The Sydney University Graduate Choir, formed in 1952, is well known for its high quality performances of great choral music and its innovative repertoire. The choir sings under the direction of conductor and composer Christopher Bowen OAM who has been Music Director since 1992. Recently, he spoke with Fine Music about the Choir’s season, commencing this month with an Australian-first performance of Franz von Suppé’s Requiem also known as the Missa pro defunctis.
FM: Can you explain how Requiem best showcases the abilities and strengths of the SUGC and who will be the soloists?
CB: I have wanted to conduct this work for many years, as it is a work of the highest order and compares most favourably with Verdi’s mighty Requiem. The work is just over 72 minutes in length and contains extraordinarily beautiful, dramatic and indeed, powerful music, which is very well suited to the rich and full sound of the choir. There are also moments of great delicacy and there is one movement for male choir which is quite exhilarating. It is particularly pleasing to have Anna Dowsley back as the mezzo- soprano for this performance. Anna is now performing regularly with Opera Australia, as is Adrian Tamburini, the bass soloist who made such an impression in the Australian War Requiem in 2014 and Dvorak’s Stabat Mater in 2015. The choir is looking forward to welcoming the gifted soprano, Sarah Toth for the very first time.
FM: Can you comment on the choice of repertoire this year and what you are most looking forward to in presenting these works?
CB: Over the years I have always tried to introduce neglected masterpieces into the repertoire to stand alongside the accepted canon. This tradition continues in 2016 with of course, the performance of von Suppé’s Requiem in May and C.P.E Bach’s Magnificat coupled with the Australian premiere of Johann David Heinichen’s Missa No.9 in D in August. We finish the year with Haydn’s great oratorio Die Schöpfung. But it is the performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Sydney Town Hall in November which promises to be a real highlight. As part of the highly successful Sydney Sings series of concerts, which is a regular and integral part of SUGC’s outreach program, guest choristers from NSW, interstate and sometimes overseas are invited to come together and share their love of music. It is a most rewarding experience to be part of such an inspiring event that creates so much goodwill in the community and reinforces the importance of music to our social fabric.
FM: Can you explain how your role has matured and changed over your time with SUGC, and yourself as an artist?
CB: During this time, both the choir and I have been on a very rewarding journey. From my perspective, the choir has been most supportive and receptive of the new ideas and challenges that I have initiated, and certainly, both the choir and I have developed enormously as a direct result. The choir’s belief in my creativity has touched me in quite a profound way. Over the years they have displayed a great deal of courage and dedication in supporting ventures such as Sydney Sings, The Joan Carden Award for
young singers and compositions such as the Australian War Requiem.
FM: The premiere of An Australian War Requiem is certainly a difficult act to follow, but do you have other new work in development?
CB: I have been commissioned to write a chamber work for the 50th Anniversary of International House which gives me the opportunity to collaborate with musicians of the calibre of Deborah de Graaff, so that should be quite exciting. I also have two major projects underway which deal with some really important issues very dear to my heart. Yes, the response to my Australian War Requiem has been enormously positive, and I certainly hope that any future composition will be similarly received. I can only imbue my
work with sincerity and integrity with the intent of communicating honestly with the listener.
FM: What would be on your wishlist in terms of repertoire and location of performance with the SUGC?
CB: On my wishlist would be works such as Bach’s St Matthew Passion; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis; Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ, Requiem and Te Deum; Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied; Franz Schmidt’s Das Buch des Sieben Siegeln; works by Zelenka; and the list goes on and on. There are so many fine works yet to be performed. Some of these works are huge and need to be performed in locations such as the Town Hall or the Opera House which means huge financial resources, but that’s my ambition and vision for the future.
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