It’s perhaps surprising to hear that Melbourne’s prized Recital Centre celebrates its fifth birthday on Saturday 8 February this year. Surprising, because its acoustic superiority and breadth of programs have attracted so many concertgoers that the venue seems to have been an intrinsic part of the Melbourne music scene for a very long time.
Surprising, too, for the opposite reason. The excitement of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s opening concert, attended by its visionary patron Dame Elisabeth Murdoch celebrating her 100th birthday, lingers in the memory. Surely that cannot have been five years ago? But it was – and that night was just the beginning. A three-month long festival comprising more than 70 concerts, workshops and events featured a long list of distinguished Australian and international performers, and set the seal on the MRC’s success.
To mark its 5th birthday the MRC has chosen to focus on music-lovers in Melbourne and beyond, with an invitation to visit and enjoy the Centre, including the main auditorium Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, and the smaller Salon. Visitors can be more than tourists as they take part in an open jazz jam, help compose a collaborative soundscape or be the performers in the central event – The Big Sing.
It’s a democratic view of what makes performance worthy, one that trusts audiences and takes account of the growing strength of community choirs. But the concept needed a similarly confident conductor, who could produce a great sound from a choir of more than 1000 voices – with minimal rehearsal. The obvious choice was Artistic Director of the School of Hard Knocks, Jonathon Welch AM – with the award-winning Choir of Hard Knocks, (now known as The Choir of Hope and Inspiration) and THE CHO!R to take the lead in the performance.
As someone who was in the Hall for that exciting opening night, Welch is “absolutely thrilled” to be back for The Big Sing and to honour Dame Elisabeth’s “extraordinary gift” of this superior performance space. Welch’s recent involvement with the Melbourne Ring Festival saw the School of Hard Knocks partnering with Opera Australia’s Community Choir project. The massed choir of more than 400 singers from community choirs from around Melbourne gave a free concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – an event that could be seen as a curtain-raiser to The Big Sing.
The event is dominating Welch’s thoughts but it’s just one of his projects, with a number of choirs in Melbourne and extending as far as the Latrobe Valley. A vision of a Choir Without Borders will take the impassioned conductor into new territory, although he is clearly still driven by the “hope and inspiration” that made the Choir of Hard Knocks famous throughout Australia. Nothing less than “world domination” will satisfy him, he jokes. “Absolutely everybody should sing”.
For now, however, it’s a matter of preparation for The Big Sing. The internet is proving a blessing as, once choristers/audience pay their $10 registration, they are introduced to the two main numbers to be performed: Sing and Something’s got a hold on me (with sheet music and SATB files to listen to). There’ll be more – but that will be a surprise.
“I think Dame Elisabeth would love it”, Welch says, adding that he views the performance as a huge birthday celebration for the loved philanthropist. “I can still see that beautiful smile she had. I think we’d be putting a smile on her face”.
The Big Sing
Saturday 8 February 2014 4.30pm at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall