In 1951 when the Maestro Tommy Tycho arrived in Australia, he had only a few pounds to his name and a wealth of musical experience. After working as a store man at David Jones for a short period he was able to secure a spot giving broadcasts on ABC radio, which was the start of his long and successful showbiz career. Fast forward 30- odd years to a concert at the Sydney OperaHouse with the Sydney Youth Orchestra where a young violinist, Maria Lindsay was the Concertmaster, and a musical friendship that would last another 30 years formed.
The Maestro was so impressed and inspired by Lindsay’s playing that soon after hearing her play, he started work on a Violin Concerto in dedication. A lifelong friendship formed and even though their paths went in different directions, they always kept in touch.
With the demands of showbiz and writing arrangements and orchestrations for the best in the business, Tycho’s Violin Concerto was put on the back burner, but always stayed in the back of his mind. When he first showed Lindsay the Concerto she still had no idea that it was dedicated to her so when she finally did find out she was both inspired and delighted.
In 2008 the Maestro suffered a debilitating stroke that saw his left side paralysed, but his brain was still musically active and there was nothing stopping him from enjoying music with many of his closest musical friends who would visit. The Violin Concerto had still yet to be performed, but the thought of it was always something for Tycho to look forward to. The first performance finally came in 2010 when Lindsay organised her own Chamber Orchestra, the Lurline Orchestra (which she formed in 2009 with her sister Angela). The Maestro was delighted at finally hearing his Violin Concerto being performed in full.
“It was the Concerto that kept him going at times,” explained Lindsay. “He would play the recording of it every day after we had performed it, as there was a bit of a recording of one of the earlier performances. So, all of that was very personal, enriching, and at the same time I never lost sense of what a privilege it was that Tommy wrote such a wonderful work for me”.
Maria Lindsay has made it her mission to perform this iconic work to as many audiences as she can. Most recently, she performed the work with the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra and in August will perform the work with the Balmain Sinfonia.
“When I perform it with Balmain Orchestra, we do it without a conductor, and that’s a challenge, because Tommy’s orchestral writing is intricate, rich – you look at it on the page and you don’t realise… when you play it every part is important and the parts weave in and out,” says Lindsay.
Most Australian audiences know Tycho for his big showbiz performances and not many people seem to know the wealth of his compositional output. Besides the Violin Concerto he has written a Trumpet Concerto, a Piano Concerto and a number of chamber pieces including one for a String Quartet as well as many others. The Violin Concerto is a virtuosic piece and includes aspects of very fine classical style writing with a diverse mix of Persian and Eastern scales (that he had heard when he was a pianist in Iran from 1948-1951).
“The first movement is very rich and dramatic in character, it’s quite dark then there is a very lyrical, lush, second movement, which then builds into an incredible climax towards the end,” said Lindsay.
“And then the third movement is this dance-like virtuosic romp. There are a couple of little cadenzas in the third movement. In the midst of all the dancelike elements of the third movement, it slows down and we again get those Persian sounds in there.”
So, how have audiences responded to this work?
“I’ve been amazed by the response to it. It’s certainly been an element of surprise. Before people see it they’ll say, ‘is it jazzy?’ or they’ll say, ‘is it Hungarian?’ and it’s neither of those things.
“When I’m talking to people afterwards, it’s just absolute delight. But when I play the Concerto on stage, and I feel the response, it’s incredibly emotional. I’ve played it in halls where… I’ve actually seen tissues coming out,” said Lindsay.
She says it has been amazing to see Tycho’s music touching people, adding, “It’s going to stay that way, I think”.
– Samuel Cottell