What does it take to succeed – to make a worthwhile contribution to a cause that is dear to your heart? Imagination, intelligence, expertise, courage, generosity and perseverance are a good start. Suzanne Yanko had all of these.
On Tuesday, April 5, Suzanne began her final journey after a life of astonishing accomplishments and variety. Founder and Chief Editor of Classic Melbourne, she was keen to support Melbourne musicians and music making in what was becoming an increasingly Sydney-centric world of Arts journalism, with mainstream newspapers devoting decreasing column inches to reviews of Melbourne concerts.
Suzanne’s extensive experience equipped her perfectly for setting up Classic Melbourne. The author of several books, she was also a free-lance journalist, including writing for The Age and Herald Sun, a broadcaster in Papua New Guinea, Australia and China, and a reviewer for Arts Hub. A website featuring reviews, news, viewpoints and calendar of performances, in addition to social media outlets such as Facebook, have been central to spreading the word about classical music events in Melbourne. The promotion of important community initiatives in which music plays a major role has remained of key interest to Suzanne – The Choir of Hard Knocks has been one example.
It takes more than journalistic experience and excellent intentions to undertake an enterprise such as Classic Melbourne and, what is even more important, keep it going for years. Suzanne was a realist. The official launch in 2014 at St John’s, Southgate did not take place the moment the idea was conceived; it took a year before she was convinced that Classic Melbourne could be sustained. Even so, finding a way to make the website financially self-sufficient has been a work in progress, with Suzanne investing a considerable amount of her own savings on an ongoing basis to keep it up and running.
Moral and practical support has come from family – notably her daughter Jessie – friends, and the many people who share Suzanne’s passion for music. Employing her usual quiet charm, Suzanne persuaded Peter Williams and myself, her close friends since Melbourne University Choral Society days, to join her as reviewers and sounding boards as she put her ideas into action. Since then, a wide range of people – instrumentalists, singers, conductors and others – have supported her. Why? Because they believed in the need for such an organization and they believed that Suzanne had the talent and tenacity to see develop Classic Melbourne effectively.
Although Suzanne had a long struggle with Parkinson’ s disease, her formidable intellectual capacity continued to guide content and develop ideas. She might not have been able to attend the performances that she loved so much, but she engaged with what was happening and how best to communicate an appreciation of them. It was a terrible irony that a person who was such a brilliant, warm communicator lost so much of the ability to use her beautiful speaking voice and the motor facility needed to write. Refusing to let her disease define her, Suzanne was somewhat reluctant to let Arts industry people know that she was suffering from Parkinson’s, preferring to continue as normally as possible, supportive and wise. I valued her judgment absolutely and will always miss her insight, positivity and wit.
Of course, COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time, as it made what she was hoping to achieve even more difficult. There is still more to be done to ensure her plans come to fruition, chiefly audio material and directories for organisations, groups and individuals within Melbourne’s musical community.
Suzanne has left us with an exciting legacy. We can still hear her voice and read her articles on the Classic Melbourne website. So many reviews! And written with fair-minded discernment.
So, Classic Melbourne reviewers – and Suzanne has always been at pains to make a clear distinction between a reviewer and a critic – will continue to tell readers what we saw and heard from our seats at all those performances we have been privileged to attend, ever mindful of Suzanne’s “rules of engagement”.
The Sydney centrism of Australian music commentary and the decreasing space given to classical music in Melbourne’s newspapers continues to be motivating factors. So, Classic Melbourne will continue to support what Suzanne loved: Melbourne music making and musicians.