Douglas Lawrence

He has received an Order of Australia for his contribution to music, an esteemed organist, the founder and director of the Australian Chamber Choir, and has played over 2000 concerts during his career, just to mention a few of his career accolades. In between programs, Anna Lozynski spoke with Douglas Lawrence about, amongst other things, the Choir’s upcoming Miserere program.

Douglas LawrenceWhat is your vision as founder and director for the Australian Chamber Choir in 2010?
To promote the work of young Australian composers within Australia and internationally; to reach a standard that places this choir at the forefront of chamber choirs internationally. (To that end, our two European tours have received high praise from critics).

What can audiences expect from the Choir’s upcoming Miserere program?
At the Pope’s direction, the Allegri Miserere was for many years performed only in the Sistine Chapel. It is said that Mozart heard it, wrote it out afterwards and disseminated it. Whether that story is true or false, this work with the solo soprano singing high C six times has entranced millions of concert goers. The Miserere program is based on a notion of reflection, not sadness, about the more precious and perhaps intangible things in life. It finishes with a mighty motet for double choir by JS Bach which can be paraphrased simply as “Don’t be afraid”.

Which part of the recent Feather program particularly resonated with you?
Well, I love performing new works so Feather and The John Shaw Neilson Triptych were particularly important to me. However, the piece that resonated most powerfully was the MAGNIFICAT by Charles Villiers Stanford. It is a tour de force of choral singing, irresistible in its surging power. At the last chord I more or less threw my fist at the singers!

How did you go about building the Choir programs?
The order of a program is an evolving process, and invariably involves me kicking several works around in my mind for many weeks. It is not a rational process, rather a subjective one. Many experiences and influences play on these decisions.

What is your fondest memory from your days at the Vienna Academy?

What is it about the organ that attracted you to focus your musical career around it?
I first heard the Melbourne Town Hall organ as an 8 year old and thought I would die. I trembled, and am still trembling. The organ is the biggest, most complicated and altogether fascinating of all instruments. There are many lousy organs but when you meet a beautifully constructed and musically voiced one, the heavens open.

Having performed 2000 concerts during your career around the world, in which concert venue do you absolutely relish performing?
Ah, there are so many wonderful venues. The 12th Century Cathedral of Sion Switzerland houses the oldest playable organ. It was built in 1420 and has been little altered. The cathedral sits on top of a hill and the organ hangs like a swallows nest from the West Wall. I have performed there 6 times as organist and with the Choir of Ormond College from Melbourne University.

Of the modern venues, the Hong Kong Arts Center with its 80 stop Rieger organ is spectacular. The hall is made entirely of timber and has a luscious sound.

What advice do you have for those aspiring towards a concert career?
Work and learn to put setbacks aside.

Australian Chamber ChoirHow has the industry changed for the better since you first entered it?
I think the struggle remains the same. Improved media and all that accompanies it, has made little difference.

In your view, how does the chamber music in Australia compare to other parts of the western world?
That is a very difficult question. For a country founded by soldiers and convicts we have done very well indeed! It is still the case that most aspiring young Australians need to train in Europe or America, after which time they are destined for the mainstream of international music making. There is an enormous amount of chamber music making in this country and much of it is of a very high standard.

Finally, at which hour of the day do you personally most like to practice and why?
I tend to practice between 9 and 11am, as after that, the day gets consumed by this and that. Sometimes I practice in the evening at Scots’ Church on the fabulous Rieger organ, if I’m not cooking dinner. Of course, when there is a concert tour coming up I just practice like hell at every opportunity! 

Australian Chamber Choir perform Miserere, Sunday August 22, 2010. Further details»

Image credits:-
Top Right - Douglas Lawrence
Bottom Right - The Australian Chamber Choir (Douglas Lawrence second from left at rear)

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