Music for the Anzacs

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Published: 17th April, 2015

As Anzac Day approaches, and with it the centenary of the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915, there is great diversity in the musical commemorations and tributes to the Anzacs. Our review of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Reflections on Gallipoli said the performance “set the bar high [with] an imaginative program that included compositions from ‘the other side’, the Turkish culture providing a wealth of music rarely heard.”

The ACO was not alone in this, and one of the highlights of many concerts is “new” music – whether rarely heard or specially commissioned – such as two works by Carl Vine presented by the ACO. The Australian Chamber Choir has already premiered its concert Soul Of Anzac, the title taken from a work by Brenton Broadstock.

As part of the Melbourne Musicians 40th anniversary season the program Folklore (Sunday April 26, 3pm, St Johns Southgate) includes in its imaginative program A Song for Gallipoli by George Dreyfus. It is Dreyfus in his serious vein, with the text by Charles Hamilton Sorley who died on the front in 1915, aged 20. “When you see millions of the mouthless dead”.
The fine young singer Rosemary (Rosie) Ball just happens to be George Dreyfus’s granddaughter!

And there are Anzac Day concerts from Diamond Creek to Deakin Edge at Federation Square, Melbourne. Close by, the Consort of Melbourne presents Lest we forget: Sacred Music for ANZAC Day, in St Paul’s Cathedral. It includes anthems by the Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov, composed in 1915; and the world premiere of a new work by leading young Australian composer Daniel Brinsmead for chamber choir and trumpet, setting texts including by Rudyard Kipling, whose poem “Recessional” is traditionally recited on ANZAC Day and includes the lines “Lest We Forget”.

Melbourne Bach Choir’s Easter Oratorio at All Saints, East St Kilda is a concert of festive and joyful choral music, comprising J.S.Bach’s brilliant oratorios for Easter and Ascension and the young Schubert’s early masterpiece – the popular Mass in G. The Melbourne Symphony is also looking to a big sound with its Anzac Tribute concert centring on Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 (“Choral”).

Victorian Opera’s concert Remembrance, based on songs from the World War One era,  premiered in Hobart on Saturday 18 April with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (and can be heard on ABC Classic FM on Thursday April 23 at 8pm). It’s a new work, with archival footage and photography. Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director and composer Richard Mills has specially arranged popular songs of the wartime era alongside the poetry and prose of Australian author and two-time winner of Miles Franklin Literary Award Rodney Hall to share a uniquely Victorian experience of war.

Using audio-visual materials sourced primarily from the National Library of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, Remembrance will be a journey through historic moments of the ANZAC legacy – from the Declaration of War, to enlistment and training, the Gallipoli and Somme campaigns and finally, the return home.Returning to Melbourne for a performance on Thursday 13 August, the new work will be performed with Orchestra Victoria at Hamer Hall before hitting the road and touring the State’s regional centres.

Away from the concert stage, there’s Black Diggers by Tom Wright at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, compelling contemporary theatre revealing a new perspective on Australia’s Anzac narrative in the forgotten history of indigenous soldiers.

Directed By Wesley Enoch (Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre Company) and grand in scale and scope, this meticulously researched production draws from in-depth interviews with the families of black diggers who heard the call to arms from all over Australia.

Leading up to Anzac Day of this special Centenary year Arts Centre Melbourne launches Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment and the Australian Experience, the major new exhibition curated by Arts Centre Melbourne. The exhibition will run from 18 April to 20 September and looks at the transformative power of performance in war time – from shows for the troops to the makeshift instruments smuggled into prisoner of war camps.

Classic Melbourne recommends every performance we have listed. But for sobering reflection on Anzac Day, we believe you can’t go past Scottish-Australian songwriters Eric Bogle’s classic, And the band played Waltzing Matilda (preferably sung by Bogle and with footage of the War that was meant to end all wars).




Material supplied to Classic Melbourne. Picture from Black Diggers.

Note: The information above covers only some of the Anzac-related performance in Melbourne. We suggest consulting local newspapers to find events in your area.