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Brett Kelly conducts Berlioz

by Suzanne Yanko

This Saturday Brett Kelly conducts the Berlioz Requiem, with the massive 63rd Intervarsity Festival Choir and Melbourne Youth Orchestra. Although the work is rarely performed, Kelly is no stranger to the choral and orchestral repertoire, thanks to his many years as a trombonist. Melbourne audiences tend to think of Brett Kelly as “belonging” to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, but it’s as a conductor that he is better known in the wider arena. His engagements have included numerous return visits to orchestras in Australia and New Zealand. He has been Resident Conductor of Chamber Made Opera since 2003. With Chamber Made Opera Kelly has conducted nine new Australian operatic works since 2003, receiving a Green Room Award nomination as Best Conductor of an Opera in Melbourne for The Hive by Nicolas Vines. For the Victorian Opera in December 2010 he conducted the première of a new work based on Patrick White’s The Cockatoos composed by Sarah deJong. Between 1989 and 2004 Kelly was Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of The Academy of Melbourne and has conducted many CD recordings for NAXOS, Tall Poppies and ABC Classics. His recording of the Rodrigo Concertos featuring Slava and Leonard Grigoryan was nominated for a 2006 Aria Award. Brett has also conducted the orchestral scores of more than twenty five international films including Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. There’s no doubt that it all started with the trombone. – and that was when Kelly was “a working class kid” in Newcastle, son of a father who made beautiful gardens for BHP. Life was simple: “I’d go and play in the bush … and only come back when I was hungry”, he recalls. Chance changed everything with a school music program when he was 12 years old. As instruments were handed out, young Brett scored a trombone “because I had the longest arms”, he grins. It was the beginning of a love affair that still continues. From his early teens, Kelly toyed with the idea of becoming a musician. “Full-scale orchestral music made my blood boil”, he said. Music camp with the Australian Youth Orchestra at age 21 fixed his resolution. “I said no to teaching; there were too many other exciting options”, Kelly recalls. A stint with the Opera orchestra at 23 clinched it. “This is my job”, he thought … and just 16 months later the MSO job came up. Opportunities for conducting were present, even in Newcastle, but once Kelly decided to explore that path opportunities kept coming. “One of my faults is, I love it all”, he said. Kelly has been Principal Trombonist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra since 1981 and during his career has occupied a number of similar positions in, and beyond, Australia. Less known is his commitment to contemporary music. as a core member of ensembles Flederman, The Seymour Group and Elision, and his conducting of more than two hundred new works. But what of the Berlioz? The work is one of two Requiems to be presented as the high point of this year’s Intervarsity Choral Festival, with choristers having prepared in their home states before coming to Melbourne for a two week rehearsal program. “They’re excited”, says Kelly of the student participants, “ There will be a great spirit (in this performance)”. He speaks of the choir meeting challenges such as “the high tenor line”, and similarly of the performance of young soloist, Daniel Todd. They’ll have great support in the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, recognised as one of the finest orchestral training programs in Australia, existing to promote the artistic, personal and professional development of highly gifted young instrumentalists. The Berlioz is sure to be the highlight of this year’s program of elite performance for the ensemble. The composer, Hector Berlioz “was a wonderfully weird person”, Kelly says, with obvious appreciation. “He had a different perspective; in 1837 everything was on a grand scale, with a massive choir … but it’s wonderfully suited to this choir”. Hector Berlioz’s Requiem Op. 5, also known as the Grande Messe des morts (Great Mass for the Dead), is one of Berlioz’s best-known works. Composed in 1837, it was commissioned by Adrien de Gasparin, the Minister of the Interior of France, in remembrance of the soldiers who died fighting in the July Revolution of 1830. Kelly suggested that a Requiem, with its consideration of “birth, life, afterlife, the universe, heaven and hell, “ was something a composer would “potentially be emotionally invested in”. “The emotions are primal: they involve thoughts of one’s own death”, he said. But the audience is more likely to be moved by the life and energy of this performance. “I love conducting”, says Kelly. “It allows me to play a much more active role in harnessing the musical potential of performers There’s tremendous communication, and every performance is different. “I enjoy challenges – and it’s still a big thrill when you’re done”. For information about the Berlioz Requiem this Saturday 7 July go to www.miv.aicsa.org.au

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