Melbourne Recital Centre’s Director of Programming, Marshall McGuire, and Artistic Planning Coordinator, Sarah Wade, share insights into our Artist-in-Residence program, their stories and passion for the music of 2019 Artist-in-Residence, William Barton.
Marshal McGuire (MM): So many of Melbourne Recital Centre’s shows are one-night-only events, and even our Local Heroes series offers up to just three concerts a year, so while the connection with audiences might be at times fleeting, we wanted to establish a program where we engaged with an artist each year over a series of discrete but connected events, to give more insight engagement and connection to their ideas and creative output.
MM: Will is one of Australia’s great musicians and he has performed here on numerous occasions over the past 10 years. His virtuosity, coupled with his heartfelt storytelling, and his willingness to collaborate with musicians from a variety of musical styles, identified him as the best person to fulfil this role in our 10th anniversary season.
I’ve known him for 15 years or more, and have played with him in a variety of unusual and memorable settings, including a duet together at a dressage event, and playing on the sandy beaches at Orpheus Island as the sun set.
MM: Will’s residency program in 2019 reflects a number of his musical interests and passions. He opened the year with a performance both at our Gala fundraising dinner and our 10th Birthday Gala Concert, mesmerising the audience in a passionate performance with his mum, Aunty Delmae. His Contours of Songlines program in July was a stunning evocation of country, and a potted history of his life growing up in Mount Isa and the musical influences that led him to greatness today. In August we hear some work he collaborated on with the Australian String Quartet, and in November he introduces his documentary, Kalkadunga Man.
MM: We’ve been privileged to hear and see some wonderful performances from our previous Artists-in-Residence, Paul Grabowsky and Genevieve Lacey. Particularly memorable were Genevieve’s series of NEST concerts for Metropolis New Music Festival, and her epic Soliloquy. Paul opened the Artist-in-Residence program and our 48 Ways of Looking at Bach with a mesmerising re-invention of Bach’s great keyboard works. His performance with Torrio! was a joyous event.
MM: Our commitment to presenting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists has been in place since the day the Centre opened in 2009. We look for outstanding artists from all around Australia who have either made their mark as leading musicians and storytellers, or to support emerging artists to speak to a knowledgeable, eager and enthusiastic audience. The establishment of Yinga-bul Festival in 2016 marked an important next stage in our development of this platform, and is now presented by Melbourne Recital Centre and curated by leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians. All music is a conversation – between artist and instrument, and artist and audience – and the Centre feels well placed to provide the platform, the opportunity, the encouragement and the resources for these outstanding artists to connect with audiences old and new.
What was your first experience of William Barton’s music?
Sarah Wade (SW): I first experienced William Barton’s music in the mid 2000s. At the time he was working with composer Peter Sculthorpe and symphony orchestras and was nominated for an ARIA award. As an Australian with interests in traditional instruments and classical music, this collaborative work and sound-world drew me in.
I think Will’s music deeply reflects contemporary Australia. As well as a singer and guitarist, he is a virtuoso of a uniquely Australian musical instrument, the didgeridoo. His music distils thousands of years of stories and sounds, including the expression of ancient legends and connection to country, whilst incorporating modern events and multicultural influences. It is earthy, complex, evocative and sometimes cheeky, and overall immensely spell-binding.
SW: Melbourne Recital Centre and other arts venues are gathering places; places where people meet and connect with each other, information, concepts and creativity and open themselves to discovering something new or reaffirming held beliefs. Programming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and performance in such venues enables stories to be told and conversations to start happening within communities in a way that is accessible, alive and fresh. These are places where people come and listen, share, learn, feel and connect, which, as highlighted by the theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’, is a crucial step in Australia’s reconciliation journey.
SW: I think that Melbourne has been interested in music by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for decades. It’s encouraging to see recognition for this work, for example this year Murri man Kev Carmody won the JC Williamson Award for lifetime achievement at the Helpmann Awards, and all 2000 people in the live audience gave him a standing ovation.
Some really interesting initiatives in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait music landscape in Melbourne have started up within the last five years. YIRRAMBOI Festival started in 2017 and is Australia’s premier First Nations arts and cultural event, held in the City of Melbourne every two years. Since 2016, the Mission Songs Project has been uncovering contemporary folk songs from Aboriginal missions and settlements and performing and teaching them across Victoria and interstate. Also since 2016 Melbourne Recital Centre has been presenting Yinga-bul Festival biennially in celebration of NAIDOC Week. And since 2012, Tanderrum has been opening Melbourne Festival with a ceremony bringing together the Wurundjeri/Woiwurrung, Boon Wurrung, Taungurung, Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung language groups of the Eastern Kulin Nation.
SW: I would like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and performance integrated on festival and venue programs, of any genre, as a standard part of Australia’s cultural offering. This involves further development of pathways, partnerships and opportunities, not just for artists but also for industry support roles.