Eleven of the best… Australian musicians
As the Ashes trophy nestles itself back on a previously dusty and forlorn shelf in Lord’s, Australia finds itself today in a mood of cricketing despondency.
Gloom and doom Down Under, but BBC Music is here to help. In a spirit of transglobal goodsportsmanship - and with no Schadenfreude remotely intended, honest – we reckon that now is the time to remind the world that Australia does have its winners: in the field of music!
Normally, we choose six of the best, but we feel that enough punishment has been inflicted on the pitch, so we’ve upped the number to a full team.
So, calling all Aussies. Cheer up! Here’s an XI you can rely on…
1. Dame Nellie Melba (soprano)
Legendary, not just for her sensational voice, but for displaying the sort of behaviour that has given the word ‘diva’ its infamous connotations, Dame Nellie Melba (real name: Helen Porter Mitchell) wore her Australian roots proudly – her stage name is a shortened version of the city of her birth. In a 2004 ABC TV series about her life (1861-1931), her voice was played by current top Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny.
2. Percy Grainger (composer)
Hugely eccentric, but also remarkably widely talented – the Melbourne-born Grainger (1882-1961) was a fine sportsman and even designed clothes, including a sports bra. Will forever be best known for his arrangement of ‘In an English country garden’, but was a composer of no little invention and colour. Try in particular his In a Nutshell suite.
3. Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor)
The 83-year-old conductor (see right), and former oboist with the Sydney Symphony, has been enjoying a vintage year, not least when his recording of Mozart’s late symphonies won BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Year in April. His lengthy career innings, now over 60 years, shows no sign of slowing down.
4. Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano)
One of opera’s all-time greats, and a rival to Callas in her heyday. ‘La Stupenda’, now 82, was also something of an all-rounder, whose career embraced composers ranging from Handel to Britten and Tippett.
5. Peter Sculthorpe (composer)
Born in Tasmania in 1929, Sculthorpe’s music has the very essence of Australia running through it – his Requiem (2004) even has a didgeridoo solo.
6. Elizabeth Wallfisch (violinist)
Wife of cellist Rafael Wallfisch, and mother of conductor and composer Benjamin, Elizabeth Wallfisch, 57, is one of the world’s leading Baroque violinists, either as a soloist or leading ensembles such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
7. Piers Lane (pianist)
Another Australian nominated in this year’s BBC Music Magazine Awards – for his recording of Bloch’s Piano Quintets with fellow Aussies the Goldner Quartet – Piers Lane, 51, is equally at home as a chamber musician or on the concerto soloist’s piano stool. He is also artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music.
8. Simone Young (conductor)
Many TV viewers will know Simone Young, 48, from her appearances as one of the judges on last year’s Maestro conducting competition. Others will be familiar with her as one of the select band of top-rank female conductors in the world – the first woman ever to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, she has also held major posts in Sydney, Bergen and Hamburg.
9. Craig Ogden (guitarist)
Australia’s finest classical guitarist – if one discounts the nearly-antipodean John Williams on the grounds that his father is English – Ogden was once described by BBC Music as ‘the natural successor to Julian Bream’. A brilliant live performer, the Perth-born guitarist has been known to include variations on ‘Waltzing Matilda’ among his encores.
10. Sydney Opera House
OK, OK, so it’s not a musician. However, Sydney’s opera house is – in visual terms at least - the world’s most iconic classical music building. Given that it is only 36 years old, that’s quite something.
11. Amy Dickson (saxophonist)
One to watch out for. Dickson, still in her 20s, has recently recorded her first disc for RCA. As a classical saxophonist who shuns the attractions of jazz, she has a rarity value coupled with a stage presence and musicality that has already won legions of fans.
Image: Simone Young – Earl Carter
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