter-ego ‘Madame Lark’ was a combination of saw playing (yes, straight from the tool shed and very Australian-bush-themed indeed) and local bird calls. Her body and face morphed into the personification of the birds as she whistled and warbled through the songs of our bush, now sadly quietened by the devastating fires. A touching reminder of lost native fauna and the flora that sustains it.
In an appropriate finale involving all the evening’s performers and a surround sound choir the Dona Nobis Pacem from J.S Bach’s Mass in B Minor BWV 232 culminated in a well deserved standing ovation.
Thank you to the Sydney classical music community who donated their time and money to this event. It was an extraordinary show of generosity of spirit and, well, just an extraordinary show full stop.
If you wish to make your own separate donation please visit the below websites: