The inaugural concert season at the Melbourne Recital Centre in Southbank commences on 8 February 2009, on the same day on which Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (after which the main auditorium has been named) will celebrate her 100th birthday. The centre is led by a group of experienced music professionals, including Artistic Administrator, David Barmby who is well known for his contributions to the international fine music sector. Ahead of the opening, Anna Lozynski spoke to David Barmby about his role and Melbourne’s latest artistic landmark.


1. You have held positions at Music Viva Australia and the Australian National Academy of Music. What attracted you to accept a position with the Melbourne Recital Centre?
This position (or one like it) has been my aim all my life. My academic training is in new music in both composition and history, and my professional experience has always been connected to artistic administration/programming of small ensembles and soloists. I really did not need a change in my career (I’m 50 in December) but I saw this role as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and felt that I could be of some use here. The artistic aims and general values of the Melbourne Recital Centre are high and those goals attracted me as well.

2. In your view, what role will the Melbourne Recital Centre play in Melbourne’s classical music scene?
The vision for the Melbourne Recital Centre is that it is a cultural hub for all Australians, children through to the elderly. It is a place where music and musicians are nurtured and the public refreshed, inspired and delighted. We want to use every technological opportunity available to us to promote to everyone the importance of beauty as it is expressed through sound. ‘Classical’ music is now a problematic term. Today it is normal for at least 600 years of Western music to be programmed and there is a burgeoning interest and importance to represent even more extensive musical histories from non-Western cultures. That said, all music has the ability to resonate emotions which are too profound and complex to articulate. Music performance reminds us all that there are greater values than ourselves. So the MRC has a very important role to play.

3. The building, designed by architects, Ashton Raggatt McDougall is a remarkable addition to the Southbank Boulevard cultural precinct. What were your first thoughts after you toured the centre?
I have been aware of the design of the building at the outset, and have watched it develop over time. In my view, ARM is a thoughtful and imaginative team who has interpreted ‘the recital hall’ in a unique way. I am not bad at reading plans and imagining space from them, but I have to say that it was only after seeing the finished product that much of its thinking began to really make sense to me in a cohesive way. A work of art in itself, the building will resonate differently with each visitor.

4. Tell us about the opening festival held in celebration of the MRC's opening. What are your 'top picks'?
I am looking forward to Peter Sculthorpe’s spiritual blessing on the Hall in Song of the Yarra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Schoenberg’s dazzling Chamber Symphony No 1, Orchestra Victoria and 16 Victorian soloists gliding through Ralph Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous Serenade to Music, the awe of the Rothko Chapel in Houston being replicated in digital image and through Feldman’s exquisite music, Steven Osborne’s marathon conveyance of Messiaen’s vision of the eternal, David Young’s contemplation of the specific and the exquisite in his Thousands of Bundled Straw for soprano and 12 instruments, and Schubert’s warmly lyrical String Quintet which is 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.

5. What are the selection criteria or particular qualities artists should possess for performance or programming at the Centre?
Music is a language like any other which needs to be communicated sincerely and succinctly. I listen for a musician’s particular ‘voice’ and ability to communicate clearly what he/she is ‘saying’ through sound. The next consideration for me is technical proficiency. Put simply, if both are working well, I sit up immediately and take notice.

6. Has the global financial crisis affected any initial programming objectives?
No. However, it certainly is of great concern to me for the future. Of course it is now more than ever that people need to be fed and refreshed by culture, but quality costs, as it always has. We need individual and corporate support. Our tax-deductable Endowment Fund has been set up specifically to subsidise the Melbourne Recital Centre’s programming objectives.

7. From a professional and personal perspective, what have you already learned from this artistic project?
If you raise your voice and lose your temper, you’ve already lost. On a personal level, I recently enjoyed drinking tea with a Chinese musician and academic. We talked about Taoism, the three aims of which are compassion, moderation and humility. I am still in awe of this.

Salon8. As a formally trained singer, have you personally tested the acoustics of the 1,000-seated main auditorium? If so, what impressed you about the performance space?
I have, and so have other singers and instrumentalists. It is a real delight to sing in: easy, natural, airy. There is ‘that something’ in the air. On stage, the Hall actually encourages sound; there is nothing to ‘fight’ against. The Hall is silent. One just makes as beautiful sound as you can and everyone hears the same thing as if they are sitting by you.

9. Finally, can you reveal to us any upcoming international or local acts with which you are already working for future concert seasons?
Later in the year we have quite a lot in store, including Concertino Copenhagen (a Classical period-instrument chamber ensemble performing three concerts); Geoffrey Lancaster performing the complete keyboard sonatas of Haydn in the anniversary year; the Goldner String Quartet performing Beethoven’s complete string quartets; Kronos Quartet; violinist, Isabelle Faust performing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas; pianists Leslie Howard, Rita Reichman, Hoang Pham, Jonathan Biss and Marc-André Hamelin; the Schubert song cycles performed by Steve Davislim and Florian Boesch and accompanied by Anthony Romaniuk on a copy by Paul McNulty of an instrument by Conrad Graf (Vienna, 1819) ...all right, I should stop there.


The Melbourne Recital Centre opens to the public February 8, 2009. Visit:

Bottom Right - Melbourne Recital Centre Salon. Photo - Peter Ganane

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