In his insightful analysis of the coup d’etat that brought Louis Napoleon to power in France in 1848, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx famously commented:
“Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”.
The premiere performance of An Australian War Requiem, written by our generously gifted Music Director, Christopher Bowen, and set to a libretto by Pamela Traynor, that was held in Sydney Town Hall in August 2014, was a hugely important and very successful event for the Choir. In giving the second performance, in the same venue, on the significant date of 11 November 2018 as part of SUGC’s Sydney Sings™ series, the Choir and Christopher were perhaps tempting fate. If so, the result was a great vindication of the decision, and a repudiation of Marx’s bon mot.
The work’s exceptional artistic quality and emotional power were once again unambiguously acclaimed, and the performance confirmed that An Australian War Requiem deserves to be recognised as a masterpiece of Australian music. The Choir deserves to take great pride in having commissioned it.
An augury of success appeared some years ago, when we learned that the centenary of the First World War armistice, on 11 November 2018, would fall on a Sunday and we were able to book the Sydney Town Hall for the occasion. We were fortunate to recruit excellent musicians to perform with us, including five terrific solo singers, Taryn Fiebig (soprano), Ashlyn Tymms (mezzo soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Adrian Tamburini and Wade Kernot (basses). Taryn and Wade were making their debuts with the Choir and will be certainly be welcomed back in the future, while Ashlyn, Andrew and Adrian are favorite regulars of ours.
The large orchestra played magnificently. Stan W. Kornel returned as Concertmaster and was joined in the Strings section by regulars Inge Courtney Haentjes and Dominique Guerbois (violins), Robert Harris (viola), John Benz (cello) and Paul Laszlo (double bass), while the woodwind included Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Deborah de Graaff (clarinet) and the legendary John Cran (bassoon). Steve Machamer played the important timpani part. Our talented rehearsal pianist, Noah Peres, had an opportunity to go on stage, playing the celeste. There were important solos for Simon Wolnizer (trumpet) playing the Last Post, and for Richard McGregor (bagpipes), who played the Lament of the Lone Piper, which concluded the Requiem.
There were singers from two children’s choirs: Waitara Voices, directed by Jenny Bell, and Mercy Catholic College Chamber Choir, directed by Kathryn McGreal. The children sang beautifully and were a ‘big hit’ with the audience. The Choir was also enhanced by nearly one hundred guest singers, who are important contributors to the success of our Sydney Sings™ series concerts and many of whom perform regularly with us in this capacity.
The audience was substantial, largely filling the body of the hall. We were very pleased that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence as well as the Choir’s very generous benefactors, Mrs Annie Corlett AM and Mr Bruce Corlett AM were present. Our good friend, the great soprano, Joan Carden AO OBE who has given her name and time to the Choir’s biennial singing competition, the Joan Carden Award, was present with distinguished baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM, who has sat on the Award’s judging panel in recent times. We received goodwill messages from many foreign missions in Australia including Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey and the United States, and we were delighted that a number of representatives of these missions were in the audience.
We were very grateful to receive official support from, amongst others, the French Government through its office of the Mission of the Centenary of the First World War (La Mission du Centenaire); the Australian Government through the Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Government of NSW through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the City of Sydney.
An enormous amount of work was required to stage the 2018 event, nearly as much as for the world premiere of the event in 2014. Marilyn Gosling ably led a committee that has overseen every aspect of the project from sponsorship and marketing to assembling the guest choir. Choir President Jackie Rotenstein organized all aspects of the event for the day of the performance itself and Kent Broadhead, Vice-President, oversaw its delivery, supported by a team of volunteer choristers, their friends and family who covered front of house, choir organisation and management, and all aspects of staging.
All of these Choir members have the gratitude of their colleagues for ensuring the delivery of a seamless performance. A more tangible reward for all participants was the sight of the entire audience on their feet and all applauding generously after the work came to a close.
The overwhelming response of listeners to An Australian War Requiem was unqualified enthusiasm. This is as true of those who had experienced it in 2014 as for those to whom it was quite new. Many referred to its emotional power, which left them wrung out. Joan Carden put this eloquently: “I felt as if I had not drawn breath from the beginning to the end, so involved was I…… The powerful poignancy and reverence for the sacrifices made in that war are fully realized in Christopher’s work of genius. Bravissimo – particularly to Christopher for marrying the music so perfectly to Pamela’s moving and lucid text.” Annabel Baxter of the University of Sydney’s Alumni Council commented that she did not think she had ever experienced anything to match the performance.