It gives me great pleasure to write a few words on my productive endeavours throughout the course of 2020. I have been most fortunate that many opportunities came my way, and I share here a few of the possibilities that nourished the creative urges through a period that challenged us all.
For me, the economic and social impact on the arts created by the pandemic and the Australian response to combat it was immediate. Latitude 37 was in the rehearsal process for our first tour of the year when the coronavirus outbreak became real, on Friday March 13. The following morning, we were to hit the road for our week-long series of concerts around Victoria, ACT and New South Wales; instead, we made the decision to cancel, and spent most of that weekend calling subscribers and arranging refunds. Within 48 hours, months of upcoming concert work engagements were erased from my diary, the beginning of a long series of cancellations, which ultimately have lasted for the duration of the year. Fortunately, concerts have not been my only focus for this year.
This year, my workload at the University of Melbourne has increased, so although we closed our front doors, my commitments hardly waned. During the first semester, I was coordinating the Figured Bass course. As a practical course, the need to teach students accompaniment skills remotely was immensely challenging. After each class on a Tuesday morning, I would spend the remainder of the week revising course material and experimenting with my limited tech skills and tools, as we all tried our best to become familiar with Zoom. As we entered the second semester, my Historical Performance Practice course was also run entirely online, which prompted me to start working with software with which I could make demonstration recordings and videos for online broadcast. End of year recitals for students also involved preparation of pre-recorded accompaniment tracks, an interesting task when you never got the chance to play the music with the instrumentalist and had to rely on metronome markings!
The bulk of my time became devoted to the production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the University of Melbourne. Given the circumstances, the performance of a full-scale production with orchestra could never take place. I began the process of re-writing the entire opera for the combination of harpsichord, fortepiano, and chiptune: an exciting new take on the beloved story of Tamino, Pamina and Papageno with his magic glockenspiel. This was a huge amount of fun; getting close and personal with any score of Mozart’s is a joy, let alone one as creative as the Flute. The audio recordings were made with a double cast at the end of the year, and filming was recently completed. This project looks to be highly original in approach, with some wonderful fairy-tale costumes to match the storyline.
Since May, I’ve also added to my compositional portfolio. The Tasmanian ensemble Van Diemen’s Band, or VDB for short (directed by Julia Fredersdorff, our dear violinist from Latitude 37) commissioned me to produce several arrangements and orchestrations. The first of these was the Catalan folk song, The song of the birds (el cant dels ocells), which you may already know as an encore favourite of the great cellist, Pablo Casals. This made available to me an orchestra and chorus the size of which I haven’t had the chance to write for since my teenage years! I also made several arrangements for the newly-formed Van Diemen’s Fiddles, a highly original trio of baroque violin, modern violin and octave (bass) violin. This latter project allowed me to explore my own ideas in a medley of Balkan tunes, as well as a contemplative arrangement of the beautiful Ave, generosa by the great Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). I am also excited to say that I have produced many of the arrangements for VDB for their Christmas concert. This was followed with a delayed broadcast by the ABC.
Towards the end of each year, it is my habit to do a stocktake of the 12 months events, to look back at what I produced, critique it, and so forth. Looking back on 2020 as a year none of us will forget, I am proud that I have been able to put together so many new and original things. Artists thrive off creative collaboration, both with other artists and with our cherished audience. In 2021, I look forward to being back on stage, to share live music with you all again.
Donald will be performing a recital of the keyboard works of William Byrd, “Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home” with thanks to the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on Wednesday March 10, 7pm.