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Music Theatre in Australia: How Lamentable the Level of Discourse

VCA_Broadcast_BannerIt will come as no surprise to those who follow this blog, that I was haughtily lambasted by a few people who reacted to my distillation of John Senczuk’s paper for Currency House Platform as the lamentable proposition that it is – now euphemistically etched into the Oz musical theatre community’s vernacular as the “Perth Solution.”  Those who looked more carefully would have discovered that I was only one of several people who decried the ignorance inherent in that missive.

But this level of discourse is only symptomatic of a much larger malaise afflicting the industry in this country.  I’m not sure what name this malady goes by, but it has a scent that reaches all the way across the pond. Let me give you some examples.

In the latest University of Melbourne, Faculty of the VCA and MCM BROADCAST, a slight pamphlet of self-promotion for the performing arts at the University, the triple-threat, Phoebe Panaretos (currently doing a fine job in the stage version of Strictly Ballroom) is quoted as saying, “We don’t have the freedom, like they do in America, to change the cast, cut songs and try it out for a year off-Broadway. … If we’re going to get to that level, producers need to be more flexible with time.”  OK, so I know what Ms. Panaretos is getting at, but the conclusions she draws from some distant observation of the American musical theatre industry are, to be kind, somewhat wide of the mark.  Really, there ain’t much ‘freedom’ and secondly, the issue is not got anything to do with the flexibilities of time management by said, grouped, ‘producers.’  What is definitely true is that the functional systems in place to develop and refine new musical theatre, commonplace as they are in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto etc., do not exist in Australia – and therefore, to be entirely fair to Ms. Panaretos, whilst her facts are erroneous, her instincts are good. Continue Reading →

Revisiting The Maestro Myth – PART II

ConductorIf I wanted to synthesize an argument and critique about the training opportunities and programs for young orchestral conductors in Australia, it could not be better encapsulated than in this gorgeous quote from conductor, Hannu Lintu, in Toby Deller’s interview with the Finnish maestro published in the January 2014 edition of Classical Music.  Hannu remarks, “In Finland, our system is ideal for young conductors. When you start to study conducting you can get jobs with the biggest orchestras in Finland because they want to be part of our schooling and part of the Finnish conducting tradition.” (Classical Music, January 2014, 36).

If Hannu had trained in Australia, the remark might have easily read, “In Australia, no system exists for training conductors. When you start to study conducting you can’t get a job either for love nor money with the biggest orchestras in Australia because they don’t want to be part of our schooling and part of the Australian conducting tradition – besides the fact, there isn’t one.”  OK, other than this misappropriation – intended with the tongue fully pressed into the cheek – the truth is, that there is a training opportunity, of sorts, in Australia through the Symphony Services Australia ‘Conductor Development Program’.  The problem with this program is that it is simply inadequate.  Sorry, scream and hurl invective all you like, it is an unfortunate and unpalatable truth.  We all know it, we just don’t dare say so, as we all know what happens thereafter behind closed doors in the very ‘cliquey’ Arts world in Australia.

James Rhodes in an article in The Guardian in September 2013 forcefully proclaimed, “The problem with classical music is that the whole industry is so deeply ashamed of itself, so unremittingly apologetic for being involved with an art form seen as irrelevant, privileged and poncey, that it has gone to unfortunate extremes to over-compensate.”  Australia’s efforts to train conductors up to this point similarly smacks of this ashamedness and apologeticism.  ‘We do it, but only because we need to seem to be’ is an uncomfortable actuality and undoubtedly prickles those who would rather evade the issue altogether.   But, let’s be fair: the SSI program has had, or at least overtly proclaims to have had, notable successes.  However, I would argue that most of these ‘notable’ successes came from the successors having lived, studied and worked overseas for lengthy periods – and not from the disjointed, part-time, and curriculum deficient training that substitutes for training budding maestri in Australia.

So what is the answer? Continue Reading →