There isn’t much that Richard Gill hasn’t done in his seventy odd years. He has been a music educator, a choir master, a music director, a conductor, an academic and most recently the Artistic Director of Sydney Chamber Choir and orchestra seventeen88.
Most recently he was honoured on the Queen’s Birthday List with an AO for distinguished service to “the performing arts as a conductor, artistic director and advisor, to the development of music education, and as a mentor of young musicians”.
Reading Gill’s memoir – Give Me Excess of It – released in 2013, one gets the sense that this is a man on a mission. He has been at the forefront of music education and has engaged entire generations of students and excited many thousands of Australians with a love and passion for new music.
Now in his 75th year there is no stopping Gill, as he continues to be a driving force in music. “If you are teaching music properly to children one of the things you want to teach them is how to improvise and how to make their own music,” he tells Fine Music.
“When they make their own music they understand how music works and then they can apply those principles to the music they hear. We are not here to sell them taste – we are here to provide them with as much music as possible from which they can make decisions.
“When people are learning about music they don’t need pioneers and crusaders, they need people who can open their minds,” says Gill.
An extraordinary orchestra
Gill is currently Artistic Director of the Sydney Chamber Choir, and Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of Sydney’s newest orchestra, orchestra seventeen88. However, this
is no ordinary orchestra as it is an ensemble devoted to performing works through their renditions of historically informed performance practice, otherwise known as HIP.
“All of these players are specialists – the string players play on gut strings, wind players play on the instruments of the period (either very good copies or close models) and we play at A430.
“There is constant research coming to light about the way this music was played and articulated. It has to do with note length and what you do dynamically with the music, as there are very few dynamic indications as it was expected that the players would know what to do… rather like jazz,” said Gill.
The orchestra was formed after a performance of Marriage of Figaro with Victorian Opera in 2012. “That particular group of musicians really enjoyed playing together and we decided we would establish an orchestra,” explains Gill.
The performers in this orchestra all perform in the top HIP positions around the world and come together to bring Sydney audiences high energy performances. A lot of scholarly research goes into recreating performances from another time that reflect how it would have sounded in Mozart or Haydn’s day.
“So the scholars research this stuff, they compile evidence. We look at the evidence, the way the instrument was made, what it can do, why the gut strings work- that gives you insight into how this music sounded,” said Gill.
Richard Gill will be at the helm when orchestra seventeen88 and the Sydney Chamber Choir perform in Sydney on 1 October. The program features works by Haydn and Ross Edwards.
“The Nelson Mass is an extraordinary Mass for strings, trumpets and timpani. It’s sometimes called the ‘Mass in Troubled Times’. It exists in a number of versions, but we do know the version for strings trumpets and timpani is the original version.
“Because we pride ourselves on the editions that are as close to the original as possible we are going this version,” says Gill.
The Nelson Mass is contrasted with a performance of Ross Edwards’ Missa Alchera (Mass of the Dreaming) performed by the Sydney Chamber Choir. Also on the program is Hadyn’s Symphony No. 104, the ‘London’.
So, what can we expect next from Richard Gill? “Much the same as what I am doing now,” he says with enthusiasm, “day by day, that’s my view”.